Airplane wings are rigid structures. They're great for wide open skies, but one bad collision with a wall or a tree branch and suddenly the flying machine has trouble staying airborne. Helicopter rotors also fare poorly when colliding with structures. But a new bio-inspired wing gives bat-like flexibility to mechanical wings, so they can bounce back after a collision.
Applied Aeronautics sees its new Albatross drone as one perched between two extremes in unmanned aircraft: the low cost and high breakability of traditional hobbyist drones on one end, and the high cost of durable, professional drones on the other. With a crowdfunding project well under way, Applied Aeronautics hopes that its drone can swoop into the sweet spot in the middle, creating a useful tool that people can actually buy and use.
French drone hobbyist Olivier C is building a drone navy. It started with a Millenium Falcon drone, then followed by a TIE Interceptor drone. Now, Olivier C has moved beyond smugglers and starfighters to deliver a capital ship: an Imperial Star Destroyer. Like his previous Star Wars drones, the Star Destroyer is a foam body built on top of a custom quadcopter chassis, and there are giant circular holes in the Star Destroyer's shape to accommodate the quadcopter's spinning rotors.
NASA is working on a prototype drone that will be able to survey Mars from a modest altitude. But what if instead of shipping a drone to Mars, we could just ship small vials of cells, and use them to grow a biodegradable drone on the Red Planet? A team of students from Stanford University, Spelman College, and Brown University created such a drone last summer, which they then entered into the 2014 International Genetically Engineered Machine competition.
Drones, as low-cost flying machines, make great rescue tools. They can look and go places people can't--or at least can't go safely--and with infrared cameras, they can sometimes see beyond what human eyes can. In Houston, the World Animal Awareness Society plans to use them to track stray dogs, combining a drone's utility as a mapping device with its rescue abilities.
Last week, the FAA did something strange: it granted Amazon a certificate to test drones, provided Amazon test those drones under a set of incredibly tight restrictions that don't match with Amazon's planned drone delivery model at all. Yesterday, at a Senate hearing on commercial drones, Amazon's VP for public policy blasted the FAA, saying the certificate only lets them test obsolete models. He said, as reported by CNET, “We don't test it anymore. We've moved on to more-advanced designs that we already are testing abroad.”
Secretly, a lot of drones are cell phone parts disguised as flying machines. Advances in cellular technology, like miniaturized powerful batteries, cheaper smaller cameras, and sensors like accelerometers have all found their way from our pockets to the skies. Now, a new drone eye wants to shed cell parts like a vestigial tail, and instead make drones fly on sight alone.