Since we began hearing about their military use in regional conflicts nearly thirty years ago, drones have been a target of fascination and they have grown as a source of fun, annoyance, promise and danger. When the old hobby model aircraft traded in their strings for RF links and strapped on cameras, they set a course for making artistic and utilitarian history. The drones for AV surveyed here provide an overall view of where we are, what we can do and perhaps most importantly, where drones are taking us.
1. AEE Aviation Technology Mach 1 portable smart mini drone is a very affordable system with its four-axis electronic image stabilization (EIS), Sony 1/3.06in. CMOS 13 megapixel HD camera, dual-mode satellite positioning and smartphone control capability. Supplied with it is the AEE BT Joystick Controller which charges through a micro-USB port on the front and connects to the smartphone over a Bluetooth link. The drone connects on 2.4GHz/5GHz dual-band Wi-Fi to provide a control range of about 300ft. and at the center of its guidance technology is the Qualcomm Flight powerful intelligent chip. The 4K mp4 video and 13MP JPEG still image capability puts this model at or near the top in imaging bang for the buck. However, extra 1900mAh batteries are a good investment to augment for the machine’s 16-minute flight time. The vehicle can be fitted with protection rings for the propellers and this will surely save on buying lots of replacement props. As user confidence grows there are several selectable operation modes including novice, skilled and expert.
2. Autel Robotics EVO is a little more expensive and uses a three axis stabilization gimbal and shoots 4K video at 60 frames while its integrated advanced computer vision systems provide forward obstacle avoidance, rear obstacle detection and bottom sensors to help in safer landings. The drone can operate for up to 30 minutes at a control range as far as 4.3 miles. The battery level warning will let the operator know when it’s time to return for landing. The included remote controller has a 3.3in. OLED screen with 720p HD video. The free Autel Explorer app available for Apple iOS or Android devices assists with more advanced settings and autonomous flight features such as Dynamic Track, Viewpoint, Orbit, VR first person view and Waypoint mission planning. Using a video link frequency in the 2.4GHz – 2.4835GHz band, the 1.9lb. craft can be folded into a very small object to fit into a durable case with two batteries and other accessories collectively known as the EVO Rugged Bundle.
3. DJI Matrice 600 Pro is a very sophisticated and versatile flight system featuring a modular design with the A3 Pro flight controller, Lightbridge 2 HD transmission system, intelligent batteries and its Battery Management system. The system is also compatible with several Zenmuse cameras and gimbals. The A3 compares sensor data from three sets of GNSS units to provide stable operation in a number of different payload configurations. The A3 system rejects magnetic interference to provide centimeter-level accuracy. The quick release landing gear and folding frame arms make assembly remarkably quick and simple. A new dampening system for the IMU units aids the vehicle’s reliability. The included case shields the folded drone from falls, impacts and weather. The M600 Pro charger can fully charge as many as six intelligent batteries simultaneously in less than two hours. The vehicle can carry over 13 pounds and fly at a transmission distance up to just over three miles in optimum conditions. With a light load and maximum battery power, the flight duration can approach 40 minutes. The M600 Pro supports the DJI GO app and DJI Assistant 2.
4. Draganfly Innovations Draganflyer X4-P was designed with a carbon fiber folding airframe, a quick release two-axis stabilized mount and four quick release propellers. Capable of horizontal speed up to 30mph, the craft can perform autonomous flight and produce simultaneous dual video streams from the FLIR Vue Pro 640 IR camera and the 20 megapixel 1in. sensor, 3.6x optical zoom color camera. Together, these can export files in 23 formats compatible with CAD and GIS software. Two handheld controllers allow separate control by the camera operator and the pilot. The 5400mAh DraganFuel flight batteries provide flight time up to 15 minutes while carrying a payload. The control link’s range is just over two miles and the maximum payload is 1.8lbs. The Draganfly digital video down-link system with digital base-station, allows the user to connect several live viewing devices and the custom made handheld controller features a direct sunlight viewable OLED touch screen. Several custom packages are available to suit a number of specific missions.
5. DRONE VOLT Hercules 20 heavy lifter from Drone Volt can fly for up to 40 minutes and carry up to 33lbs. using its 26in. propellers and 2.5- mile control and video transmission range in the 2.4Ghz band. Using AES 256 secure encryption, the machine is lightweight and compact with its four removable arms and landing gear. It also features tough construction with a carbon fiber frame and anodized aluminum fasteners. The DRONE VOLT Pilot application allows control and support to pilot and create various types of autonomous missions. The drone’s T-Motor MN 701 – 135KV motors produce a maximum engine thrust of 22lbs. Among the optional accessories for surveillance and monitoring missions is the high performance, EO/IR gyro-stabilized gimbal fitted with twin cameras. One is a x30 optical zoom camera and the other is an IR sensor with a x4 digital zoom. Each can rotate 360 degrees. DRONE VOLT can provide AV operators with a range of options including image stabilizers.
6. Freefly Systems ALTA 6, can fold all of their arms and propellers into a remarkably tight package only 33 percent of full size. The ALTA 6 is the six-prop version of the machine with the capability to mount a camera on top of it or underneath. Delivered in a custom Pelican case, it is ready to fly in minutes. The camera can remain aligned with the ground while the vehicle is tilted up to 45 degrees and the craft carries a maximum payload of 15lbs. Using sinusoidal drive motor controls for its 18in. propellers and its SYNAPSE guidance system, the ALTA 6 combines readings from its barometer, accelerometers and GPS to perform complex flight patterns. The operator can set vertical and horizontal speed limits while flying the vehicle using the integrated on-screen display of the Freefly SYNAPSE Flight Controller. Other operational features include return-to-home and autoland.
