Drones Doing the Darndest Things

Eddie Codel Director, Flying Robot International Film Festival

The next wave of drone innovations can take down snowmen, catch litterers, deliver drinks and make the Pope smile.

The things people are doing with drones today are impressive if not downright nutty. These flying devices are helping humanity, but they’re also breaking records, starring in movies and stretching the imagination for what’s possible.

One of the more humorous examples is the chainsaw wielding octocopter. Apparently it has a vendetta against snowmen.

Created by a couple of Finnish farmers, this so-called #killerdrone is the stuff of nightmares because it shows drones can be trained to do almost anything. This flying chainsaw massacre showcases one absurd example.

Over in Germany, a pilot from e-volo flew a hybrid helicopter-drone. It was the first certified manned multicopter flight, and made many people wondered how drones might take Uber to new heights.


The Volocopter VC200 is a fixed-pitch multirotor with 18 electric motors powered by 50 kilowatts of battery power. It’s built with collision-avoidance intelligence by Ascending Technologies, making it easy to fly.

ETH Zurich, the so-called “Silicon Valley of drone innovation,” is a Swiss-based university focused on technology and the natural sciences.” Several of the university’s research projects led to startup companies that focused on using drones to solve a particular problem.

Wingtra, for example, builds drones that have the characteristics of two different aircrafts. These VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) drones have the range and flight time of a fixed-wing aircraft with the precise landing and takeoff capability of multirotors.  Wingtra believes drone technology can aid the agriculture and mining industries and assist with industrial inspections.

Another ETH Zurich spinoff is Aerotain, the company behind the Skye blimp drone. The Skye is a helium filled ball with three electric motors that can rotate 360 degrees around each axis. The result is an aerial platform that can perform precise movements while carrying heavy cargo for long periods of time.

Since the Skye is essentially a helium-filled balloon, Aerotain claims it can fly over crowds safely. The Skye uses drone technology to create new modes of advertising, including at sporting events where it can be flown around a stadium.

Golfers everywhere will appreciate Rakuten, a Japanese company that’s experimenting with a multirotor done that delivers golf balls and drinks on the green. The company is also testing a mobile-based service that will allow golfers to order drinks and balls right from their phones.

Assuming the delivery drone is able to avoid the wayward shot across the fairway, deliveries will start in May.

In Dubai, drones are beloved by the crown prince, who hosted the World Drone Prix race in March. Fifteen-year-old Luke Bannister took home $250,000 in prize money after winning what many called “the largest and most extravagant drone race to date.”

With such an overwhelming cash prize and drone racing quickly becoming a global pastime, the population of pro drone racers is poised to explode.

Even ESPN is getting in on the action. The network announced it will broadcast live drone races at the US Drone National Championships in August 2016.

Dubai is also putting drones to work as aerial “robocops,” using flying cameras to catch illegal garbage dumpers and litterbugs red-handed. Dubai Municipality will employ drones to monitor trucks that dump illegally and popular campsites where citizens are known to leave trash behind.

In Italy, a group of Jesuit students in Rome gave Pope Francis a drone as a gift. This homebuilt quadcopter is meant to represent “the values of technology in the service of man.”

With so many drone innovations in the pipeline, it’s tough to know what’ll happen next. Who knows, maybe the Pope will use his new drone to create a 3D model of the Vatican using photogrammetry techniques. Now that would be cool.

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