From an interesting novelty to a versatile and essential tool, aerial drones have had a meteoric evolution at the focal point of several key technologies. GPS tracking, camera miniaturization, video transmission innovations, and machine learning have all played their reinforcing roles. The AV industry’s uses for them have extended beyond photography to venue planning and inspection, event site surveys, and even component delivery. The application base for these vehicles will only expand as the technology improves and imagination steers the way.
The AEE Aviation Technology Mach 4 commercial UAV has been developed to play a number of mission-critical roles while riding its lithium-polymer 14000mAh battery and four 18in. propellers for up to 40 minutes per flight. Control and 2.4/5.8 GHz video signals can extend to over 3 miles and are interference-free through the vehicle’s RF and EMI protection. The Mach 4 can carry hot swappable payloads up to 2.5lbs. and the 4K camera is equipped with a 10x optical zoom. The ground controller includes a 7in. touch screen and over 100 waypoints can be stored. Over 2TB of video data can be stored by the drone internally.
A key to success with most drone applications is payload compatibility and the Aerialtronics Altura Zenith can fit a wide variety of different quick-change standard machinery, gimbals and custom payloads using the “click and go” system. Coupled with redundant IMUs, its eight motors provide plenty of lift and when equipped with a high capacity battery the Zenith can stay in the air for up to 40 minutes carrying, among other things, the Dual Vision sensor with on-board processing. A number of Sony 4K cameras can be loaded and for other applications thermal/multispectral sensors and other measuring devices can be added including flood lamps and RFID scanners. The Pensar camera can read text and license plates, have daylight and thermal vision overlaid on one screen in realtime, recognize subjects of interest and blur selected details with privacy masking.
Carrying an advanced 6K Sony camera with low light imaging capability, the Autel Robotics Evo II Pro has 19 groups of sensors for 360-degree obstacle avoidance and real time path planning. Dynamic Track 2.0 provides the ability to identify up to 64 separate targets and model their location and speed continuously. Its freedom of the sky is enhanced by 40-minute flight time and a transmission range of up to 5.5 miles. Windy days are not a problem with its 39 mph maximum wind speed resistance and 45 mph top vehicle speed. The camera uses a 1in. CMOS chip to produce 20MP images through a lens with a maximum 82-degree viewing angle and 8x zoom. For still image photography it can do burst shooting. Among the possible still shot resolutions is 5472×3076 in 16:9 format. The vehicle’s maximum takeoff weight is 4.4lbs. and the maximum service ceiling altitude is 4.3 miles.
The DJI Air 2S folds out from its super compact storage configuration to form a vehicle that can fly through forests at high speed, sensing and avoiding obstructions in all directions. The camera’s 1in. CMOS sensor and 20MP imaging enable 5.4K/30fps and 4K/60fps video even in low light conditions. The Mastershots feature lets the operator select a subject and keep it center frame while the vehicle performs ten separate maneuvers in sequence. The Air 2S can take off, record according to a preset path and then automatically generate a professional quality video. Four built-in antennas use DJI’s long range O3 Ocusync 3.0 technology for a maximum transmission range of 7.5 miles at 1080p to the DJ Fly app on a mobile device. Remote control frequency bands of 2.4 and 5.8 MHz are automatically selected without latency. The various modes of operation enable flight characteristics especially suited to specific applications.
For anything that flies, weight is the critical factor and for heavy lifting of diverse payloads the Drone Volt Hercules 20 is hard to beat with its 33lb. maximum lift capacity on 26in. propellers. The carbon fiber frame and anodized aluminum fasteners form a solid foundation and the removable arms and landing gear allow it to be neatly packed away in storage. In the air for up to 40 minutes, the Hercules 20 can be controlled from as far away as 1.25 miles as it powers across the sky at over 55mph even in moderate rain. Multiple flight modes customize its capabilities for specific missions and it can carry either the Dual Sensor EO/IR camera or the Pensar camera. The controller provides a video link and a cellphone can be attached. The smartphone app shows flight information, GPS position, and flight missions along with providing simplified mission planning, waypoints, and photogrammetry. The RF link to the vehicle is AES encrypted and the system can perform both manual and automatic function checks.
