Being Picked up by a Swarm of Drones May Become Reality

In case you haven’t seen it yet, this video has been taking the internet by storm. The YouTube user [Gasturbine101] has successfully taken flight in his home made multi-rotor flying machine.

It’s a massive array of high powered brushless motors with props, fifty-four in fact, all counter-rotating. It has a weight of 148kg (we assume this includes the inventor), and produces a maximum lift of 164kg. Apparently it’ll even last for about 10 minutes. The props are grouped into six, using Hobbyking stabilizers to balance the flight.

He calls it the Swarm.

We’re starting to see more and more drones capable of carrying humans. Is this the future of transportation? From commercial companies promising flying cars in drone form, to even more unsafe examples of strapping far too many motors onto a single frame… it looks like the age of home-made flying machines is here.

[via Sploid]

70 thoughts on “Being Picked up by a Swarm of Drones May Become Reality

    1. For long haul transport yes, but helicopters and other inefficient designs have their niches. He has made a flying machine he can haul around on a small trailer. It must pack up nicely. Jetpacks (the peroxide rocket kind) has worse flight times and they were considered for military use once.

      At 3:05 a grey car stops and reverses to have a second look on that strange flying thing in the park!

    1. If you look at the height off the ground in parts of the video, the lift response to the throttle increase, the surface (grass) and the wash on the grass, he was out of ground effect a few times.

      Nice design too, the weight is below the rotor, better stability than some of the other tries, where rotor is on the bottom and person is on top.

      Personally, I wouldn’t want to go higher than that on the first try of a prototype where you don’t know if some of the structure will fail or you have an equipment malfunction.

      1. I’m unable to view the YouTube video, but from the GIF, I see instability occur at the peak rise, which if I remember my AE413, tells me that there is a sudden change in his lift. He’d need to be statically and dynamically stable at an altitude roughly 1/2 of what his effect rotor diameter is for a period of time to make me believe he’s not in ground effect. Given the multi-rotor configuration, I’m not sure what that distance would be.

        It’s an interesting project, sure, but as far as anything other than a neat trick, this falls flat.

  1. “We’re starting to see more and more drones capable of carrying humans. ”

    Aren’t those usually just called “aircraft” with the term drone meaning unmanned aircraft?

    1. Drones aren’t just unmanned, they are autonomous. The term “drone” is overused and usually incorrectly (typically applied to quadcopters which are being remote controlled by a human). I’m glad Ben Heck addressed it in one of his latest videos.

      1. The definition of a drone is fuzzy at best.
        Many drones where large radio controlled aircraft like the QF-100
        Others say the must be autonomous.
        To me drones are unmanned vehicles used by the military.
        But this is so not a drone.

        1. If you want to look back to the early uses of the term, a ‘drone’ is anything that makes a monotonous buzzing sound. :P But it’s typically been used to describe an autonomous aircraft (starting with the original ‘drone’ – the V1 flying bomb, or ‘buzz bomb’).

  2. If only had a much bigger prop/motor, he could cut down on the number of motors to maybe even one big one over his head. Then, he could add a tail with a stabilizing rotor…. dang, it’s now just a helicopter. NM, that’s stupid.

    1. I just wonder why we usually only see two-point props on drones when a more efficient props are available with three, four, five, and six points(more are possible, but rarely seen in the modelling world). Point shape is also important. Those designed for lower speed airflow are generally squared off on the end. Not so with what see see on these quads – most are rounded off.

      1. Multi blade props are ot alway more efficient as the blade before it disturbs the air flow thus losing lift per a prop.
        In fact the best props are single bladed (yes single bladed) which are hard to come by.

  3. These multirotors are pretty much doomed to fail for human transportation – as said before, it is way less efficient than a fixed wing or a normal helicopter/autogyro.

