eBee TAC

Although it might at first glance be mistaken for a $100 Popwing, the eBee has been a mainstay in the aerial surveying and mapping industry for nearly a decade. The flying wing is renowned for its ease of use: plan a mission on your laptop, take it out to the field, shake it three times and then toss it into the air. A conventional two-stick controller isn’t even option with the eBee—but with a starting price of $13,500, you’re probably better off letting the computer do the flying, anyway.

With its extensive track record of success in civilian operations, eBee’s developer senseFly—acquired by AgEagle from French drone maker Parrot in 2021—decided to create a new version tailored for a group of end-users with an even more urgent and compelling mission: the military.

RotorDrone - Drone News | eBee TAC

To help protect forward deployed military personnel, the eBee TAC incorporates encrypted communications and other data security features to prevent it from giving away friendly positions, even if it is captured by the enemy.

Of course, the tactical use of small UAS immediately conjures up images of a live video feed, revealing the bad guys trying to set up an ambush on the opposite side of a hill from friendly forces. However, as a mapping platform, the eBee is ill-suited for that type of real-time reconnaissance. I asked AgEagle’s regional manager for North America, Gary Licquia, to explain conops for the eBee in the battlefield context.

“What we’re doing with eBee is cutting out a step in the process for those guys that are right there on the leading edge,” said Licquia. “Right now, they have to call in for aerial reconnaissance and they might be 15th in line to get a larger asset overhead. So, instead of having to phone the mothership and say, ‘Hey, I need this data,’ they have the drone with them so they can go ahead and do it themselves.”

When the aircraft returns from a mission, the data can be quickly downloaded and assembled into a map using common software tools such as Pix4D React. And, the resulting data is unclassified, so it can be freely shared across different units operating in the battlespace.

The eBee TAC was developed in consultation with military customers and incorporates many features that would be unnecessary, or even counterproductive, in a civilian platform.

“We’ve integrated some security features: we have 256-bit encrypted communications, suppressed flight logs and a secure SD card, so that if anything happens to it, the bad guys aren’t going to be able to pull any useful data off the drone,” Licquia explained. “Also, we can fly without any radio communications at all. You can upload the mission to the drone beforehand, so it’s stored on board, and then you don’t have to communicate with the drone while it’s performing its mission. You can fly in complete blackout mode, so it’s invisible in terms of RF signals.”

The aircraft also incorporates the ability to add bespoke payloads that may be required by certain military applications through an open payload design. Licquia added: “We give them the specifications in terms of the size, the weight, the center of gravity so they can go ahead and integrate it into the drone themselves.”

RotorDrone - Drone News | eBee TAC

The standard payload for the eBee TAC incorporates both a 20-megapixel visible light camera as well as a 640×512 thermal imaging sensor, allowing vital intelligence to be gathered day or night.

The eBee TAC is capable of flying for up to 90 minutes, giving it the ability to map nearly two square miles at a resolution of 1.5 centimeters per pixel. The eBee’s regular black-and-yellow trim has been changed to a speckled black-and-white surface to camouflage the aircraft, which is undetectable visually and acoustically beyond 1,000 feet.

The stock configuration includes an electro-optical/infrared payload incorporating a 20-megapixel visible light camera as well as 640×512 thermal imaging sensor from FLIR. Standard alternative payloads include the S.O.D.A. 3D visible light camera that incorporates an internal roll-axis gimbal to capture both nadir and oblique imagery to enhance the quality of three-dimensional models constructed using photogrammetry, as well as a 24-megapixel visible light camera optimized for low-light performance.

Equally important for the prospective military user is the fact that the eBee TAC is approved for use in sensitive applications. Indeed, the eBee is the first fixed-wing platform to be recognized as a Blue UAS by the Defense Innovation Unit for use by the United States Department of Defense.


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DDC Condor

The Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) booth at the 2022 Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas certainly turned heads with its formidable Condor drone: a single-rotor helicopter with a maximum payload of 180 kilograms, almost 400 pounds south of the border. You don’t need to be a mathematical genius to work out the fact that it could comfortably carry a human being, or two, with that kind of capacity.

That’s no accident: DDC created the Condor by converting an existing, crewed helicopter for service as a drone.

“We buy the shell from a vendor, and then we transform it into an uncrewed platform,” said Armen Keuleyan, the company’s director of sales and marketing.

A small conventional helicopter, the Condor is powered by a 90-horsepower, two-stroke gas engine with a range of about 125 miles. The DDC conops calls for the Condor to be operated from a centralized command center where flights will be monitored remotely by pilots in command. This clearly puts it in the realm of a “beyond visual line of sight” (BVLOS) operation, which is not currently permitted under the aviation regulations of the United States or Canada.

