A drone-blimp hybrid that is safe to fly at close proximity to crowds has been developed by a spin-off team from Swiss university ETH Zurich.
The helium-filled flying machine, known as Skye, combines the manoeuvrability of a traditional quadcopter with the energy efficiency of a blimp.
The makers say their safe and 'friendly' drone offers a new and innovative way for brands to interact with their audiences in public settings. Where current advertising is often limited to displays and billboards, Skye can float safely around and interact with people.
"It's a unique flying machine which is safe enough to interact with. So you can touch it in flight; it's basically filled with helium which provides most of the uplift," said Daniel Meier, co-founder of company Aerotain which developed the Skye drone.
Despite being around three metres in diameter, Skye is extremely agile and able to perform almost any movement instantaneously thanks to its four small electric motors. Its engineers designed algorithms that keep it on course, even when performing a range of aerial tricks.
The developers have demonstrated the ball-shaped device with different skins including an eyeball and a football, depending on the event it is deployed at.
"This is where the magic happens; four motors are allowing it to perform any movement, so you can really move it in the air like a flying eye," said Meier.
"There is a computer on board which knows exactly how it's orientated in the world and then it gives commands to the motors to actually align it to where you want it to be.
“There are four motors on it which can rotate around their axis and with them you can precisely control it in any environment, basically."
Skye is lightweight, which combined with its small energy requirements, give it a flight time of about two hours on a single charge.
By eliminating exposed rotor blades typical of most drones, Skye makes it possible to operate around crowds without fear of injury.