    And the worst part is that any motor or electronics failure is not recoverable. Fixed wing plane can glide and helis and autogyros can autorotate to the ground. Here if *anything* fails you are going down. Hard. Not a big problem for an unmanned drone, but a really big deal for something supposed to transport humans. Getting something like this certified would require some sort of escape system – ballistic parachute or even an ejection seat …

    It isn’t even a new concept – the Moller’s Volantor and SkyCar were based on similar idea – multiple rotors providing lift and a complex control system to keep the thing stable and provide control even in case of one engine failing. Ultimately it never went beyond some tethered flights because it was simply too risky.

    There is also the Martin “jetpack” which works on the same principle. They have the safety issue addressed using a ballistic parachute.

    1. Not entirely true, about recovery. If the propellor loading is low and the CG is low, The propellers will autorotate backwards and slow down your descent. Further, In software you can setup different failsafe configurations, even on a quadcopter that can land you safely.

      1. I think you mean rotors, not propellers. And sure, there’s autorotation, but that’s dependent on having enough altitude to allow for the aircraft to fall long enough to force the rotor(s) in the opposite direction (or the same direction if blade pitch can be modified). With large rotors, there’s enough surface area that this happens fairly quickly. When you scale down the rotor(s), each one must achieve the same thing with a smaller surface area, therefore needing to rotate faster, which would most likely require far more loss in altitude.

        1. I actually think this would be safer than a single-rotor helicopter. If you lose a motor (or two), the controller can easily compensate by applying more throttle to the remaining motors in that sector (and in fact would not need any special coding for this). The only catastrophic failure would be that of the controller itself, or of course running out of charge. The way this one is wired, each motor has its own battery, so there’s no single point of failure there either.

          For autorotation, I could envision a controller/ESC that would allow quickly braking and then reversing the motors in an emergency to get to the auto-rotation state. As in any auto-rotation, of course you need some altitude for it to work properly, but due to the low rotational inertia of the smaller props (relative to a standard helicopter), they would likely spin up significantly faster. Of course you have no control of pitch (you can’t cushion your landing like with a variable pitch helicopter), and would likely hit quite hard.

          As far as “way less efficient” than a normal helicopter, I don’t really think that’s true. Helicopters in general are inefficient because they are using most of their power to generate lift. But in my experience, multi-rotors are not significantly less efficient than single rotor helis in terms of efficiency. That said, I doubt that battery energy density will increase enough to allow for useful flight time. Perhaps a hybrid model would work–a small turbine engine as a generator along with an emergency battery to supply momentary demand or in the case of an engine failure.

        2. There was a youtube video of a guy testing this. Sure it dropped but but it took around two seconds before they were running full speed in reverse. The descent was not as slow as an auto rotating helicopter and I’m not sure either that there is a safe curve for multirotors as you cannot control pitch without engine power as you can with a helicopter.

          Ultralights have parachutes that bring the whole aircraft down safely, that could be adapted to multirotors.

          The software approach is the most elegant in my opinion. A airworthy grade human carrying quadcopter would have redundancy in electronics and battery bank switchers and monitoring of ESC and motors. Any power loss on a “rotor” would shutdown the opposite motor and increase power to the remainding. A quadrotor will have two usable rotors left, presuming that they have enough lift to keep a hover. controls would be reduced to yaw and a common pitch roll on one axis, enough to land.

          For non human multicopters a tetrahedron configuration with one non spinning rotor pointing down could autocorrect if one of it’s top rotors would fail. It would simply flip over and the gyros would choose a new up orientation.

          1. put a steerable parachute in his little sun roof, the lines wont get caught in props on accident, and there’s nothing there already. also put an emergency disconect to drop the body of the aircraft and just be in the seat with the parachute.

        3. I can’t really call them rotors if they don’t articulate. Every one I have see in this application have been fixed-pitch propellers repurposed for lift with yaw and vehicle pitch manipulated with variations on RPM. A proper rotor would vary the pitch of the blades to accomplish this.

          1. Not neccessarily – Autogyro’s use a fixed pitch blade. (Aerodynamincally its equivalent to a disk shaped fixed wing with an adjustable angle of attack). But there is no way this kind of small prop device can autorotate. Its ballistic parachutes or nothing (assuming all motors go out, or all comms to motors go out).

