(Photo: Wesley Farnsworth)
Drones are a popular piece of cutting-edge technology that many construction companies have embraced in recent years. The versatile, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can efficiently perform many tasks, from inspections to security monitoring to data analytics. Drones were already growing in popularity before the pandemic hit, but in our new socially distant world, people have begun to rely on them even more.
The next frontier in drone technology are so-called heavy-lift drones, capable of lifting and moving objects as heavy as 1,000 pounds. While the idea of a drone carrying a half-ton pallet of materials overhead may sound disconcerting, these mighty UAVs are up for the task.
Leonardo Test Drone Carries 55-Pound Payload
Italian drone maker Leonardo recently test-flew a drone carrying 55 pounds. The project, dubbed “Sumeri: Si Salpa!”, saw a remote-piloted drone weighing 286 pounds carry the payload using an electric propulsion system. It was the first-ever test of its kind in Italy, and one of the first in the world, where a remote-controlled drone carried such a heavy load in an urban environment.
The flight served as a proof-of-concept for several important factors that still must be perfected before similar drone-provided logistics applications can see widespread uptake in commercial industries. Its high load capacity is an obvious one. However, the test flight also proved the highly automated system that was able to navigate various air traffic situations.
“This initiative is an expression of Leonardo’s vision to make cities more functional, sustainable and ecologically-friendly through the application of new technologies in the fields of unmanned aircraft and logistics, applications which can also be used in times of emergency, such as those we’ve seen in recent months,” Laurent Sissmann, senior vice president, unmanned systems at Leonardo told For Construction Pros.
The next phase for the Leonardo drone is to work towards carrying hundreds of pounds of goods or materials as far as 31 miles while using a Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) control system. If subsequent tests prove successful, the drones could be used for material deliveries to construction sites faster and with fewer carbon emissions than traditional ground-based hauling methods.
xFold Drones Can Haul Up to 1,000 Pounds
ZM Interactive’s (ZMI’s) latest iteration of its xFold drone, the xFold Dragon, is highly versatile. It is capable of switching configurations to use between four and 12 of its propellers in mere minutes. Most impressively, the Dragon model can lift payloads of up to 1,000 pounds.
Different versions of the five available Dragon models are highly configurable and suited to lift 100, 300, or 500 pounds. The xFold Dragon line has already been enlisted by California firefighters to drop fire-extinguishing bombs following a series of record-breaking wildfire seasons. Some of its other customers include NASA JPL, the U.S. Military, the Israeli Defence Force, and Bell Helicopter, For Construction Pros writes. The heavy-lifting drones are used in multiple countries on four continents.
“The xFold Dragons by ZMI are built to be the strongest, most adaptable aircraft on the market today,” Ziv Maron, ZMI CEO, tells For Construction Pros. “We are constantly improving on our designs to make them suitable for every industry and every use. Our customers come to us with an idea, and our technology continues to rise to the challenge—these capabilities are only the beginning, and we have more exciting updates coming in 2021.”
The company is planning a series of demos for the line of drones this year, including delivering heavy cargo to ships anchored offshore and aiding police and fire departments in search and rescue operations.
Commercial Drone Professional writes that these new ultra-strong drones could one day lift thousands of pounds, reducing the need for cranes and making the job site safer for workers. If drones evolve to this point, they could even replace countless trucks or other diesel-powered heavy machinery, helping the industry reduce its carbon footprint while improving safety and efficiency.