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Tech Roundup: Aerial Drones 2022


Unmanned aerial platforms have taken video coverage and creativity far into the real world in all directions, and with so many uses by a wide variety of industries, these machines have come to a crossroads in technology, regulation and usefulness. Commercial drone operators are in a large and dynamic business now and with so many aspects of it in flux the industry has grown into an exciting field. The vehicles sampled here demonstrate the range in size, missions and capabilities of these lively flying tools and toys.

Pushing back against flight time and weightlifting limitations, the AEE Aviation Technology Mach 6 can carry up to 13lbs. through the air for as long as 50 minutes with its smart battery system while working at a maximum range of 7 miles. Even with one engine out this durable hexacopter can still finish the mission and get back home. Its millimeter radar allows it to dodge obstructions as if a pilot were on board and this vehicle is unmatched in the range of payloads it can handle. The struts and propellers fold easily into a handy and easily transportable package. In addition to an assortment of cameras, the Mach 6 can carry 6000 lumen spotlights, 5-mile range bullhorns, sensor packages, as well as delivery cargo. The dual RTK (RealTime Kinematic) antennas allow the vehicle to show up at exactly the right place and follow a precise course. The Mach 6 weighs 45lbs. without payload and measures 28×28×29 inches.

The Aerialtronics Altura Zenith is a well-proven design with built-in reliability in its eight motors and redundant IMUs while its high-capacity batteries enable up to 40 minute flight times. Through secure RF links, operators can plan and execute complex flight patterns and exercise complete in-flight control over a range of payloads. The pilots can also receive 1080P video and push it straight to an external monitor or the cloud. The carbon fiber construction is light but tough and it can perform in heavy rain and dust (TÜV rated IPX5) as well as in an environment with electromagnetic interference. A wide range of cameras and sensors can be carried including optical, infrared, and measurement devices. Special payloads include RFID scanners and flood lamps. The Pensar dual spectrum computer vision platform can read text, detect body heat, recognize subjects of interest, and use privacy masking. Dual stream synchronized recording allows IR and normal vision to work together.

Getting perfectly smooth and high-resolution video in challenging environments is not a problem with the Autel Robotics Evo 2 Dual 640T. It also carries Autel’s newest thermal imaging sensor with a resolution of up to 640×[email protected], a 13mm lens, and 16x digital zoom. The 48MP video camera can capture images with resolution up to 7680×4320 with a 4X lossless zoom. The vehicle uses 19 groups of sensors that include 12 visual sensors, the camera, ultrasound, and dual IMU’s. For moving objects on the ground the system has Dynamic Track 2.0 and can sense their location and speed while identifying up to 64 objects simultaneously. Live video can be instantly shared on public or private networks. All of this can go on for up to 38 minutes flying time and at up to a 5.5-mile transmission range. The magnesium alloy airframe can take hard landings and it can pierce headwinds, getting up to a level speed of 45mph.

Small enough to fit in one hand at under 249 grams, the DJI Mini 3 Pro flies below the requirements of many federal regulations and still gets a professional photo shoot done. The aerodynamically clean design features large propellers, forward, backward, and downward dual-vision sensors that form the sophisticated Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems (APAS 4.0) obstacle sensing, and a camera mounting gimbal that allows true vertical shooting. The Mini 3 Pro can fly for up to 34 minutes powered by its Intelligent Flight Battery. Video is delivered by a 1/1.3 inch CMOS sensor with dual native ISO and it supports the direct output of 4K HDR footage. The DJI O3 video transmission system can convey a 1080p/30fps live feed at a distance of up to seven and a half miles. The operator can use either the DJI RC-N1 Remote Controller or the new DJI RC for smooth flying response. Either can provide a maximum video bitrate of 18 Mbps delivered at a latency of 120ms.

