Drones

Non-tilting cyclorotor drone boasts unique abilities

Non-tilting cyclorotor drone b...
The unique cyclorotor/propeller hybrid system allows Astria to hold decent-sized payloads right out towards a target for close-up and touch-based applications, offering exceptional stability without the drone tilting and pitching around
The unique cyclorotor/propeller hybrid system allows Astria to hold decent-sized payloads right out towards a target for close-up and touch-based applications, offering exceptional stability without the drone tilting and pitching around
View 12 Images
The unique cyclorotor/propeller hybrid system allows Astria to hold decent-sized payloads right out towards a target for close-up and touch-based applications, offering exceptional stability without the drone tilting and pitching around
1/12
The unique cyclorotor/propeller hybrid system allows Astria to hold decent-sized payloads right out towards a target for close-up and touch-based applications, offering exceptional stability without the drone tilting and pitching around
Six props handle vertical propulsion, but all balancing and horizontal thrust is handled by the cyclorotor
2/12
Six props handle vertical propulsion, but all balancing and horizontal thrust is handled by the cyclorotor
Cyclorotors can vector thrust much faster than a tilting multicopter can
3/12
Cyclorotors can vector thrust much faster than a tilting multicopter can
A relatively traditional hexacopter layout, but there's a long payload arm out way beyond the props on one and, a battery pack on the other end to balance, and a cyclorotor on top
4/12
A relatively traditional hexacopter layout, but there's a long payload arm out way beyond the props on one and, a battery pack on the other end to balance, and a cyclorotor on top
The payload is kept well clear of the blades, and can be positioned extremely precisely
5/12
The payload is kept well clear of the blades, and can be positioned extremely precisely
Pitch has deveoped an active theromgraphy sensor that can heat up a surface before thermally imaging it to look for structural weaknesses – this kind of operation would not be possible on a regular drone
6/12
Pitch has deveoped an active theromgraphy sensor that can heat up a surface before thermally imaging it to look for structural weaknesses – this kind of operation would not be possible on a regular drone
Payload sits well forward of the propeller blades
7/12
Payload sits well forward of the propeller blades
Precision positioning sensors
8/12
Precision positioning sensors
The Astria boasts a totally unique drone configuration with exceptional capabilities
9/12
The Astria boasts a totally unique drone configuration with exceptional capabilities
As the cyclorotor spins, its blades continually change pitch to vector thrust near-instantly in 360 degrees
10/12
As the cyclorotor spins, its blades continually change pitch to vector thrust near-instantly in 360 degrees
Astria is modular and can be disassembled for transport
11/12
Astria is modular and can be disassembled for transport
The Pitch Aeronautics team with the Astria: it's not a small machine
12/12
The Pitch Aeronautics team with the Astria: it's not a small machine
View gallery - 12 images

Most drones need to tilt to move and correct against gusts of wind. Pitch Aero's Astria, however, can keep itself preternaturally level and stable, thanks to a novel use of cyclorotors that opens up a range of use cases other drones can't handle.

Cyclorotors, also known as Voith-Schneider propellers, push air something like a paddle steamer pushes water. Each is a spinning barrel, with blades along the sides capable of varying their pitch extremely quickly to vector thrust almost immediately in 360 degrees.

Groups like CycloTech, Yamato and Russia's Foundation for Advanced Research are pushing forward in various efforts to commercialize and militarize cyclorotors as the sole propulsion system in electric and hybrid VTOL aircraft. Their unique packaging and near-instant thrust vectoring capabilities offer some advantages that standard propellers, tilt-rotors and other solutions can't.

We've never seen one put to use like this before, though. Pitch Aeronautics, out of Boise, Idaho, has stuck a cyclorotor on top of its Astria drone to give it a set of up-close and touch-based capabilities unmatched by anything else we've seen.

The Pitch Aeronautics team with the Astria: it's not a small machine
The Pitch Aeronautics team with the Astria: it's not a small machine

The Astria, named for the Greek goddess of precision, is a relatively large drone, but completely collapsible for transport. Its central beam is maybe 10 ft (3 m) long, and it rises into the air on six twin-bladed propellers mounted out wide on poles.

At one end of the main beam sits the battery pack, and on the other end, you can stick a variety of tools, sensors, robotic arms and other payloads weighing from 5 to 10 lb (2.25 to 4.5 kg). The battery pack balances this load, so your payload sits way out in front of the propellers, right up against the target you're working with.

Where other drones need to tilt in order to balance themselves against gusts of wind or achieve horizontal movement, the Astria stays preternaturally still and level in the air. That cyclorotor on the top takes over all horizontal thrust duties, spinning at all times and merely varying blade pitch to redirect thrust whenever required, as outlined in the video below.

How Astria Moves

It's some 5 to 10 times quicker at making stability corrections and horizontal position adjustments than a typical multicopter setup, Pitch claims, because tilting a drone takes longer than simply varying the pitch on the cyclorotor blades.

This gives the Astria the ability to place its payloads super-close to a target, with exceptional precision and stability, and even to touch it if necessary. The company says Astria can now take over a bunch of high-precision industrial inspection and maintenance tasks that would typically require workers to place themselves in extremely risky rope-based positions. Think wind turbine blade inspections, placing bird diverters on high-voltage power lines, precise bridge crack measurements, these kinds of things.

"The industry thought that drones would supplant these types of inspections," says Pitch Aero co-founder and Chief Engineer Zach Adams in a promo video, "but it turned out they cannot do that because of the way they move."

The Astria boasts a totally unique drone configuration with exceptional capabilities
The Astria boasts a totally unique drone configuration with exceptional capabilities

The company has built, tested and patented the Astria configuration, as well as an FPV and control system to match. It's also developed some swappable payload arms with instrumentation, tools and robotic arms suited to these initial tasks, including an active thermography sensor that can heat the surface of an object, then image it with a thermal camera to look for structural weaknesses, and a crack width measurement sensor that gets up close to provide fast and highly accurate crack tracking.

Pitch says the initial 10-lb max payload will soon be greatly increased, and a bird diverter installation kit is under development in conjunction with Boise State University and Power Engineers that'll allow the drone to hang things off live power lines, an operation that currently requires workers to hang out of helicopters.

Other payloads under development would be able to install vibration dampers and marker balls on power lines, perform ultrasonic and eddy current testing on steel structures, or even start doing jobs like cleaning, painting, window washing and drilling.

It's a very neat application of cyclorotor technology that seems to have promising potential. We look forward to seeing how the Astria develops from here. Check out a more business and use-case focused video below.

PITCH AERONAUTICS | Up-Close and Touch-Based Drone for Robotic Tasks

Source: Pitch Aeronautics

View gallery - 12 images
5 comments
5 comments
Towerman
The cyclotech concepts is an inspiring concept, we need to see this technology in near future evtol concepts more often !
pete-y
Looks like a winner that will improve other drones too.
At first site the cyclorotor looks like a drag producer - but when working its effects are all pluses.
David F
Its non-tilting movement reminds me of the motion of hoverflies.
michael_dowling
Good idea,but I wonder what the limit is as far as maximum wind speed is concerned.
Bruce H. Anderson
Cyclorotors have been tried on drones before, but for thrust. Interesting concept but not ready for prime time. HOWEVER, when you use propellers for what they are best at doing, and use a cyclorotor for what it is best at doing, winner winner chicken dinner! Innovation isn't always about making new things, but is using existing things in new ways. I wonder why they didn't use 2 cyclorotors, or perhaps a small horizontal propeller, for precise yaw control.