A New Tilt-Rotor VTOL Drone Transitions to Fixed-Wing Flight With Zero Input

Recharging Drones in only 45 minutes.
Brad Bergan
The EV Nest in action (left), and the Dragonfish series (right).1, 2

Recently, Autel Robotics released a new drone charging platform that allows drones to take on multiple recursive missions independent of weather across a wide variety of industrial applications, including industrial energy inspection, natural disaster monitoring, and more.

But another tilt-rotor VTOL drone from Autel can transition to a "fixed-wing" mode, and "scout areas after a hurricane, with a lot of different really high-end camera options," said John Simmons, a representative for Autel Robotics at the CES 2022 exhibit.

The drone charging platform is called EVO Nest, while the long-range, fixed-wing VTOL is called the "Dragonfish" series. And it could simplify the energy needs of visual surveillance, monitoring, and public service.

The tilt-rotor mimics Boeing's Osprey helicopter design

The tilt-rotor VTOL drones are "primarily geared for large industry inspectors for Coastal Patrol law enforcement. One of our clients was a sheriff's department down in Florida" who inspects the aftermath of colossal hurricanes, explained Simmons. "It's meant to be like (Boeing's) Osprey helicopter paradigm. It does VTOL, with no throwing, no catapults, vertical takeoff and landing and then transition to the fixed-wing mode, which is a lot more (energy efficient)." The resemblance to Boeing's Osprey was intentional, not because it looks cool, but because it enables a highly efficient transition to fixed-wing mode without involving a human, or some other complex catapult machine.

"Dragon is our first foray out of the quadcopter design, and into tilt rotors," explained Simmons to IE at the CES 2022 exhibit. "So this is our first tilt rotor, and it ascends VTOL. Then the middle propellers lock in place and then other propellers go just like Boeing's Osprey, and that flies in the fixed-wing mode." Notably, it can dispense with the limits of conventional fixed-wing aircraft, including launchers (catapults), runways, the almighty human arm, and parachutes. And, "[i]t can also transition back to helicopter mode," which makes for a perfect, smooth flight profile.

Dragonfish's service ceiling is nearly 20,000 ft

Autel's Dragonfish series can fly for 120 to 180 minutes, with a maximum speed of roughly 67 mph (108 km/h), assembles in 3 minutes, can boot up and self-check in 5 seconds, and execute an entire mission profile with just a single tap. Using a wide array of high-end cameras, the Dragonfish can execute optical zooms of up to 20 times magnification at 4K resolution. Importantly, the drone is compatible with any power source, with almost no maintenance costs, and is constructed of eco-friendly materials.

And, like the EVO Nest, the Dragonfish series can fly to a maximum altitude of 19,685 ft (6,000 km), and lift up to 17.2 lbs (7.8 kg). Some of the high-end cameras include a 4K Dual Sensor, a 4K 20x stabilized Optical Zoom, multispectral, 1-RGB wide-angle camera, and several different third-party payloads as needed for unique payload solutions throughout an unspeakably wide range of industrial applications. Sadly the Dragonfish could be out of the price range for casual users, with Advexure quoting the price at $99,000, including a high-end camera payload. This is to be expected of a nascent application of flight profiles like tilt-rotor designs, which means the cost might drop somewhat in the coming years.

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