7. Intel Falcon 8+ system consists of the Falcon 8+ drone and the Intel Cockpit Controller. The vehicle has a unique V-shaped alignment for its eight propellers to provide the best 180-degree view for its camera. Designed to deal with weak GPS signals, high winds and magnetic field disturbances, the Falcon 8+ can transmit real time data or store it securely onboard to be accessed after landing. The AscTec Trinity Control Unit has three redundant IMUs to reliably position and control the vehicle. The PowerPack batteries are easy to store and transport while the drone can accommodate a number of quickly changeable payload packages. It can be fitted with the Sony Alpha 7R 36 megapixel still camera or it can carry its Inspection Payload consisting of a full sensor RGB camera and the FLIR Tau 2 640 camera, both of which are mounted in parallel on the same gimbal.
8. Intel Cockpit Controller
This device has a unique joystick arrangement that allows single-handed flight operation. Intel’s Mission Control Software enables the user to have multiple waypoint flights along with automatically set flight altitude, speed, GPS-based photo positions and overlapping.
9. Parrot ANAFI Work is one of their many drone variations and featuring its 4K/21MP camera with a 180-degree vertical orientation and 25 minute flight time on each of its four USB-C smart batteries. The multi-port USB battery charger allows the vehicle to spend more time in the air and less on the ground. It is delivered with eight propellers, charger, compact shoulder bag, 16GB SD card and the Parrot Skycontroller 3 operator unit with a control range of up to 2.5 miles. There is also a tablet holder accessory that fits onto the Skycontroller 3 to hold a tablet up to ten inches in size. In 35mm format the camera has a focal length of 23-69mm for still images and 26-78mm for 4K MP4 (H264) video. Capable of reaching 35 mph horizontal speed, this model has 3-axis hybrid stabilization, a – 90 to +90-degree tilt range and live streams at 720p resolution.
10. Pelican Flightline Series includes some perfect-fit transport cases for several DJI drones as well as those for extra batteries. The black polyethylene foam body is watertight O-ring sealed and the double-throw latches make it quick and easy to open and then fasten shut securely. The polymer structure of Pelican cases can withstand high energy impacts while the precision cut foam snugly fits the folded vehicle and keeps it safe. Contrast red foam outlines the enclosed components making sure the right piece goes into the right slot and no parts are missing. The battery cases use the same clear layout and their automatic pressure equalization valve balances interior pressure.
11. PRODRONE PD8X is equipped with four sensors, parachutes and an autopilot. The front facing camera and sonar assist in collision avoidance while the laser and optical flow sensor on the bottom provide precise positioning. The four 10,000mAh batteries allow the 41-lb. PD8X to stay aloft for approximately 15 minutes without a payload and reach an RF control range of over half a mile. The maximum payload is 17.5 lbs. and with its 21in. propellers the vehicle can reach a speed of nearly 40mph and handle up to 22mph wind speeds. On the ground the drone stands 21.5in. high and the distance between its propellers is 50.6in. While the specs are subject to change without prior notice, the foldable contra 8 rotor basic platform’s modular construction allows it to be tailored to meet present and future mission requirements. When ready for flight its size is only 19in. square and for transport and storage the arms fold to form an even smaller package.
13. Walkera Voyager 5 employs 4G(LTE) image transmission to enable it to transmit HD images wherever 4G(LTE) is covered. Its realtime location capability features connection to a Google Map in order to update or check its location. The drone’s safety assurance system called FlightSafety includes a dual IMU, dual compass, front facing infrared obstacle avoidance module and dual GPS system for the maximum in reliable operation. The triple battery design uses 4300mAh batteries so that when it is hovering in zero wind with no payload the flight time can reach up to 40 minutes. IP43 sealed from dust and rain, the Voyager 5 has been tested at altitudes above 14,000ft. Its 2.4G/1.4G long range video transmission system can send video around three miles. The vehicle folds into a very small package and when unfolded and ready for flight it can carry a camera with a 30x optical zoom lens, a thermal infrared camera or a low-light night vision camera.
14. xFold DragonH x12 is part of the Dragon line of drones from xFold which features a basic airframe that is a versatile platform that can be configured in x4 quad, x6 hexa, x8 octo or x12 dodeka (4, 6, 8 or 12 motors and propellers) to suit a wide variety of tasks and flight conditions. Designed, manufactured and assembled in the USA, the frame which folds to 30 percent of its flight size, can carry two cinema cameras and it is compatible with all commercial grade flight controllers. Versatility is enhanced by its quick release sliding gimbal/payload mounting system. For the jobs that demand even more capability the xFold DragonH x12 can be set up to lift up to 440lbs. and keep that payload flying for as long as 20 minutes.
15. Yuneec H520 professional hexacopter is visually distinctive with its orange airframe and big retractable landing gear. It has a wide assortment of uses including cinematic imaging missions. Data storage may be shared instantly from the ST16S Ground Station or delivered directly in 4K/2K/HD video or 20Mp still images. Using its Real Time Kinematics (RTK) satellite navigation, the craft is capable of hovering in adverse conditions and maintaining its precise position. The camera mount can swivel for a 360-degree unobstructed view with the landing gear raised out of the way. Orbit Flight allows the H520 to circle around the Pilot/Remote Control at a user defined distance, with its camera always pointed to the center of the orbited area. Its various payload systems can be hot-swapped to save time and maintain versatility. The E90 camera uses a 20 MP 1in. sensor and the latest H2 high speed image processing chip to provide 4K imaging at 60fps. The 3-axis stabilized gimbal has a precision of +/- 0.02 degrees and the E90 camera-gimbal combination may be swapped for an E50 or CGOET camera-gimbal combo without power cycling the airframe.