Drones have become a hot topic of conversation, and the technology is advancing faster than regulators can keep up with it. A project for a new type of drone has landed on Kickstarter where it has already received overwhelming support, raising more than $137,000 to beat its goal of 100,000 with 25 days left to go.
The SkyProwler drone
The folks at Krossblade Aerospace Systems have developed a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) drone, which they say is more like an airplane. It offers faster speeds than drones with rotors, as well as better efficiency and a longer range.
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On the other hand though, rotor craft are useful because they can get in close for surveillance purposes or to drop a package, whereas winged drones can’t really do. The SkyProwler drone is also able to do that through Krossblade’s switchblade transformation mechanism. The mechanism enables it to transform from a rotor-powered drone into one with wings. The drone is a prototype of a five-passenger VTOL personal aircraft called SkyCruiser that’s expected to launch toward the end of this decade.
The SkyProwler cruises at 65 miles per hour and can hit a top speed of 83 miles per hour. It also carriers what their Eye Cam system, which is installed in the front and is more efficient aerodynamically speaking than one that hangs under the aircraft. It can also look straight up. The drone also allows the use of cameras made by other companies, like GoPro’s action cameras, which can be slid on and snapped into place.
The full preview video on the drone is embedded at the bottom of this article.
The FAA sets the first rules for drones
Last week regulators with the Federal Aviation Administration issued the first set of rules governing the use of drones, an important milestone toward their acceptance. Those who are interested in drones were pleasantly surprised in some ways and disappointed in others.
Perhaps the best uses for drones are taking video, doing surveillance and mapping, and delivering packages, which is a goal of Amazon and is already being done by Alibaba in testing. The FAA suggested commercial drones could take video and do surveillance and mapping, but regulators clearly still have some reservations about drones doing deliveries.
Also the rules include a requirement that drones may not be operated out of the line of sight, and there are limits on autonomous flight.
Will drones ever be used for deliveries?
So will Amazon ever see its dream of using drones to deliver packages become a reality in the U.S.? For now anyway, that dream is on hold thanks to the FAA. However, the requirement about “line of sight” operation could be interpreted very loosely.
Daniel Lubrich of Krossblade told ValueWalk that the FAA probably means an actual visual line of sight, but operators may take some liberties with the phrase, possibly using a spotter instead of the operator to keep the drone in sight. He predicts that the restrictions will become looser gradually over time and that just one bad event could threaten progress dramatically. However, he points out that with a drone’s small size, the amount of damage it could possibly do is rather limited.
“I have read that the FAA is already considering proposing relaxed rules for line of sight. Clearly what is needed is full autopilot,” Lubrich told ValueWalk. “It is only logical. You have 500 ton jets going 500 mph over 10,000 mile distances basically fully auto-piloted at most times. Yet, a vehicle of less than 1/100 of one percent (1/10,000) of the weight and flying only 1/5 as fast cannot be auto-piloted? Makes no sense. Safety is important, but so is prioritization. And for many applications you want automation. It will make it all much more cost-effective!”
Consumers are ready for drones
Even though regulators are rightfully cautious about the use of drones for some tasks, it seems as if the average consumer is ready to start seeing drone-delivered packages start arriving on their front doorsteps.
A new study by WalkerSands reveals that nearly a third of those the firm surveyed think they will order their first drone-delivered package in the next five years. Twenty-two percent think it will actually come in the next two years. (All graphs in this article are courtesy WalkerSands.)
Some people are even willing to pay extra for having a drone deliver their packages. In fact, nearly 80% would be willing to pay at least something.
Consumers also would trust drones to deliver almost all types of products, especially books and clothing.
What can be done to loosen restrictions on drones?
In light of how ready consumers are to see drones deliver their packages, it seems clear that the FAA will start moving in this direction, although it may not happen as quickly as consumers seem to think it will. In order to move things along, Lubrich suggests that a group of drone experts get together and create a proposal for the FAA.
Among his suggestions is stacking regulations accord to how much harm a particular size or type of drone could potentially do. For example, drones could be put into classes according to size, speed, etc.
“The smaller the drone, the more the law is biased towards penalizing for actual damage done, rather than trying to prevent damage,” Lubrich said. “So if a 5kg drone falls onto a car and damages it, then the drone owner has to pay for this of course, but for such small drones, it is much more efficient to penalize actual damage done in the rare cases it happens, than to prevent any kind of damage by regulating it so much.”
He also suggests fully legalizing first person view flying because it’s easier than flying while watching the drone from the ground below. And finally, he suggests that auto-piloted drones be legalized if there is a pilot available.
All photos in this report are courtesy Krossblade Aerospace Systems.