“In the beginning, we’re going to use it at shorter ranges, just to prove the concept using the ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach, to demonstrate to the regulator it’s safe to fly, even though our pilots in command are far away,” explained Keuleyan. “In the end, however, we want to push the limit and hit that 125-mile range potential while operating fully autonomously.”

RotorDrone - Drone News | DDC Condor

Powered by a 90-horsepower, two-stroke, gas-burning engine, the Condor from Drone Delivery Canada has a top speed of 75 miles per hour and a maximum range of 125 miles.

Among prospective users who are interested in the system are oil and gas extraction companies with remote facilities spread out across the vast land area of Canada.

RotorDrone - Drone News | DDC Condor

The Condor, developed by Drone Delivery Canada, has a payload capacity of nearly 400 pounds, prompting the interest of oil and gas extraction firms with operations located deep in the Canadian wilderness.

The Condor is not the only platform currently under development by DDC. The company also boasts two electrically powered multirotors, the Sparrow and the Canary, each with a payload capacity of approximately 10 pounds and a 12-mile range. Tying all of these systems together is FLYTE, a software tool that allows for the remote management of UAS operations from the company’s command center in Toronto. In addition to allowing remote pilots to monitor the location and performance of every aircraft in its fleet, FLYTE monitors other air traffic, weather conditions and obstacles along the established routes where these aircraft will operate.

DDC is the first company to be certified as a “Compliant Operator” by Transport Canada, the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which subsumes a role equivalent to the Federal Aviation Administration. The company was recognized with an Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Xcellence award at the organization’s annual Xponential show in May 2022.


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Mayman’s VTOL Speeder

This practical, real-world turbine-powered design would seem at home in a sci-fi movie. The Mayman Aerospace Speeder is designed to lift up to 600 lb. of cargo. The U.S. Air Force AFWerX Agility Prime initiative recently added Mayman Aerospace to the list of companies receiving support to develop new-generation vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. Maymans’s Speeder includes a module that provides a motorcycle-like configuration for a piloted version. Speeder uses vectored-engine thrust—and quick-fit aerodynamic surfaces can be added for extended range missions. The Speeder will be powered by net zero e-fuel reportedly produced from renewable electricity and carbon captured from the air. In military applications, it could be used for autonomous swarming operations, logistics, and rapid response. Civilian operations include logistics, medical and firefighting use cases. For further background, please see Aviationweek.com. Watch a video on Mayman’s recent AFWERX Grant here. Story and photos courtesy of Mayman Aerospace and Aviationweek.com.

Mayman’s Speeder Optionally Piloted Cargo Jet VTOL

Mayman’s Speeder Optionally Piloted Cargo Jet VTOL

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Ukrainian Teenager Invents Landmine-Detecting Drone

In February 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, 17-year-old Igor Klymenko was forced to flee his home in Kyiv. He and his family moved to the countryside, sheltering in a basement. After three weeks, the young engineer decided to revisit a past passion project: a prototype of a drone that could detect unexploded land mines and send their exact coordinates remotely to a user. The problem is global: as many as 110 million land mines may be buried in about 60 countries. In this project, Klymenko joins several organizations, worldwide, working on various technologies to solve the landmine problem.

While finishing his senior year, Klymenko worked with scientists and programmers to hone his Quadcopter Mines Detector. He now has two working prototypes of the device and two Ukrainian patents. At the recent Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, Klymenko was awarded the Chegg.org Global Student Prize, a $100,000 award for students making an impact on society, learning and the lives of their peers.
The device uses an F5 PRO quadcopter with a metal detector Klymenko designed suspended underneath it as it flies. A built-in gyroscope detects the effect of wind on the drone. The mine detector in its current form can fly for a duration of 20 to 30 minutes and a distance of up to five miles. It takes the drone about two to three weeks to scan a square kilometer of land and calculate land mine coordinates.
Before the drone begins its flight path, it records GPS coordinates in a static location. The user then sets the length and width of the area the drone will scan. After takeoff, as soon as the metal detector encounters a mine, it sends an infrared signal to a phototransistor on an Arduino board. The board executes a code that Klymenko wrote in the programming language C++, which records how much time had passed since the beginning of the scan to when the signal was received. Using the speed of the drone, the time it launched and the time the metal detector located a mine, the code calculates the coordinates of the mine relative to the start of the run; this calculation is then translated into GPS coordinates within two centimeters of accuracy.

