In the wake of Amazon’s audacious plan to employ delivery drones someday, there’s now another company working to create a drone that could lead the way to airborne automatic deliveries and tackle some of the specific problems of package delivery. Called the HorseFly, this drone comes equipped with eight rotors–twice the amount of the standard consumer drone–and has its sights set on becoming your new delivery man.
Why eight instead of four rotors? Redundancy. From the press release: “So if, for example, multiple rotors were to fail, the HorseFly and its payload still could be retrieved safely.” That’s very unlike a quadcopter, which is pretty much due for a crash landing if any of its rotors fail.
Other quadcopters, like Parrot’s AR.Drone, have a simple spidery sort of design: a central body with arms emanating therefrom, each arm ending in a rotor. But the HorseFly doesn’t have eight arms, like that design would require: instead, it still has four, but each arm ends in a fork, with a rotor at each end of the fork. It looks sort of like you attached four uppercase letter Ys to the body.
The project is a partnership between the University of Cincinnati and Amp Electric Vehicles, a company that retrofits gas-chugging cars with electricity-sipping technology. And the Horsefly design is fully custom; a rep from the University of Cincinnati tells us, “You can’t just order pieces off the Internet and build a HorseFly drone.”
The HorseFly has also been designed to address the issue of power. Small drones like these often have severe difficulty with battery life, some only lasting about 30 minutes. That’s not enough time for a package-delivering bot to depart from a distribution center and make multiple stops to deliver multiple packages. It may not even be enough time to deliver a single package and return to the center before pooping out.
So the HorseFly is designed to stay close to the “horse,” which in this case is an electric delivery truck built by Amp. The delivery truck would function as a sort of mini-distribution center, with a battery charging station on its roof. The truck drives around but doesn’t stop at each delivery destination, and the drone, perched on top like a falcon on a falconer’s wrist, snags a package, delivers it, and flies back, charging up before the next delivery if necessary. That way it doesn’t have to fly nearly as far for each delivery.
But this is all still very hypothetical, since the HorseFly can’t do much of anything until the FAA rules on new regulations for unmanned aerial aircraft. But if commercial drone use becomes legal, we wouldn’t be surprised if the first production models looked something like it.