The growth in the availability of drones over the last few years has been explosive. In tracking the trend, Gizmag has covered everything from pocket-sized consumer quadcopters to Predator military models. A Romanian NGO, however, is promising that its new drone will fill an untouched gap in the market.
The Airstrato was created by the Romanian Cosmonautics and Aeronautics Association (ARCA) in recognition of the fact that few organizations can afford high-performance UAVs like the Global Hawk or the aforementioned Predator. ARCA is seeking to provide small businesses, research institutions and individuals with a level of performance comparable to high-end UAVs, but at a much more affordable price.
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Before you get too carried away, that price starts at US$80,000. For that, you'll get ARCA's "entry-level" AirStrato Pioneer, which has a flight ceiling of up to 26,000 ft (8,000 m) and can fly for up to 12 hours. It has a wingspan of 12 m (39.4 ft), weighs 175 kg (375 lb) and is powered by a 38-volt Robbe 6362/10 engine. Amongst the Pioneer's features are 1,800-watt polycrystalline solar panels that charge its batteries when there's sunlight.
Elsewhere, the Pioneer has a VHF radio that provides communications with air traffic control or other aircraft, and artificial intelligence attributes for avoiding no-fly zones and taking control of flight when communication is lost. A built-in parachute, meanwhile, ensures that there is always a soft landing. ARCA suggests the Pioneer is suited to applications including land and sea border protection, disaster monitoring, remote area exploration and filming for TV and cinema.
The Pioneer's bigger brother, the Explorer, has the same feature set and suggested uses, but is able to fly at a higher altitude and for longer. Its flight ceiling is 60,000 ft (18,000 m) and it has an endurance of up to 20 hours. Those higher specifications will set you back $140,000.
Both the Pioneer and the Explorer can be controlled from the $15,000 AirStrato Interface. The Interface is a control center from which the AirStrato drones can be piloted wherever they are in the world. It communicates with the drones via satellite and allows the user to view flight parameters, program autopilot and to pilot the aircraft in assisted fully manual modes. Features include a hand-operated throttle and stick, a high-quality display, a keyboard and mouse for navigating software, and foot-pedals.
In the absence of a runway, the drones can also be launched from ARCA's Accelerator, a pneumatic launcher that will set the drones into flight in less than a second. To do so, the Accelerator's internal air compressor delivers a force of 2,200 ft lb (2,983 Nm). It comes at an additional cost of $20,000. Other add-ons available include 4K video cameras and additional battery packs.
The video below shows the ARCA drones and Accelerator in action.