Technology News from Sri Lanka: A typical quadcopter drone is a small gadget that takes off and lands vertically, like a helicopter, using four propellers. And at first glance, a Bell cargo-carrying drone called the APT 70 looks a bit like one of those flying devices-until you know it’s 6 feet tall, spans 9 feet broad, and can carry a 70-pound payload 35 miles away.
It’s not the kind of drone in your yard intended to drop packages. Instead, Bell considers it as a machine capable of carrying military equipment, medical supplies, industrial parts, and instruments, or helping with logistics a shipping business like Japan’s Yamato. This machine first flew late last year but performed a flight previously this month that proved its autonomous capabilities-executing maneuvers on its own, such as automatically turning to horizontal flight, then returning to vertical flight at the correct moments.
In addition to its size, the APT 70 has another capacity that truly distinguishes it from a standard drone: it is a biplane. It parallels the ground when flying, so the four propellers pull it through the air and the two primary broad surfaces serve as wings. These wings lift it as the air moves over them, which means that when the drone flies horizontally, the propellers demand 50 percent less energy.
“We call the drone a tail-sitting biplane,” tells Scott Drennen, Bell’s technology vice president.
In brief: this machine is taking off and landing like a helicopter, flying like a plane at speeds of more than 100 mph, and doing so by moving its whole space position. (And it’s a “tail-sitting biplane” because before take-off and after landing, it’s like an aircraft that’s parked pointing directly up, on its tail.) The white and black pod in the center is where the cargo goes, and the aerodynamic shape of that compartment decreases drag while also offering the craft a little boost.
This means that the cargo in the pod will change its orientation throughout the flight in a way you wouldn’t want to experience if you were a passenger. (In other words, don’t send this way with a Jenga game.) The pod begins vertically, then becomes horizontal and then again vertical for landing. “It’s not the most perfect setup for transportation of individuals,” Drennen says-but this is not his company’s mission for this drone. Drennan adds that they have a design that could maintain a coherent orientation of the pod if necessary.
The drone is also intelligent enough to take wind direction into consideration: for instance, when transitioning into horizontal flight like an aircraft, it places itself and its wings to face the wind, just as a regular aircraft utilizes the breeze to maximize the lift generated by its wings at takeoff and landing.
The drone is conceptually somewhat comparable to the V-22 Osprey aircraft, also produced by Bell (and Boeing) taking off and landing like a helicopter and flying like an aircraft. But that airplane has big pods at the ends of the rotating wings, so the cockpit itself remain level.
Although the APT 70 is not intended to carry individuals, it is, of course, in a wider craft category called eVTOLS (electrical vertical take-off and landing craft) that they are and could serve as air taxis that whisk individuals around towns. Many businesses are operating in this space— including Boeing and a car called the PAV; Lilium and a tiny, futuristic-looking jet-like craft; Jaunt, with plans for a helicopter-like car; and Bell itself, whose air cab idea is a hybrid called the Nexus. (And check out this weird-looking Volocopter flying around an airport!) It’s uncertain just when individuals might be able to catch eVTOLS rides, but Bell’s new cargo carrier is a nice example of using non-living goods transportation technology. They intend to add more sensors to the drone next year, Drennen claims, and bring it on a more ambitious flight across the Dallas-Fort Worth area.