VTOL Kestrel drone morphs into fixed-wing aircraft after takeoff

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The VTOL Kestrel drone on show at CES 2016(Credit: Darren Quick/Gizmag)

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Nearly all drones currently fall into one of two categories: they are either fixed wing, which means their wings are rigid like an airplane, or they use rotary wings like a helicopter. Fixed-wing drones tend to have longer range and greater carrying capacity than the rotary-wing variety, but they lack the ability to takeoff and land vertically. For humanitarian and agricultural use, the strengths of both types are crucial. It's no surprise, then, that drone maker Autel Robotics has developed a tiltrotor unmanned aircraft that can takeoff vertically and transition into a fixed-wing flight mode once it gets into the air.

The dual-mode Kestrel drone is targeted at agricultural and humanitarian operations, both of which often lack safe space for traditional takeoff and landing. It has a range of up to 62 miles (100 km) and a top speed of 40 m/h (64 km/h), with flight time of 1.2 to 2 hours. The tail and nose sections can separate for transport.

And while its 4.4 lb (2 kg) payload may not sound like much, it's enough to carry essential care packages to people stuck in disaster areas. Indeed, drones used in the Syrian Airlift Project to carry supplies to civilians and aid groups have a similar carrying capacity.

The VTOL Kestrel drone also supports automatically-generated flight routes and a redundant safety system that's meant to guide it safely to the ground (as a glider) if the motors fail. And it includes infrared multispectral sensors for crop monitoring and evaluation.

The drone was revealed at CES this week. It's expected to be available in March 2017, with pricing yet to be announced.

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