Going from the case to the sky in five minutes, the Freefly Alta 8 Pro lifts up to 20lbs. and offers flight modes including manual, height mode, position mode, return-to-land (RTL), and waypoint mission mode. Once unpacked, it folds out from 30in. to a 52in. diameter unit. Even at its maximum gross takeoff weight of 40lbs. the drone rises quickly on its 1.85:1 thrust to weight ratio. Reliable operation is assured through redundant motor control connections, two barometers for accurate altitude measurement, and dual receivers to minimize RF blockage. There are also three separate vibration isolated and temperature controlled IMUs, three magnetometers and the avionics are redundant by 5V Power Rail. Each unit is subjected to a range of tough tests before shipment. The modular battery tray allows batteries to be mounted on top, bottom or both sides and battery changes take less than a minute. The payload is isolated from vibration by the adjustable O-ring isolation quick release design which requires no tools. Also featured are two fully enclosed receiver mounting bays for the 8-engine vehicle.
For tethered UAS applications where endurance is paramount, the Hoverfly Livesky Sentry can fly for unlimited periods while receiving power through its tether line. It can operate autonomously from anywhere including the back of a pickup truck. The system can be configured in three different modes; the Enterprise Solution with the tether kit mounted inside the Skybox, the Mobile SoluFor tethered UAS applications where endurance is paramount, the Hoverfly Livesky Sentry can fly for unlimited periods while receiving power through its tether line. It can operate autonomously from anywhere including the back of a pickup truck. The system can be configured in three different modes; the Enterprise Solution with the tether kit mounted inside the Skybox, the Mobile Solution using a handheld tablet or the Dismounted Solution with a landing nest. Piloting is quite simple using the 5-button controller and, riding on its four engines, the craft can climb to an altitude of up to 200ft. carrying multiple payloads. Having all data travel through the tether also means that it is protected and cannot be jammed, providing secure integration with most video management systems. The airframe is composed of aluminum, carbon fiber and ABS weighing in at only 5lbs. The vehicle is IP54 rated to stand up to dust, water and moisture. Field swappable payload options include Visible EO HD camera with 10x optical zoom, dual EO/IR camera with 10x visible zoom, 8x IR digital zoom, Persistent Systems MPU5 MANET radio as well as other custom designed payloads.
The Parrot Anafi Ai brings a new dimension to drone sensing and control with its unique camera lens design, H.264 (AVC) and H.265 (HEVC) video encoding at 10-bit color depth, continuous 4G internet connectivity, single click flight plan creation, and solid cybersecurity. Unfolding and ready to fly in about one minute, the 2lb. vehicle can fly up to over 16,000ft, fly horizontally at 34mph and remain in the air for up to 32 minutes. It is IPX3 rain resistant and can operate in a 50-degree Centigrade temperature range. The imaging system uses a 1/2in. 48MP CMOS chip and shoots through a 6x zoom lens while balancing with pitch, roll, and yaw stabilization. Image files are JPEG and DNG (Digital NeGative RAW) and there is a wide horizontal field of view of 73 degrees. The Anafi Ai carries two 3-axis accelerometers and two 3-axis gyroscopes for precise guidance with its stereoscopic cameras mounted on a 330-degree rotating gimbal. The high density 4.4V Lithium polymer battery has a capacity of 6800mAh and there is a USB-C charging port. The Parrot Skycontroller 4 remote uses a Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n & 4G transmission system operating in the 2.4GHz – 5GHz frequency band. No data is shared without user authorization.
When a drone is flying, the vehicle is in its element but while being transported on the ground it can get lost, run over, submerged or otherwise damaged. The Pelican Drone Hangar cases are custom made for each drone model and they provide the maximum protection possible while these flying wonders are in transport or storage. Pelican cases are top of the line and the Drone Hangar models are finished with precision-cut polyethylene foam and outlined with a watertight O-ring seal. The Skydio 2 Pro Kit case is a good example, equipped with a polymer exterior and double-throw latches enclosing a water-jet sculpted foam interior with red lining. Each piece of the drone package has its own cutout so that no components will be lost or left behind. Anything missing is immediately recognized by its empty cutout slot. There are fitted spots for drone, controller, battery, tablet mount and all other accessories including spare propellers. Each case is double layered with a soft grip handle, Vortex valve, and a full length hinge.
