NTT Docomo balloon drone gets around using ultrasonic propulsion
As handy as multicopter drones are, the endlessly spinning blades are noisy, energy-intensive and potentially dangerous. Balloons could be a good alternative to do at least a few jobs other drones can do – namely, shoot video and look cool – and now Japanese company NTT Docomo has unveiled bouncy blimp-like drones that get around using an ultrasonic propulsion system.
With more and more drones crowding the airspace, all those whirring blades are an increasing hazard to people, animals, objects, and other drones. Many make use of complex obstacle avoidance algorithms and sensors, while others encase drones in crash cages or design them to go limp on impact.
Docomo has a far simpler idea – get rid of blades altogether. The new drone is essentially a balloon filled with helium to keep it aloft, so it’ll just bounce comically off someone’s head. A camera mounted on the bottom lets it shoot photos and videos, or if the drone itself is meant to be the star of the show, it’s packed with colorful LEDs. That said, it seems to be a more subdued light show than the company's previous flying spherical LED display.
Docomo’s blimp drone has a few other advantages too. It’s far quieter, so there's no namesake droning sound to ruin videos. And since it’s not wasting so much energy fighting the force of gravity with spinning blades, flight times should be greatly extended. That said, Docomo doesn’t mention how long that might be.
But perhaps the most intriguing thing about it is the ultrasonic propulsion system. On either side of the balloon are two small ultrasound modules that produce tiny vibrations to disturb the air and push the balloon left, right, forward, backward, up or down as needed.
Balloon drones have been developed and used before, but some still use propellers, while others are kite/balloon hybrids designed for outdoor, higher altitude use. Docomo says the new balloon drone would be ideal for use at events or commercial facilities, indoors or outdoors – although we imagine it would have to be a very still day.
The company plans to commercialize the drone design before March 2022, although there’s no word on pricing. It can be seen in action in the video below.
Source: NTT Docomo