Drones with bee wings solve problem of flying in poor weather

Drones with bee-inspired wings may be the solution to allowing unmanned aerial vehicles to fly in poor weather and efficiently round the streets of our cities.

It may sound slightly peculiar, but that’s what Glenn Smith the CEO and co-founder of MapleBird is trying to build. 

Smith and his team have been working on creating drones that are “palm sized, it’s about the size of your hand basically and weighs around 20 grams.”

The small aircraft, like many robotics projects which are being worked upon, are based around the efficiencies in flight that have evolved in nature.

He said the drones are based on honey bees as they fly well in poor weather, an ability that drones may help drones to be able to fly in strong winds and rain.

“In reality why you want to do that is to make things that can fly in the real world in windy and dusty conditions,” Smith said in an interview with Factor at the Re.Work Robotics Forum in London, where he was speaking about the drones.

“Quadcopters and the like, they can hover and they can move forward at a decent speed but as they begin to get smaller they become really affected by gusty conditions and those are the conditions that are prevalent in cities, you have wind sheers, you go around buildings so this becomes something that they need to deal with.

“They don’t want to be blowing around they need to be able to control their position well.”

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However Maplebird isn’t the only company that has looked to imitate the biology of a bee.

Harvard University has developed Robobees, which are the size of bees and have been made to be autonomous.

The American university’s bees may be able to be used to help pollinate a field of crops, as well as everything from search and rescue missions to traffic monitoring.

Smith’s hand-sized drones have many of the same potential applications as the smaller versions created by Harvard. In particular he pointed out the potential use for ‘eyes in the sky’ and industrial monitoring, as they are able to put up to five cameras on the flying devices.

However the technology still needs some work before it will be flying around our cities.

Smith said that the company have developed an engine that allows them to replicated the beating of a bee’s wings.

“What we’re really doing right now is making sure our flight platform works correctly so when you get it in the air,” he said.

“So there’s two elements to that one is getting it taking off the ground, getting all the lift and thrust that we need, which we are developing rapidly, but in conjunction with that we are also developing the control systems that you need to fly stability and the communication to that. We’re working on both of those at the moment.”


Featured image courtesy of MapleBird


World’s first regular drone delivery service takes flight

For the first time ever, a regular delivery service will be undertaken by drone, marking the first step towards drone delivery becoming a standard replacement for traditional postal services.

Serving the German island of Juist in Europe’s North Sea, the drone will make several visits each week to drop off urgently required goods, such as medication.

The drone in question is the Parcelcopter 2.0, a creation of logistics giants DHL that the company are developing to augment their existing delivery services. This delivery service will serve as a research project for the company, enabling them to further refine the drone’s design.

After debuting Parcelcopter back in December, DHL has spent a lot of time beefing up its range, speed and durability in readiness for flights across the choppy North Sea.

The drone will be entirely automated throughout 12km route, making the journey the first time in Europe when an unmanned aircraft has operated outside of its controller’s field of vision in a non-testing environment.

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The service to Juist will run at key times throughout the week and weekend when traditional routes to the island – ferries and flights – are not scheduled to run.

Given the high costs of transporting essential goods to remote communities, the service could become a blueprint for serving island and other hard-to-access regions.

However, each region will require approval from local authorities; something that DHL had to work hard to achieve with Juist.

In order to get the flight off the ground, the system needed the establishment of a restricted flight area between Juist and the German city of Norden, as well as approval from the city and island authorities and the Wattenmeer national park, which is on the drone’s flight path.

If the service proves successful, Germany is likely to establish a more wide-reaching policy on drone delivery flights, with other countries in Europe set to follow.

However, how long it is before such a service makes its way to the USA, where drone regulations are far stricter, remains to be seen. Changes in US aviation rules to accommodate drones have so far been very minimal, and the country is likely to see intense lobbying from key business groups before any significant movement occurs.

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Although completely autonomous during flight, the drone’s journey will be at all times monitored from a mobile ground station in Noorden. This is in part to comply with flight regulations and to maintain contact with air traffic controllers, but also makes practical sense for such a young technology: if anything goes wrong the drone can be immediately switched to manual control and navigated to safety.

The Parcelcopter 2.0 is designed to autonomously take off and land, and a custom landing site has been designed and installed on the island of Juist. Departure from mainland Germany will occur in the harbour of the city of Noorden, keeping the travel time to an absolute minimum.

Given the conditions the drone will be flying over, keeping the cargo safe and dry is extremely important, so the Parcelcopter has been equipped with a weather and waterproof air transport container. This should keep all medications safe and ensure they arrive at their designation undamaged.

“Our DHL parcelcopter 2.0 is already one of the safest and most reliable flight systems in its class that meets the requirements needed to fulfill such a mission,” said Jürgen Gerdes, CEO of Deutsche Post DHL’s Post – eCommerce – Parcel Division.

“We are proud that this additional service can create added value for the residents of and visitors to the island of Juist and are pleased with the support we have received from the involved communities and agencies.”


Images courtesy of DHL.