UAS Technology Advances

There have been a number of announcements regarding UAS advancements that have hit the shelves or are around the corner.

An announcement by 3DR is being built up by an interesting YouTube pre-announcement video. I’ve written about 3DR and their unique business model in “CaliBaja.”

Applied Aeronautics has announced the Albatross, the first “fully composite airframe.”  Interestingly, the initial sales are only being offered through the Kickstarter program, a funding source that has already met its goal.  This is a fixed-wing aircraft with specifications including an electric motor, 100+ mile flight range over 2 hours, a top speed of 90 mph.  Airframes start at $650 and prices range up to $3,250 for the Deluxe Ready to Fly Albatross – although none include a transmitter or receiver.  It is a powerful UAS to be in the hands of the average consumer and its posted specification are close to making it Missile Technology!

Top Flight, a small business in Malden, Mass., has developed a gasoline/battery hybrid technology which the company states can power its six 26″ rotor UAS for over two hours at a time in gusty winds, while carrying imaging or crop-dusting payloads.  This follows the solar-hybrid being produced by Silent Falcon. Top Flight’s COO, John Polo, says that for one gallon of gasoline and “$19,000, you’ll be able to carry five pounds for two and a half hours, fly 100 miles semi- or fully autonomously, and have gads of redundancy built into it.”

UAV Turbines, Inc. has announced a gas turbine engine designed for UAS.  Engines will range in power from 30 to 150 hp and will increase reliability significantly over combustion engines for tactical-sized and above UAS.  According to the company, their team is comprised of veterans from both military and civilian engine programs and they have been able to increase the mean-time-between-overhaul (MTBO) from less than 100 hours for combustion engines to about 2,000 hours.

Shepard Drones

Finally, low-tech meets high-tech in the fields of Australia.  The Wall Street Journal reports on people who are using UAS to shepard their herd.  For example, Michael Thomson in New Zealand says he is successfully using a drone to herd sheep on his sister’s 200 acre farm.  He says the sheep respect the drone and are naturally scared of it.  Other farmers in the community are leery about using drones since they haven’t had to “reboot one of [their] dogs.”  Paul Brennan in Ireland named a quadcopter that he uses on a 100 acre farm “Shep.”

On the other hand, a South Carolina farmer has tried to use a drone he got for Christmas to herd his 20 cows to less success, and helicopter pilots in the Australian Outback are confident that the current battery life in drones won’t allow cattlemen to herd cattle with UAS across areas as large as 1 million acres.

(Photo Credit: From the WSJ, Michael Thomson piloting his UAS to herd sheep at Battle Hill Farm outside Wellington, New Zealand.)