The Percepto Sparrow is one of the most robust drones currently in service with its high wind flying capability and 46mph top speed. It is designed to fly autonomous missions with precision while using its 42in. propellers to carry up to 22lbs. in payload. The vehicle can do visual building inspection, autonomous fire detection and even find gas leaks. After performing these tasks it will return to base automatically. Following pre-determined routes, it can avoid restricted areas and perform vehicle detection and tracking. Charging time is about 40 minutes and the Sparrow can remain in the air for up to 38 minutes.
With wide-area LTE network control, hot-swappable batteries, object detection, and a 20x optical zoom Sony camera, the Prodrone PD4-XA1 commercial drone platform can play multiple roles and fly a wide range of aerial missions. It has a waterproof and dustproof IPX4 rating and for long-duration applications there is also a tethering option. The camera housing extends out in front of the airframe for an unobstructed view ahead and below for video and still photography. For night images, the vehicle can be fitted with an optional LED searchlight while a collision avoidance system uses image analysis of the forward stereo camera. The entire airframe can be easily folded with locking levers into a package that is less than a foot wide. For positive RF control different frequency bands are used simultaneously. Prodrone GCS enables intricate automated flights with the ability to change shooting parameters at various waypoints and rally points can also be set up in advance. The whole system weighs under 21lbs with the Sony camera and it can carry a payload of 4.9lbs. to a speed of 31mph. controlled from a distance of over half a mile.
The Skydio X2 offers a winning combination of toughness, easy transportability and a new level of autonomous operation. While carrying a dual sensor payload that includes a 12MP color camera and FLIR 320×256 thermal sensor for up to 35 minutes, it also uses six 4K navigation cameras for 360-degree obstacle avoidance. Signal security is assured with AES 128-bit wireless encryption and the controller with built-in touchscreen can operate the drone from distances close to 4 miles in the 5GHz frequency range. Control features also consist of Dual 2-axis joysticks, dual rockers & ten buttons, all of which are protected by a hinged folddown cover. Motion planning and scene recognition allow intricate automated missions to be performed after operation is preset into 256GB memory. The system also features a pinch release antenna to be ready to fly quickly. The system can go from packed to flying in 75 seconds. If there is an impact, the chances are that the drone will survive intact with its airframe construction based on magnesium and carbon fiber composites. Precision GPS and inertial guidance enable night flying operations and visible as well as infrared lighting can be carried.
Carrying a 30x optical zoom camera, an infrared thermal imaging camera, or an infrared thermal imaging camera, the Walkera V1100 Pro can take to the air quickly and operate reliably at great distances. The control system features real time data backup for control and navigation while the internalshock absorption structure protects the vehicle’s critical components. The three 22000mAh batteries allow it to hover for up to 63 minutes in zero wind. Its IP43 rated structure provides industrial grade waterproof, dustproof, and anti-corrosion capability. The four 22.4in. propellers give the V1100 Pro a standard takeoff weight of 22 pounds, maximum horizontal speed of over 33 miles per hour and a flight ceiling of over 16 thousand feet. The vehicle can do all of this while recording 4K video at 30fps.
The Yuneec Typhoon H3 is co-engineered with Leica for professional photographers. Featuring 360-degree continuous gimbal rotation, six rotors and two operator team mode, it provides a very stable camera platform even in adverse weather conditions. The landing gear can retract to clear the view for unobstructed 4K/60 video and 20MP still photography from its ION L1 Pro camera. Short interval JPEG imaging allows hyperlapse video to be created and the ST16S remote control presents the operator with a 7in. touchscreen display. Its 720p video can be sent to an external monitor through the HDMI port. The video transmission distance is nearly a mile and each of its two HV batteries allows up to 25 minutes of flight time per charge. Safety is top priority and if a rotor is damaged or fails, the Typhoon H3 automatically activates 5-rotor mode to land safely.