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Featured image: The Airbus Zephyr Drone, image provided by Airbus

Autonomous Vehicles

Drone News Roundup

While small drones (sUAS) are an important part of today’s electric aviation scene, it doesn’t make sense to cover every little thing that happens with them. But, there’s still a lot of interesting things going on that are worth checking out as we watch this relatively young CleanTech industry emerge. So, I’m going to do a quick news roundup of some recent stories that are worth looking at, but just aren’t enough on their own to merit a story.

If readers like this approach, I’ll start doing this on a regular basis.

Zipline Bringing Healthcare Drone Deliveries to Washington State

In a recent press release, Zipline and MultiCare Health System, a not-for-profit healthcare organization in Washington, announced a collaboration to conduct the state’s first commercial drone deliveries. Electric, autonomous aircraft from Zipline will transport medical supplies throughout MultiCare’s network of facilities, including hospitals, labs and doctors’ offices.

“Making sure our providers have what they need, when they need it, is a critical part of providing affordable and accessible care to patients,” said Florence Chang, president of MultiCare. “We are always looking for like-minded partners who can help us improve the care we provide to the communities we serve in a sustainable and reliable way.”

Zipline’s instant delivery solution will be used by MultiCare to serve facilities in the Tacoma area. The drones will transport lab samples, drugs, and test kits among other things. The objective of the collaboration is to develop a quicker, on-demand delivery system for MultiCare’s providers while also improving patient experience.

Zipline and MultiCare aim to begin deliveries in 2024 once regulatory approvals are received and will serve residents of the Pacific Northwest in the next two years.

Defense Contractor Talks Taking Out Drone Swarms & What Integrated Sensing Has In Common with Tesla

A recent Defense News article gives us some insight from an executive at Leonardo DRS, a company that focuses on networked computing on the battlefield. After acquiring an Israeli radar firm, William Lynn (the company’s chief executive officer) said Leonardo DRS is researching methods to improve capabilities such as sensor integration and using directed energy and electronic warfare to destroy drone swarms.

Lynn said the RADA merger will immediately benefit the company in two of its four primary markets: force protection, which includes its Mobile Low, Slow Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Integrated Defense System, or MLIDS, counter-drone system utilized by the U.S. Army, and advanced sensing.

When it comes to advanced sensing, Lynn said integrating RADA’s radars into Leonardo DRS’ portfolio “provide[s] the one sensor we don’t currently have.” This will be key as sensor integration becomes more important in Army vehicles like tanks, Strykers, and Bradley fighting vehicles.

“Think Tesla,” Lynn said. “You have a backup camera and you have the side mirrors with collision detection. What Tesla’s done now is integrate all that into a single picture — so good, in fact that it can drive the car…You get a comprehensive picture of the battlefield [with integrated sensing], you’re able to take all that data [collected by various sights and sensors] and make it actionable and decision-quality data. We want to be a part of that, and having a radar is critical. We think what’s going to happen is the sensors and the computing are going to fuse.”

While there are big differences between doing what it takes to protect soldiers from swarms of deadly drones, the common challenge is quickly assembling data from different sensors to form an operating picture faster than the human brain can.

Images Of Upcoming DJI Mini FPV Drone Leak

A recent tweet (hat tip to DroneDJ) gives us a peek at an upcoming DJI FPV drone.

The photo revealed by reliable DJI leaker OsitaLV shows Avata with 3-inch guarded propellers, allowing the drone to fly safely around people and in confined places. This style is distinct from DJI’s other camera drones, which are built to capture the stunning outdoors with exceptional clarity. While a propeller guard is available as an optional accessory for the Mavic and Spark, the cage around the props is integral to this drone’s design.

When the product’s leaked images were published by the same source in May, they showed a camera mounted on a single-axis gimbal and bottom obstacle-avoidance sensors. Prior leaks also suggest that the completely pre-built, ready-to-fly DJI Avata will provide excellent image quality – comparable to that of the new Mini 3 – in a much smaller and lighter form factor.

All of these features are designed for safe flight in tight spaces with complex turns. Unlike more gentle flying, like you’d do for a real estate or construction video, FPV drones are expected to make crazy maneuvers that probably result in some accidents. So, the drone is designed to not only make compelling crazy videos without hitting things, but is designed to be able to take a hit when the system does occasionally fail to make it through razor-tight margins.

This video by Tesla is a great example of this kind of flying and videography:

Airbus’ Solar Drone Breaks Flight Record High Above Arizona

Another article at Defense News tells us about an amazing flight above Arizona, where according to Army Futures Command, the solar-powered Zephyr drone has already surpassed its own record for time spent in flight as an unmanned aircraft system, with 36 days completed so far, and counting.

Zephyr is the world’s first continuous stratospheric UAS, with a flight endurance of up to several months at heights above weather and conventional air traffic. It has a wingspan of just over 82 feet — longer than two school buses placed end-to-end but weighs less than 166 pounds.The Air Force’s Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing/Space Cross-Functional Team launched the plane on June 15 at 70,000 feet over Arizona. The pilotless aircraft previously held a record of about 26 days in 2018.

“This experimentation allows us to build on that knowledge by demonstrating multiple payload types, fully exploring the military utility of stratospheric operations, and modernizing areas of deep sensing, long-range targeting and resilient communications,” Michael Monteleone, the director of the APNT/Space CFT said in a statement. “Ultra-long endurance unmanned platforms have the potential to provide significant military capabilities and enhanced confidence as part of the Army’s diversified multi-layered architecture.”

The Zephyr drone collects solar energy during the day using its onboard solar panels and stores excess energy in battery cells for night time flying. This allows extended flights over weeks, and perhaps months in the future, for a variety of purposes.

Featured image: The Airbus Zephyr Drone, image provided by Airbus

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things:


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