Guns and commercial drones have crossed paths before, ranging from harmless foam-firing toys to more unsettling stories of drones packing semi-automatic handguns. Landing somewhere between those two extremes is the DartDrone, a version of Haevic's SuperDrone modified to carry an air gun that fires darts for use by veterinarians and the game animal industry.
The base model SuperDrone, a collapsible six-armed multirotor armed with an optional thermal camera for spotting predators (or trespassers), has been checking on farm animals for a few years now. The DartDrone variant packs a 35 mm, double-barrel pneumatic dart gun, but Haevic hasn't just bolted that to the bottom and called it a day.
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The DartDrone's frame has been adapted to make it more robust than its Super predecessor, and increased the size of its propellors from 15 up to 17 in (38.1 to 43.2 cm). That lets it to carry a payload of up to 22 lb (10 kg), bumps its top speed up to 41.6 mph (67 km/h), and allows it to stay airborne for between 20 and 30 minutes at a time, depending on how hard you or the weather push it.
An included pair of goggles give the pilot a drone's-eye view of what's happening and let them control the dart gun with head movements. As the creators demonstrate in the above video, the gun will tilt up and down on the gimbal according to how the user angles their head, and a crosshair on the screen guides them to aim the dart. It's apparently accurate from up to 98 ft (30 m) away when using the recommended air pressure in the gun, which can be fiddled with to adjust the speed and distance the dart will travel.
In its native land of South Africa, the DartDrone comes with a price tag of R200,000, and in the US the full kit will run you US$14,500 when it becomes available on November 18. That includes the hexacopter itself, the dart gun, the gimbal, a 16,000-mAh battery and charger, a 10-channel radio, a GoPro Hero 4 Silver, and the flight goggles.
The DartDrone can be seen in action in the video below, and we can only hope it stays in the hands of the farmers and vets for whom it's intended.