Autonomous Drones Now Carry People

There are a handful of companies trying to build the first autonomous car, but this project makes us think that they all might be heading in the wrong direction. [Thorstin] wanted to use a quadcopter to transport people, and built a working prototype of an autonomous quadcopter-esque vehicle that is actually capable of lifting a person.

The device isn’t actually a quadcopter anymore; that wouldn’t be able to generate enough lift. It has sixteen rotors in total, making it a sexdecacopter (we suppose). This setup generates 282 pounds of static thrust, which as the video below shows, is enough to lift an average person off of the ground along with the aluminum alloy frame and all of the lithium ion batteries used to provide power to all of those motors.

With the PID control system in place, the device is ready for takeoff! We like hobby projects that suddenly become life-sized and rideable, and we hope to see this one fully autonomous at some point too. Maybe soon we’ll see people ferried from waypoint to waypoint instead of being driven around in their ground-bound autonomous cars.

85 thoughts on “Autonomous Drones Now Carry People

    1. Actually I did a lot of research for this. The prefix “quad-” is a Latin prefix indicating a quantity of four, whereas the Latin prefix “sex-” indicates six. The prefix “hex-” is from Greek, and since we don’t call them “tetracopters” (“tetra-” being the Greek prefix for four things), “sex-” would be more appropriate.

      tl;dr some hackaday writers are language nerds.

  1. After seeing the hover-board, this build is just the same but with much more self-weight for the structure. I can’t see anything it could be practical for in common use as it would be about the least energy efficient way to move some one.

    All the same very cool .. and very interesting. Especially seeing the maths behind it.

    1. This build is far different than the ‘hoverboard’.

      Both share the distinction of being half baked and meant to get youtube views though. This is just one property.

    1. Due to the curved shape of rotor blades I expect in the case of breakage the parts will fly anywhere in a rather wide angle, maybe 30 degrees? And combined with the distance the blades are from the seat you’d have to put the seat quite a way up, which would not only cause instability in flight but also insure you’d land on your head in case of a crash I suspect. So all in all it’s not a good idea to simply raise the seat I expect.

      1. Having the pilot’s weight, or the centre of mass, out of the plane of the blades doesn’t make it any less stable. That’s an example of the pendulum fallacy ( The rotors don’t produce lift directly upwards, they produce thrust in the direction they are pointing which mean any torque on the frame isn’t affected by the angle the frame is at relative to gravity. Having the lifting force positioned above the centre of mass makes things like balloons stable but doesn’t work for things like rockets or helicopters. If it did, all quadcopters could be shaped like a giant T and not need all that tedious mucking about with stabilisation.

        1. Ok, this is where I get confused: On a quadroptor or anything of that ilk I would image that sticking a heavy mass above the plane of the rotors would make keeping the whole ensemble upright would be close to impossible. As the mass tries to go its own way due to it being un-balanced, to rectify that, the rotors that are in the direction the mass is trying to go are going to have to work their asses off to try and bring things back into equilibrium. But another thing to consider about this is the fact is if that were to be then the mass would essentially be fixed perpendicular to the plane of the rotors. Now it is assumed that if the plane of the rotors were to be fixed above the mass then the same thing would happen again, but one of the lovely things about having the mass below the plane of the rotors is the fact is doesn’t need to be fixed, it can be allowed to pivot. Granted, depending on the mass and the power of the motors would determine how well it balances, it would make it considerably better than the mass being on top. To finalise: Two magnetic spheres, one is essentially on a fixed plane to simulate the plane of the rotors and the second sits on top, the top one has a mass greater than the magnetic sphere fixed to the top of it. Try and keep that sucker balanced! Ok now lets fix the top one to the bottom of the one simulating the rotor plane and balance it now, bit easier huh? Even if you move the plane of the rotors around the pendulum will essentially swing, but it’s far easier to correct if at the bottom than on the top.

        2. Now take one with a lifted person and one with a person in the plane, and then, and here’s the thing, tilt it 45%.
          At that point there is a lever effect if the weight is up there, plain and simple. And with rotors with limited power they might soon struggle too much with that. And remember, this tilt will be in movement so the weight of the person will have momentum added to the mix.

          I’m sort of repeating what dazzer said of course, but in a slightly different more condensed manner.

