8 drones that delighted us in 2016

IDG News Service | Dec 14, 2016

Drone tech really took off in 2016, from drones that can light up the sky, to ones that will deliver goods right to your location on the golf course.

Track 1: Many experts predicted that in 20-16 our skies would be teeming with drones, doing everything from delivering packages to surveilling our streets. Obviously that didn’t happen, but drone tech did make some big leaps this year. Let’s check out some of our favorites.

Track 2: First up: DHL’s Parcelcopter delivery drone. It uses a combination helipad and mailbox dubbed Skyport to to automatically load and unload its payload. Once parked into place, the Parcelcopter stores its cargo in one of the station’s lockers. From there, it can be picked up by the intended recipient. DHL hopes to use the Parcelcopter to deliver packages to remote areas where standard delivery options take a long time.

Track 3: Major Japanese shopping portal, Rakuten, came out with its own version of a delivery drone this year. Visitors at a golf course near Tokyo could choose from over 100 items and have them delivered to their location on the course. Once finished with its delivery, the six-rotor drone would autonomously return to the drone depot, where an operator was waiting to package the next load. In October, Rakuten used the same drone to deliver fresh produce to elderly residents in Japan’s Shimanami islands.

Track 4: Companies also made strides in drone safety this year. Take DJI’s Phantom 4 drone for example, which comes with an obstacle avoidance system. Using two-forward-facing optical sensors, the drone is able to track an object and keep it centered as it moves. Through an app, pilots can select a destination and the drone’s software will automatically calculate the best flight path while avoiding obstacles.

Track 5: Not to be outdone, Intel revealed its own version of a drone obstacle avoidance system at CES this year. RealSense uses three separate cameras to measure depth and map out the world around it, allowing the drone to dodge obstacles mid-flight. Intel partnered with Chinese aircraft maker, Yuneec, to outfit its Typhoon H consumer drone with the technology.

Track 6: And if all else fails how about a parachute? That’s the safety solution that New Zealand-based drone manufacturer, Altus Intelligence, chose for its drone. The company’s flagship LRX drone is mostly used for surveying and mapping missions and is equipped with three separate fail-safe systems, including a triple-redundant piloting system, redundant propellers, and of course, a parachute. The chute launches using compressed air and works from as low as 25 feet.

Track 7: Back on our list for the second time, Intel lite up the night sky with an impressive light show using 500 synchronized drones. That’s a world record! Intel’s Shooting Star drones are not commercially available, but are offered to companies as an alternative to fireworks. So far, Disney World has hired the drone fleet to perform as part of its Starbright Holidays aerial light show, though only 300 drones are being used.

Track 8: Wrapping up our countdown is the Naviator. This amphibious drone was created by researchers at Rutgers University and can seamlessly transition from soaring through the air to swimming through the water. The transition is made possible thanks to the drone’s two layers of propellers. A sensor detects when the vehicle is in the water and shuts off the upper propellers. The lower propellers then drag the drone underwater, after which all the propellers kick back in at a much lower speed. Most funding for the development of the Naviator has come from the Navy, which hopes to use the drone for search-and-rescue operations, locating underwater mines, and conducting at-sea fleet inspections.

Track 9: I could drone on and on about drones, but I’ll save it for next year.