NTT Docomo balloon drone gets around using ultrasonic propulsion

NTT Docomo balloon drone gets ...
The Docomo balloon drone is filled with helium and steers using an ultrasonic propulsion system
The Docomo balloon drone is filled with helium and steers using an ultrasonic propulsion system
View 2 Images
The Docomo balloon drone is filled with helium and steers using an ultrasonic propulsion system
The Docomo balloon drone is filled with helium and steers using an ultrasonic propulsion system
NTT Docomo's new balloon drones glow thanks to LEDs
NTT Docomo's new balloon drones glow thanks to LEDs

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.

DOCOMO Develops Blade-free Drone Fitted with High-res Camera and LEDs

Source: NTT Docomo

David F
Beautiful drones for indoors.
Ultrasonic thrusters can't move things very fast, so ventilation systems will probably have to be taken into account.
The video shows that they are not talking about much force here. So, a propeller system with similar force is not going to hurt anyone. Perhaps one benefit is that people may feel more comfortable with this getting closer to them than a small propeller system. Or perhaps just event organizers are the one to convince it is better.
Great synopsis Michael, but one thing? Are they considering this for the outdoors? No mention of the wind speed limitations of this drone. But I can see it in closed arenas or roofed stadiums. I can't see a spherical and silent drone being a hit with basketball games, but certainly it would make a difference with concerts or publicized gatherings - maybe Trump will invest in these. It looks like the risk of super-spreader events is inconsequental in his circles and it could reduce the number of people needed to get the footage. A win-win for all the survivors!
Kevin Ritchey
Not likely to be mistaken for a UFO but knowing human nature, stupidity will win out.
Suly Alvarez
Super cool to see helium based indoor drones. The only other company I was aware doing this was orbflyer.com - which has some interesting tech as well. It will be exciting to see what use cases come of these products.
Ralf Biernacki
The dream app, for me, is local voice messaging. Tell everyone the dinner is ready. Lucy, water the plants upstairs. Have I left my laptop there? Joe, come here, we need your help. Yes, all this can be done with SMSes. But this is so much more elegant--an elegant tool for a more civilized age.