The AUVSI exhibit hall yesterday witnessed the public debut of the octo-rotor X8, the latest in a series of lightweight unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by Saskatchewan, Canada-based Draganfly Innovations.
The X8 features a pair of extra rotors compared to the X6 for improved stability, greater payload capacity and longer endurance, says Zenon Dragan, president and founder of Draganfly.
Each of the eight rotors is controlled by its own motor, allowing the system to easily recover if one of the engines malfunctions, Dragan says. Unlike even a small unmanned helicopter, the X8 rotors weigh only 17 grams. The lightweight construction means the aircraft is safer to operate.
"You can stop the rotors with your hands," he adds.
Also making its debut at the show was the Draganfly handheld ground control system. In fact, the company's software developers finished the coding for the device only a few hours before the show opened, Dragan says.
The handheld system cleverly repackages an operating system normally installed in a laptop or tablet computer into a form similar to a gaming device.
A 16cm (6.3in) display for the Linux-based operating system is installed between two thumb toggles, allowing the controller to override the autonomous system as the aircraft approaches obstacles, such as a tree or power lines.
Although the X8 is aimed primarily at the emergency services market, Dragan hopes the handheld control system can be adapted to a widen variety of small UAVs. Such a device would be based on an open source operating system, allowing any company to design a UAV to be controlled by Draganfly's handheld controller.
"We want to basically make a unified platform" for the UAV industry, Dragan says.
The X8 is the latest in a series of increasingly more powerful Draganfly vehicles released over the past decade. According to Dragan, the X8 also likely represents the most powerful aircraft Draganfly will ever release.
In the future, Dragan plans to focus the company's resources on making its series of six- and octo-rotor UAVs less expensive.
"We'll probably get into cheaper categories" of aircraft, Dragan says.