A Swiss aerial robotics startup is developing a half-plane half-helicopter vertical take-off drone to be available by this summer.
Wingtra showed its prototype unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at a CeBit preview in Hannover, Germany. The fixed wing has propellers on its leading edge but it is a simpler design than the manned rotary or tilt-wing aircraft that swivel their engines through 90 degrees to move from helicopter to fixed wing flight.
The UAV takes off and lands from a vertically upright position, like a helicopter, so it does not require a runway and can take off from a dirt road, corner of a field or from between houses. Once airborne the whole aircraft can tilt forwards 90 degrees to lie flat in a fixed wing configuration for forward flight and to cover larger distances more quickly. It can then slow, pause and hover in the middle of a flight to provide, for example, closer inspections.
The motors can propel the UAV to cover up to 60km and can push it to speeds of up to 100km/h. The craft is very light and can carry a small payload of 1.5kg, which is enough for observation and sensing missions or carrying out small deliveries. The first application for Wingtra is expected to be in forest management.
“Our robot improves wildlife protection, agriculture, mining, parcel delivery and many other fields,” says Wingtra. “In the next few years UAVs will become a standard sensing tool in many industries. In precision agriculture for example drones are used to gather information – which can ultimately reduce fertilizer usage by as much as 40 per cent. UAVs are and will be used extensively to detect diseases early on, increase yields and create nutrition maps and much more.”
Wingtra is a spin-off from the Autonomous Systems Lab at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, where it began life as a student project but has grown to employ 20 staff in just one year.
Wingtra will feature in the reception area of the Swiss pavilion at this year’s CeBit show in Hannover, 14-18 March. Switzerland is this year’s partner country for CeBit. Swiss parliament member Franz Gruter said the number of ICT employees in Switzerland has more than doubled in the last 20 years.
CeBit spokesperson Oliver Frese said the former computer show is now focused on business rather than consumers and has evolved into the world’s leading event on technology for the “digitization of business and society.” He said CeBit’s top theme is again this year the “d!conomy” with the slogan “Join Create Succeed.”
There will also be drone racing at this year’s CeBit, in a flight arena run by the organization Dronemasters.