In the future, Klymenko hopes to add a ground-penetrating radar to improve the Quadcopter Mines Detector’s accuracy, a spray paint system to allow it to physically mark a land mine’s location and artificial intelligence to provide exact coordinates and the type of land mine. Eventually, he also wants to incorporate a detonation function. He’s continuing to refine his device with the goal of creating a minimum viable product by the end of this year. Watch an overview video here. Photos courtesy of Klymenko Igor Klymenko via Smithsonianmag.com.

Ukrainian Teenager Invents Landmine-Detecting Drone

Ukrainian Teenager Invents Landmine-Detecting Drone

Ukrainian Teenager Invents Landmine-Detecting Drone

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FLIR Takes Flight

The world’s leading manufacturer of commercial thermal imaging systems, FLIR, announced a major new initiative in the drone space with the announcement of SIRAS at the Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas. While the company had previously offered the Black Hornet – a palm-sized helicopter intended for military users, its new platform is aimed at the broader industrial and public safety market for small uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS).

“The payload incorporates our Boson thermal camera core, with a radiometric 640-by-512 pixel sensor,” said Kelly Brodbeck, the company’s UAS product manager. The radiometric designation means that the camera is able to return accurate and reliable temperature measurements – which will no doubt prove to be a valuable capability for industrial inspection deployments.

“The thermal sensor is paired with a 16-megapixel visible light camera in normal flight mode, which goes up to 20-megapixels in mapping mode,” according to Brodbeck. “Because the native sensor has so many pixels packed into it, when we implement a digital zoom, we are able to offer 30 percent more pixels on target than any of our competitors – so our zoom images look very clear: They aren’t blurry or cloudy, like you may have seen with other manufacturers.”

Both cameras are mounted on a three-axis brushless gimbal to ensure stable imaging in spite of the aircraft’s movement. Also, the camera gimbal can be removed and replaced without tools, allowing the platform’s capabilities to be extended with additional payloads which are already under development by FLIR.

RotorDrone - Drone News | FLIR Takes Flight

SIRAS uses a conventional, two-stick control scheme that will be familiar to any Part 107 remote pilot and the controller incorporates a video display to provide the operator both with live video and telemetry from the aircraft.

“You can get it in the air about a minute after you turn on the aircraft and the controller,” explained Brodbeck, with the ability to be deployed rapidly being no doubt critical for first responders.

The aircraft includes numerous other features developed with professional and public safety users in mind. To begin with, the aircraft does not incorporate any geofencing limitations that prohibit it from operating in sensitive locations – such as near airports or critical infrastructure.

If an airplane crashes on landing and lies burning on the runway, firefighters absolutely do not need to be waiting for permission from the manufacturer’s servers to get an airborne perspective on the emergency. Also, in recognition of how critical data security has become, particularly with drones from foreign manufacturers, the SIRAS does not require any type of registration or data sharing between the aircraft and FLIR.

“This platform is manufactured in Taiwan and the United States, and does not incorporate any components coming out of the People’s Republic of China or any similar country,” said Brodbeck.

And, because emergencies don’t wait for sunny, clear weather to happen, the aircraft is IP 54 rated, meaning that it can operate in dusty environments and can continue to operate even if water is splashing against it from any direction.

Among SIRAS’ most innovative features is its collision avoidance system. While virtually all comparable small UAS rely on a machine vision system – essentially visible light cameras in pairs that mimic the function of our human eyes to detect and avoid obstacles in the environment, FLIR’s new drone has a forward-facing radar array capable of detecting obstacles out to 100 feet – much further than other systems and with the ability to detect smaller objects, as well.

RotorDrone - Drone News | FLIR Takes Flight

Designed to compete directly with platforms such as the DJI M300, which can cost $15,000 – or more – when equipped with a comparable sensor package, the SIRAS is available for $9,695.


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Zephyr Drone Simulators

At Commercial UAV Expo 2022, Zephyr Drone Simulators was on hand to share its developments in this fast-growing field.

“We have a drone training simulation that is built from the ground up for large-scale and enterprise training, so we have a learning management system (LMS) that tracks all of your activities, including flight time, operations, crashes, violations and so forth,” said Kyle Bishop, the company’s CEO.

Beginning pilots will find solace in the fact that a “free flight” mode is available where crashes and other mishaps are still recorded, but do not otherwise impact the user’s overall performance or score.

RotorDrone - Drone News | Zephyr Drone Simulators

To create more advanced training scenarios for its students, Zephyr Drone Simulator has tapped into the expertise of its clients to create missions such as bridge inspection.

“And even if you do crash in any of the other modules, you are able to repeat them and re-try, to make sure that you are growing your skills to not crash in the real world,” Bishop explained.

The program begins with basic maneuvers and flight operations, including introducing the specialized vocabulary that pilots use to describe what their aircraft are doing. From there, trainees graduate to simple versions of real-world missions, such as inspecting the roof of a house in an open field, or capturing photographs of a public park.

