CES: Self-Flying Drone Cars

CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, is in full swing. Just for a second, let’s take a step back and assess the zeitgeist of the tech literati. Drones – or quadcopters, or UAVs, or UASes, whatever you call them – are huge. Self-driving cars are the next big thing. Flying cars have always been popular. On the technical side of things, batteries are getting really good, and China is slowly figuring out aerospace technologies. What could this possibly mean for CES? Self-flying drone cars.

The Ehang 184 is billed as the first autonomous drone that can carry a human. The idea is a flying version of the self-driving cars that are just over the horizon: hop in a whirring deathtrap, set your destination, and soar through the air above the plebs that just aren’t as special as you.

While the Ehang 184 sounds like a horrendously ill-conceived Indiegogo campaign, the company has released some specs for their self-flying drone car. It’s an octocopter, powered by eight 106kW brushless motors. Flight time is about 23 minutes, with a range of about 10 miles. The empty weight of the aircraft is 200 kg (440 lbs), with a maximum payload of 100 kg (220 lbs). This puts the MTOW of the Ehang 184 at 660 lbs, far below the 1,320 lbs cutoff for light sport aircraft as defined by the FAA, but far more than the definition of an ultralight – 254 lbs empty weight.

In any event, it’s a purely academic matter to consider how such a vehicle would be licensed by the FAA or any other civil aviation administration. It’s already illegal to test in the US, authorities haven’t really caught up to the idea of fixed-wing aircraft powered by batteries, and the idea of a legal autonomous aircraft carrying a passenger is ludicrous.

Is the Ehang 184 a real product? There is no price, and no conceivable way any government would allow an autonomous aircraft fly with someone inside it. It is, however, a perfect embodiment of the insanity of CES.

Surviving the FAA Regulations: Modelers Move Indoors

New FAA rules are making radio-controlled aircraft a rough hobby to enjoy here in the USA. Not only are the new drone enthusiasts curtailed, but the classic radio-controlled modelers are being affected as well. Everyone has to register, and for those living within 30 miles of Washington DC, flying of any sort has been effectively shut down. All’s not lost though. There is plenty of flying which can be done outside of the watchful eye of the FAA. All it takes is looking indoors.

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Camera Quadcopter Almost Hits Slalom Skiier

During the World Cup slalom skiing championship on Wednesday, ski champion [Marcel Hirscher] was nearly hit by an out-of-control camera drone, that crashed just behind him while filming during a run. Watch the (scary) video embedded after the break.

According to this article in Heise.de (Google Translate link), the pilot was accredited and allowed to fly the quad, but only over a corridor where no spectators were present. After the first couple of runs, apparently the pilot went off course and quite obviously lost control of the copter.

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Tokyo Police Aim to Catch Drones In a Net

A Japanese protester flew a quadcopter with a symbolic amount of soil from the contaminated Fukushima region onto the roof of the Prime Minister’s office in April. Although it was a gesture, it alerted the Tokyo police department to the potential need to be able to pull drones out of the air.

drone_in_netSimply shooting them down won’t do — think of the innocent bystanders on the ground subjected to a rain of quadcopter parts. The Tokyo police’s solution: catch them in a net, flown by another quadcopter, of course.

We can’t embed it here, but go click through to the video. It looks like the police are having a really good time. How long before we see drone-net sets under the Christmas tree, or quadcopter-tag leagues? We’re uncertain of how far the Battlebots in the Sky movement got.

We have no shortage of yahoos driving quadcopters in the States, of course. From interfering with fire-fighting aircraft to simply flying too close to commercial airplanes, people are doing things that they simply shouldn’t. We’ve been covering the US government’s response that finally culminated in the FAA making rules requiring medium-weight drones to be registered. Watch our front page for more on that next week. Fly safe, folks.

[via The Verge]

FAA Releases Rules Governing Unmanned Aerial Systems

The US Department of Transportation and the FAA have just released their guidelines that require registration of Unmanned Aerial Systems. This is the regulation that covers model aircraft, drones, quadcopters, and flying toys of all kinds. These rules have been anticipated since last month to be in place for the holiday season.

As expected, the FAA is requiring registration for all aircraft, regardless of being ‘model’ aircraft or not, weighing more than 250 grams (0.55 pounds) and less than 55 pounds. The maximum weight is a holdover from previous regulations; model aircraft weighing more than 55 pounds were never really legal without a permit. It should be noted that anyone can build a quadcopter with cameras and video transmitters weighing less than 250 grams. These quadcopters are not ‘toys’ by any means, but are not required to be marked with a registration number and the pilot is not required to actually register. As expected, most rules governing the actual flight of these aircraft remain in place – don’t fly above 400 feet, don’t fly within five miles of an airport.

Registration is by pilot, not aircraft, and costs $5. A registration number must be put on every aircraft the pilot owns, and penalties for not registering can include up to $27,500 in civil penalties and up to $250,000/3 years imprisonment in criminal penalties. The full rules are available in this 200-page PDF. As with most government regulations, there will be a 30-day RFQ period beginning December 21st on regulations.gov. The docket number is FAA-2015-7396.

3D Printed Quadcopter Props

Here’s something that isn’t quite a hack; he’s just using a 3D printer as a 3D printer. It is extremely interesting, though. Over on Hackaday.io [Anton] is creating 3D printable propellers for quadcopters and RC planes. Conventional wisdom says that propellers require exceedingly exacting tolerances, but [Anton] is making it work with the right 3D file and some creative post-processing treatment of his prints.

These 3D printed props are a remix of an earlier project on Thingiverse. In [Anton]’s testing, he didn’t get the expected lift from these original props, so a few small modifications were required. The props fit on his 3D printer bed along their long edge allowing for ease of slicing and removal of support material. For post-processing, [Anton] is using acetone vapor smoothing on his ABS printed design. They come out with a nice glossy sheen, and should be reasonably more aerodynamic than a prop with visible layer lines.

Although [Anton]’s prop is basically a replica of a normal, off-the-shelf quadcopter prop, 3D printing unique, custom props does open up a lot of room for innovation. The most efficient propeller you’ll ever find is actually a single-bladed propeller, and with a lot of experimentation, it’s possible anyone with a well-designed 3D printer could make turn out their own single-blade prop.

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You Might Want To Buy A Quadcopter Now

NBC News has reported the US Government may implement regulations in the coming days that would require anyone who buys an unmanned aircraft system to register that device with the US Department of Transportation.

The most simplistic interpretation of this news is that anyone with a DJI Phantom or a model aircraft made out of Dollar Tree foam board would be required to license their toys. This may not be the case; the FAA – an agency of the US DoT – differentiates between unmanned aircraft systems and model aircraft.

This will most likely be the key thing to watch out for in any coming regulation. The FAA defines model aircraft as, “an unmanned aircraft that is capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and flown for hobby or recreational purposes.” Additionally, the FAA may not make any regulations for model aircraft. While this means planes and quads flown without FPV equipment may be left out of this regulation, anything flown ‘through a camera’ would be subject to regulation.