    1. Not sure why people are obsessed with groin area and the plane level if he tipped over to the left or right his head would got cut pretty bad. Is cage for passenger or rotors too much to ask for?

  2. I can imagine similar comments being thrown around when the Wright brothers first flew. It spawned a new era in which the new technology became widely accepted. I think we are experiencing a similar situation right now before our eyes.

    1. Well the Wright brothers plane actually flew… it didn’t take off and then immediately land. Also they didn’t invent their dual wing glider after the invention of the modern airplane.

      See a drone is a miniature helicopter. They beefed a drone up enough to where it could barely lift a person. Which is a great experiment and all but if you were expecting landing pads on the top of every tall building where rich people could ferry back and forth without dealing with traffic we already have that… you know, helicopters and helipads.

  3. No helmet? No prop guards? Center of gravity above the thrust plane? If I could think of a word other than ‘dumb’ I would use it. But, I can’t, so Dumb it is.

    1. Center of gravity above thrust plane is not a problem. “Pushing/Pulling” propellors and stability is a misconception.

      You might think that the propellors push ‘up’, and will rotate the machine around the CoG like an inverted pendulum, but that’s not true; They don’t push ‘up’, they push in the direction of the aircraft.
      Propellors will add/remove stability with relative motion – eg. falling – but for steady state flight they don’t.

      1. I remember from an aircraft design course, that a pusher configuration actually has a slight stabilizing effect. I’m not sure if any explanation was given, but as with any stability considerations of aircraft it is probably a complex combination of several factors and probably cannot be transferred to rotorcraft.

  4. I don’t follow the herd on this one. This is just the beginning for this kind of thing except the rider will be mounted under the props not above them. These misguided fellows are on the right path.

    1. Octo and deca are both used in both Greek and Latin, so I feel like it could go either way. Either four bladed multicopters should be tetracopters (going with Greek), or six bladed multicopters should be sexacopters (going with Latin).

      Here’s a neat table of comparing Greek and Latin numeric prefixes, from everyone’s favorite fount of knowledge, Wikipedia:

  5. A multicopter with a normal hobby grade controller needs to be properly airborne before it has full control. It’s basically going to throw you off into the rotating knives as you take off or land.

  6. “The device isn’t actually a quadcopter anymore; that wouldn’t be able to generate enough lift.”

    Really? I’m sure I’ve seen a single rotor quadcopter (I shall name it a “helicopter”) lifting heavy loads such as people. I thought the general rule was that more rotors means less efficiency.

    1. less efficiency in terms of the motors yes, but there is also a price to be paid for the mechanical complexity of dual or even the few true single rotor designs that have been attempted, as well as control efficiency.

      the argument holds far better between similar control and stability schemes.

  7. Apart from being ill-advised, this also quite illegal in the Netherlands. I have not seen this pop up on the news here yet, but if it generates any publicity, the authorities will be forced to become involved.
    Here’s the first “successful” human powered aircraft in the Netherlands:
    The creator designed and built this during high school, and did only this short hop on a closed runway. Of course this made the news at the time, politicians wondered if any permission had been obtaining, thereby forcing the authorities to investigate (to save face, not because they wanted to…). I believe they were quite reasonable in the end, telling him not to attempt again without permission, but promised to help with any such request in the future.
    But were that was basically a bicycle with wings, on a closed circuit, here we have a high-powered vehicle being operated in a residential area. Seeing that the video was posted already 2 weeks ago, and comments are now closed; I don’t expect to hear about this again.

    1. This would be legal in the US. Stay below 250 lbs aircraft weight, and you’re an ultralight aircraft. Very, very little regulation (no paying customers, VFR weather, operate in generally safe manner… no problem). Still, yeah, it’s a flying blender. :-)

      1. Yeah, a better name for it might be a “quisinart”. That and it doesn’t really qualify as an aircraft until it gets out of ground-effect. Right now it looks more like a hovercraft (without a skirt).

  8. The usefull thing with that vehicles is that you can test it without beiing mounted on it. Until then you get also skills for controlling it, I would go for a lot more of protection(as said above) and a Pixhawk, I cannot say for sure as I never used the Multiwii, but as I understand it might be less safe flight control platform. I might be wrong though.

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