In our rush to accept multicopter drones into our world, have we forgotten the advantages of the humble helicopter? One Canadian company says its single top rotor helicopter drones are as stable and easy to fly as a multicopter, but with several key advantages.
Multicopter drones have emerged in the last five years as one of the key technologies shaping our immediate future. Their easy, stable flight and ability to hover gives them a ton of use cases from filmmaking, to deliveries, industrial inspection, construction and even transport, some time in the future.
But one Canadian company believes that in all the excitement about drones, we've forgotten about the humble helicopter – and a few key advantages a large single rotorcraft has over a multicopter once the latest electronics are figured in.
Helicopters, with their slower-turning single rotor, use less power to develop lift than a multicopter, which gives them a superior ability to carry heavy payloads, as well as longer endurance in the air. They're capable of stable flight in much higher winds than comparably sized multicopters, they're more efficient at high speeds, and they fold up quickly for easier transport than most multirotors.
Perhaps one big reason why they're not more popular is the perception that they're much harder to fly than a multicopter, but this is no longer the case. In fact, in full manual mode where a user has individual control over all rotor speeds, a helicopter is much simpler to fly than a multicopter.
What makes multicopter drones so stable in flight is the use of highly sophisticated flight computers that take the pilot's intention at the sticks and consider a bunch of sensor and GPS data to micro-manage the speeds of the motor controllers. Modern helicopter drones have all the same gear in them, allowing things like stable GPS hover, return to home functions and a much, much less complicated experience behind the sticks. You can set a modern heli's controls up to work almost exactly like a multicopter if you like.
With that in mind, there are some drawbacks. Larger rotors, for example, make more noise, and they're very sensitive to balancing issues and minor crash damage that might not ground a multicopter. On the other hand, that larger top rotor can autorotate the thing to the ground in the event of a motor failure, so there's a reduced risk of simple fall-out-of-the-sky damage to your airframe and payload.
Either way, NOVAerial Robotics has announced that its Procyon 800E drone helicopter is now flight tested and ready to begin limited series production.
The 800E is no hobbyist machine – it weighs in at 12.4 kg (27 lbs), has a 1.78 meter (5.8 ft) main rotor diameter, and carries a payload of between 1 and 5 kilos (2-11 lbs). It'll hover for 40 minutes, or cruise at 50 km/h (31 mph) for 50 minutes, and its top speed maxes out at 90 km/h (56 mph). Telemetry range is up to 20 km (12.4 mi) – this is a serious piece of kit.
Its 3D-printed modular body is simplified with the use of a separate motor for the tail rotor, eliminating the complex driveline and gear systems typically used to feed power from the main motor down the tail shaft. And the helicopter is controlled by Ardupilot autopilot software, allowing 90 percent of the automation you're familiar with on a multicopter drone.
No pricing is available, but it'll certainly be interesting to see if helicopter style drones start making a comeback now that multicopters have blown the doors open to so many industrial, creative and forward thinking applications.
More information: NOVAerial Robotics