Billed as the Swiss Army Knife of drones, the Draganfly Innovations Commander 3 XL can go far and fast with its nearly 24-mile range and 45mph top speed. The quadcopter can fly for up to 50 minutes with a light load, using the carrier plate attached batteries. The fuselage is a simple tube and while carrying its maximum 26lb. payload the drone can fly for up to 20 minutes. The maximum gross weight is 55lbs. Payload deliveries can be dropped or gently lowered by an onboard winch. This system can fly in a variety of weather conditions using secure communications over point-to-point or cellular links. A number of different camera types can be easily fitted to the airframe for specific missions.

With no assembly required, the 4.4lb. Drone Volt Hercules 2 is ready to go immediately and get up to 55mph, transmitting its AES 256 encrypted data for up to 14 minutes of flight. The durable craft has a multijet fusion, reinforced nylon structure and is capable of operating in moderate rain. Easy to use Drone Volt Pilot software, with multiple modes of operation, allows the Hercules 2 to fly pre-planned automatic missions using simplified mission planning including waypoints and photogrammetry. For the operator, video is displayed along with all vital flight parameters. Equipped with a 4MP 1/3in. CMOS sensor, the ultra-compact Viewpro Q10F camera features a 10x optical zoom and it can record 1080p video at 30fps. The camera is mounted to minimize vibration and the system operates quietly at a range of up to 1.25 miles.

Going from case to flight in less than a minute and a half, the FreeFly Innovations Astro is ready when you are. Meticulously tested, proven, and made in the USA, the drone uses its Skynode system that includes LTE connectivity, onboard Linux mission computer, and seamless connectivity to Auterion Mission Control and the Auterion Suite. This provides flight planning and data management while Cloud APIs facilitate intricate data use. The craft’s four motors use the Freefly F45 powerplant and the Freefly Silent-Drive Sine Wave electronic speed controller. Tough construction with carbon fiber reinforced Nylon allows far more time to be spent in flying than making repairs. The 6-cell Freefly super light batteries (SL8-Air) generate 157Wh at 22.2 volts. Maximum gross weight for takeoff, depending on altitude, is 6,665 grams. Payload mounts include Vibration Isolated Gimbal Quick Release, Vibration Isolated Cheese Plate, and Toad in the Hole while a Gimbaled A7R IV mapping camera can be carried as an integrated payload.

A tethered drone can offer unlimited flight time and the ultimate in data security. The Hoverfly Livesky Sentry is a composite and carbon-constructed all-weather platform that can operate where GPS signal is intermittent or obstructed. The power is provided from the ground via the tether and the drone can be transported to a location and launched in seconds. This can allow it to act as a variable height antenna or security camera for temporary positioning at altitudes up to 200ft. The Livesky Sentry can carry sensors and cameras in addition to a wide range of other payloads weighing up to 1.8lbs. Its PTZ HD camera features a 10x optical zoom. The tether can maintain 0.8lbs of tension with an automatic reel system and it can participate with other drones and devices on an open architecture network. Designed to meet IP54 and MIL-STD-810 standards, the system offers multi-site control with Smart Command software by Hexagon.

The Parrot Anafi Ai uses 4G as the main data link between the vehicle and the operator and this virtually eliminates transmission distance limitations. This link is encrypted for maximum security and the piloting app is open source for custom code variations. Parrot offers developers a Software Development Kit (SDK) to execute custom code allowing access to flight sensors, obstacle avoidance system, occupancy grid and internet access. The drone carries a 48MP main camera and the stabilized 4K 60fps/HDR10 camera provides smooth and detailed video. The software automatically optimizes the signal for best video quality on the network being used. Detailed images are possible at substantial distances through the 6x digital zoom while the 90-degree up and down tilt range and 6-axis hybrid image stabilization gets good views from difficult angles. The ANAFI AI detects obstacles in all directions and executes automatic avoidance. Flights can be planned and then executed autonomously in flights lasting up to 32 minutes.

