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June 9, 2018

9 bizarre drones, from web slingers to lake hoppers

by John_A

Richard Newstead/Getty Images

As big a drone fans as we are, one of the most exciting things about watching the industry over the past few years has been seeing it evolve, mature, and enter the mainstream. But with maturation comes standardization — and there’s no doubt that some of the best drones out there, like the best smartphones, can often have far more in common than they do separating them.

But while the mainstream drone space may have found its groove, there are still plenty of unusual projects taking place at the fringes. Without further ado, then, here are some of the weirdest, coolest, and most unusual drone projects going on right now.

Spider-drone

To riff on the lyrics of the classic 1960s Spider-Man cartoon: “Spider-drone, spider-drone // Spins some webs and then it’s gone.” If ever there was a drone we can totally imagine Peter Parker buying, it’s this innovative creation called SpiderMAV.

Developed by researchers at the U.K.’s Imperial College London, it’s a modified DJI Matrice 100 drone, complete with magnetic perching module and web-shooting abilities. When SpiderMAV finds a magnetic surface it wants to perch under, it fires out a line a line of spider silk-style polystyrene thread, and then uses this to enjoy some motor-free hangtime.

Hop, skip, and drone

Drones have limited battery and, as a result, range. One way to solve that? The University of Sherbrooke’s SUWAVE drone is a lake-hopping drone that is designed to fly short distances, land in a body of water such as a lake, recharge using in-built solar panels, and then take off again.

Okay, so relying on regular still bodies of water somewhat limits where it can fly. But as an unorthodox solution to the problem, it’s incredibly smart. And it’s not the only innovative University of Sherbrooke drone, either…

A drone that can land on walls

Another drone created by researchers at Canada’s University of Sherbrooke, the Multimodal Autonomous Drone (S-MAD) is a flying squirrel-inspired fixed-wing drone that is capable of landing and taking off from vertical surfaces.

By landing on walls, the idea is that S-MAD could either recharge at regular intervals or else carry out long duration surveillance. Not only is the idea unusual, but the tech that’s necessary to land on a wall without smashing into pieces in the process is pretty darn impressive.

A drone you can ride in

The word “drone” is often used synonymously with UAV, a.k.a. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. That’s not exactly the case with the so-called Passenger Drone because, well, it’s entire purpose is to be manned. Offering room for two passengers and controlled by a touchscreen, the Passenger Drone is propelled through the heavens by 16 rotors.

Instead of steering it, the idea is that users will draw their route on a map. The drone will then fly them there, with autonomous driving tech making sure that nothing is collided with en route. There’s no word on when it will be available to buy, or how much it will cost, but just the knowledge that the Passenger Drone is in development makes us feel more cheerful about future commutes into work.

The world’s fastest drone

This drone is unusual not in the sense that it clings to walls, fires webs or any of the other wacky innovations in this list, but because it’s fast. Like, really, really fast. While regular drones are capable of reaching speeds of around 40 mph, the Drone Racing League’s DRL RacerX last year set a new drone speed record of 163.5 mph.

To put that in context, it’s around one-fifth the speed of sound. Impressively, DRL RacerX actually managed a top speed of 179.6 mph, but due to the averaging process that determines how the Guinness World Record is recorded, this did not count as the final score.

A drone with a gun

Have you ever looked at a drone and wished it came with a mounted firearm attachment? Quite possibly not, but then again you’re probably not the target market for Duke Robotics’ TIKAD.

Intended for military deployment, TIKAD is a 110-pound drone that’s designed to sport a plethora of semi automatic weapons in addition to a 40mm grenade launcher.

A flying cellular base station

Created as a research project at the University of North Texas, this innovative drone project is intended to act a flying cell tower for use in disaster zones when communications are down. Carrying a cellular base station as a payload, the drone is capable of providing cellular coverage up to two kilometers.

Were it to be scaled up, as the researchers think it can be, it could provide temporary cellular coverage to a city with a population of more than 100,000. In the aftermath of a natural disaster, that could be a genuine lifesaver!

Move over quadcopters, here’s a… hexacopter?

Called Voliro, this hexacopter with six individually tiltable axes was created by students from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Zurich University of the Arts. Unlike regular drones, Voliro’s creators claim that it can offer a massive 12 degrees of freedom in the air.

That means that it can fly vertically, upside down, or at any other angle in a way that would make your average drone green with envy. Right now it’s still a research project regarding the potential of omnidirectional fight. Still, possible commercialization hasn’t been ruled out for the future.

A drone that can fly for an entire year, non-stop

While a typical drone has a flight time of up to 20 minutes, cutting-edge British companies BAE Systems and Prismatic are developing an ultralight, high-altitude drone which could achieve flight times of anywhere up to 12 months!

Called PHASA-35, it’s a drone with a wingspan of 35 meters that uses a combination of long-life battery technology and ultra-lightweight solar cells. The craft has been in development for the past two years, and a quarter-scale model took to the skies in 2017 for a test flight.

The team behind it is now hoping the real thing will be ready for test flights of two production prototypes sometime in the second half of 2019.

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