  4. This is a terrible idea. What happens with a power failure of any kind, even partial? You crash. Any control failure of any kind? You crash.
    There are no redundancies, no back-up modes, and no ability of any kind to glide or even auto-rotate. Again, a very bad, very unsafe idea.

      1. Redundancy isn’t just about the number of motors/engines, but how they are configured into the overarching design and control scheme. Issues can also arise from increased complexity.

      2. Not if a single failure in one of those motors can cause a crash. It’s 54 times as many opportunities for disaster.

        OK, perhaps this thing can survive a failure, or maybe a few. Simply losing 1/54 of its thrust is surely no big deal, but it’s not clear how well the control system would cope. And does a failure have a chance to cascade? For example, could one failed rotor blade fly off and take out a few more nearby rotors?

        If the craft can survive a partial failure of one or two motors, the risk analysis starts to become complex quickly. But my point is that “more motors” does not always mean “safer due to more redundancy.”

        1. I disagree. More motors and redundancy in this case is certainly safer. It’s trivial to the controller, as it simply senses rotation and applies more thrust to the appropriate sector. No special code required.

          And why all of this talk of “failed rotor blades?” How often do we see that in the real world outside of a bird strike or something?

  5. All the negative comments are bizzare. Who wouldn’t want this? Flying a helicopter is far more intimidating. I’d rather get bumped into by the edge of this thing than cut in two by a huge rotor.

    1. They’re just jealous because this guy had the stones to fly a home made contraption built using commodity parts and some engineering skills. Does it have design flaws? Sure. Safety issues? Yup. Reminds me of a couple of other guys a few years ago who started out building bicycles.

    2. yeah, it’s weird. all these commenters are on HACK A DAY, you’d think there’d be more engineers who like this just because someone did it, regardless of how practical it is. i mean, it was built, and it kinda works. COOL. but noooo, “oh this is impractical, this could never be used properly, such a waste of time” they cry as the point sails (or rather buzzes angrily and very closely) over their heads

  6. The age of home built flying machines has been with us since… well, pretty much since the beginning of manned flight. There are plenty of truly excellent home-built airplane designs out there with many hundreds flying. Those have the benefit of at least a cursory inspection by the FAA.

    I like multicopters as much as the next nerd, but this is, in my opinion, a terrible idea. I’ve not been impressed enough with the quality control on the current hobby electronics to even think about trusting somebody’s life to it.

  7. May be less efficient than a heli, but how many helis can take off from cold in a couple of seconds?
    Not to mention somwhat cheaper…
    Could have some niche applications.

  8. Apparently this whole thing is running off a kk2 FC- which is just about the cheapest possible FC you can buy; and not particularly well known for quality. He’s got the 54 motors split into 8 groups, and each group is controlled by one wire, so essentially this is a octocopter with distributed engines. Cheap way to do it, and pretty effective.

  9. Why is everyone so negative? Unsafe? Sure. Unlikely to be of any real use as a transport device for the masses? Yep. Made with parts and controllers hardly FAA certified? You bet. Who cares about any of that! The guy built something that he can play with in his back yard, and it got him off the ground! Even if it never went any higher than it did in the video, it’s STILL fun! To me it would have been worth all the time, money and effort just to make that video and show it CAN BE DONE, and to let the HackADay followers know I’m one of them. I know I’m now looking at the better halfs antiques, calculating how many I need to sell when she’s not looking to start something like this for myself…

  10. Excellent! Truly excellent. Had me laughing so much that I almost sprayed tea all over the laptop. Well done GasTurbine101! I’m sure I saw something like a brick drop at about 2:25 (yes, please do be careful), but that just looks like so much fun. Every schoolboy’s dream realized.

    1. Still better than Helium balloon powered lawn chairs that at least two Americans have tried. One of them in restricted airspace. I think they got a pad on the shoulder, no fine and no media scaremongering about thousands of people and terrorists flying lawnchairs over peoples private property.

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