An upgrade of the company’s popular Sparrow drone, the Percepto Air Max is designed for critical and heavy-duty work in solar, mining, energy, oil and gas as well as other industries. The system’s AI change detection framework generates reports based on visual data collection such as geotagging and topographically mapping faults. It also features Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) capability. This vehicle is an example of Percepto’s drone-ina-box concept where the drone is stored in a light but durable box referred to as the Percepto Base. The waterproof box is designed to withstand Hurricane 5 level winds and it includes a patented docking and charging mechanism along with an integrated weather system. The vehicle homes in automatically and lands right in the box which transmits high resolution data. The Air Max is fitted with 24MP RGB and radiometric thermal cameras with multiple lens configurations. This model is also equipped with an FAA approved parachute for additional safety.

For more lifting power there is the Prodrone PD6B-Type 2 with six powerful motors and 28in. propellers to heft up to 60lbs. The highly customizable drone can be outfitted with daylight and infrared cameras, searchlights and bullhorns. For surveying and precise topographical data gathering it can carry a Riegle large laser and a high-resolution camera. The motor arms can be folded inward to fit in tight places for ground transport and quickly spread outward and ready for flight. A payload of just over 40lbs. can be flown for ten minutes at speeds up to 37mph. Operating in the 2.4GHz band, the system can transmit for control as far as half a mile. This can serve to get heavy loads over road washouts and other obstacles. For increased reliability, two separate frequencies can be used for control simultaneously. The geofence capability keeps the craft within the desired area and interchangeable battery packs allow it to return to the air quickly with fresh power after landing.

For those who like to plan a flight and then let the drone do its thing, the Skydio 2+ can make autonomous flights with ease while tracking moving objects or flying to a specific destination. While flying manually, the user can rely on the vehicle to sense and avoid obstructions both on the ground and in the air. Its two collapsible omnidirectional antennas can operate in the 5GHz band at a range of nearly four miles, shooting 4K/60 video and 12MP stills for up to 27 minutes. The camera has such dynamic range that its 20mm lens can see into shadows and bright sky with no trouble. The onboard micro-SD storage can handle up to 256GB for plenty of images and video while manual photo controls allow precise exposure and interval settings. The operator can use the joystick controller, hands-free Skydio 2+ Beacon or, for short distances, an iOS or Android phone.

The Walkera T210 drone features the new WK-V8 intelligent voice controller that allows realization of intelligent voice somatosensory control. The vehicle’s flight attitude will closely follow the user’s hand actions and voice commands transmitted through a single-hand controller. Bucking interference and communicating on 4G signals, the T210 can range up to nearly two miles and fly for up to 31 minutes. The new T210 app presents a simple interface that can appear on mobile devices connecting on WiFi. The system makes possible time lapse photography through 4K shooting and H.264 encoding. Video is smooth with the 85-degree ultra-low distortion wide-angle lens. The guidance functions enable the drone to fly circles around a moving object that it is accompanying, and it can fly to waypoints and demonstrate intelligent return. After its GPS positioning has been initialized, the T210 can be launched by simply tossing it into the air as it takes over and smoothly flies away.

A hexacopter that retracts its landing gear to allow 360-degree panning with no obstruction is only as far away as the nearest Yuneec H520 drone. It also features an integrated 7in. touch screen on the controller, 3-axis gimbal, hot-swappable cameras, remote camera settings, nearly 2-mile range, and 5-rotor failsafe operation. The smoothness of its multi-rotor flight enables the vehicle to use long focal length lenses so that the craft can get its 4K/2K/HD video or 20MP still images at safer distances from the photo target. The H520E/520 Hexacopter and the ST16S/E remote control communicate directly, so there is no involuntary data transfer to manufacturer servers. Team mode lets two operators share control so that one can concentrate on flying the vehicle while the other handles photography and video. Yuneec DataPilotTM software system enables users to efficiently and consistently create orthomaps, 3D scans, or crop data imagery, and flight plans can be transferred to the vehicle via email, thumbdrive, or micro-SD card.


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