Earlier this week a Chinese firm, Foxtechhobby, claimed it had set a drone world record with a flight of 3 hours. The record did not stand long. Skyfront, a California startup, is reporting that its multirotor drone, the Skyfront Tailwind, has claimed that record with a flight of 4 hours and 34 minutes. And in a conversation with DroneLife, Skyfront CEO Troy Mestler said he expects they can get the Tailwind to fly in excess of 5 hours. It is a significant achievement that would expand the opportunities and benefits for multirotor drones in the enterprise, particularly in sectors such as agriculture, inspection, and emergency response.
The flight times are achieved with the invention of a gasoline and electric hybrid power source. The ability to stay airborne for that length of time enables them to perform lengthy tasks in a single flight, relieving the piot of the need to swap out batteries.
In a release the company said, “This endurance record supports Skyfront’s broader mission of creating fully autonomous drone systems that can fly safely over the horizon, far beyond the line of sight of the operator. The eventual goal is to replace larger manned helicopters which are expensive and dangerous.”
The advantage of fixed wing drones over multirotors has been their ability to fly far over an extended period of time. However, they lack multirotors agility and precision (ie hovering ability). A number of companies have sought to address this with vertical take off and landing (VTOL) drones. These drones are expensive and by virtue of design can be challenging to actually take off and land in windy conditions.
“Skyfront has conquered some of the biggest challenges preventing widespread drone adoption: endurance and range,” said Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs, a wind-turbine drone inspection company. “Skyfront’s solution has the ability to change the way we deploy our technology for wind turbine inspections because it would allow us to inspect a dozen or more wind turbines in a single flight instead of changing batteries between each inspection. It also allows us to look at other markets where our precision flight is required for long range infrastructure inspection. I haven’t seen another company with a viable product that has solved these problems for multirotors.”
Skyfront believes it’s range and endurance offer commercial drone service providers the following:
- faster mission completion
- capability to perform more types of missions
- ability to explore areas inaccessible to drones of limited range
- better performance in wind vs. VTOL fixed-wings
- longer hover time vs. VTOL fixed-wings
- easier operation vs. fixed-wings
- the same small form factor and ease of use as a traditional multirotor
The Tailwind’s autopilot, onboard computer, and comm. links are based on open-source software, hardware and protocols, maximizing customizability and compatibility with existing sensors and software created by vertical partners.
In speaking with Mr. Mesler, he told DroneLife that they would be integrating with data analytics software developers to address specific market needs. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” Mesler said. The Tailwind can be equipped with various sensors for different applications. Skyfront is currently creating two versions of the Tailwind. The first carries a LiDAR sensor and the second carries a dual visual and infrared camera.
“As a service provider for large farms, Aker Technologies depends on drones with long flight times for crop monitoring at scale,” said Aker CEO Orlando Saez. “We are impressed with Skyfront’s Tailwind drone, as it now makes many agricultural applications cost-effective.”
The Tailwind UAV is currently available to select companies conducting agriculture, inspection and surveying missions through Skyfront’s Early Access Program. The Tailwind will enter widespread production in Q1 2018. To apply for the Early Access Program you can email them here (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Here is a time lapse video courtesy of Skyfront illustrating their flight time.