RotorDrone - Drone News | Zephyr Drone Simulators

After mastering the basics, the Zephyr Drone Simulator encourages students to enhance their skills by working through simple, real-world scenarios, like a roof inspection a suburban home.

Beyond that, Zephyr has worked with its various clients to develop training scenarios that reflect their real-life applications for drones, such as tower and bridge inspection. A forthcoming update will introduce the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) open-lane test, which has been established as an industry certification standard.

The software also offers aircraft from a wide variety of manufacturers – to include industry leader DJI, of course, but also Autel Robotics, Skydio and even Yuneec.

“We even have a few models that go back further than that, like the 3DR Solo, if you really want to take a trip to the past,” said Bishop. “We try to continually add new models as they come out, especially ones that people are actively using in the commercial space. Each of those models flies like how they fly in the real world. We put a lot of effort into ensuring that the time you put in on simulator will translate directly into your real-world flying experience.”

Although the company is targeting primarily commercial organizations and educational institutions, a free trial of the software is available for download from the company’s website.


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Idea Forge Switch

Based in Mumbai, India, drone manufacturer Idea Forge attended the 2022 Commercial UAV Expo to show off the products it has been developing for its native country’s armed forces – which incorporate both simple, robust designs and advanced capabilities that could make them well suited for commercial or tactical applications elsewhere in the world.

“When we were building these systems, and we had developed a few fixed-wing platforms earlier, one of the most common things we heard was that, ‘Every fixed-wing landing is a controlled crash,’” said Ankit Mehta, the company’s CEO. “So, we decided to make something so that even if it actually crashed was much simpler to repair or replace damaged components.”

RotorDrone - Drone News | Idea Forge Switch

The Idea Forge Switch UAS incorporates a sensor ball in the belly of the aircraft, capable of mounting both visible light and thermal payloads. By using cameras with high magnification and a narrow field of view, the platform allows targets to be surveilled without being detected.

To this end, the company’s vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) fixed-wing UAS – the Switch – incorporates wings and other components made of durable EPP foam. To demonstrate just how tough it really is, Mehta disconnects a wing from the airframe, drops it to his feet and jumps up and down on it, before re-connecting it to the aircraft, seemingly none the worse for wear.

“If people are worried about the cost of replacing their wings or making repairs to these systems, then they aren’t going to use them very often,” Mehta explained. “Since we want our customers to actually be able to use these systems, that’s why we went with EPP foam. It is known to be very tough and resilient.”

The Switch is an all-electric “embedded-multirotor” VTOL, with four vertical-lift propellers mounted on booms that allow it to launch and recover vertically from a small patch of ground. Then, once it is aloft, it transitions to fixed-wing flight using a single pusher prop, thereby benefiting from increased efficiency and performance. Of course, for the Indian military, like other drone users right around the world, flying is only a means to an end.

RotorDrone - Drone News | Idea Forge Switch

The Switch from Idea Forge is an all-electric UAS. After taking off vertically, like a helicopter, it transitions to fixed-wing, forward flight using a pusher propeller mounted at the rear of the aircraft.

“We need to make sure that the customer is able to accomplish his mission,” said Mehta. “The customer is very rarely focused on flying as an outcome. When we look at what a customer wants to get done, particularly in the context of a security operation, he wants to observe the target while being as far away as possible – out of earshot of the target – while still being able to see what is happening with as much clarity as possible.”

To this end, the Switch incorporates a 25x visible-light camera mounted in a sensor turret on the underside of the aircraft. According to Metha, this gives the operator the ability to discern whether or not the subjects under surveillance are carrying weapons from nearly a mile away.

“As a company, we believe that the customer’s mission, especially if it’s a security mission, is more relevant at night, because that’s when they can’t see with their own eyes. So, for us, the challenge becomes how do we get them eyes in the night?” Metha asked.

Answering his own question, Metha explains that the sensor turret also incorporates a high-resolution thermal camera with a very narrow field of view – again with the goal of providing the company’s customers with maximum standoff from their targets.

Weighing about 15 pounds, the Switch can fly for more than two hours at mean sea level and has been proven to deliver more than 90 minutes of flight time when launching at an elevation of nearly 15,000 feet above sea level – a wide performance envelope well suited for India, with territory that stretches from broad river deltas and the Himalayas.

In attending the Commercial UAV Expo Idea Forge is seeking potential customers in the United States and Europe for its products.

“It is the highest-performing platform for its weight class in this category of systems, and it goes in a backpack with two batteries that weighs less than 35 pounds,” said Metha. “That means you can carry it in the field and you are set up for continuous operations.”


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