The average drone can usually only hover in one position, but an experimental omnidirectional drone built by engineers from ETH Zurich have turned that convention on its head, side, and any other direction you’d like.
This omnidirectional drone can hover and fly in any attitude. As if in zero-G, “up” and “down” are mere suggestions to this innovative UAV. Just watch the official research video below and you’ll see exactly what we mean.
While this is not the first drone to show us omnidirectional attitude, in their paper the researchers say they are the first to combine both “pose omnidirectionality” and high hover efficiency.
At first glance, the design of the drone doesn’t seem too different from other large industrial units. It uses six booms in a hexacopter configuration, with two rotors mounted opposite each other. The real trick comes from the tiltrotor system. Each of the rotor assemblies can turn to change the direction of thrust. Combined with a very sophisticated flight control system this allows the drone to move any way it wants in 3D space, while applying torque to objects like tools or cables. Presumably, it can also perform thorough inspections of objects and interior spaces as well, thanks to its flexibility.
Omnidirectional drones are a step above 3D flight
If you’ve ever seen skilled RC helicopter operators perform 3D flight maneuvers, this idea of “pose omnidirectionality” might not seem all that impressive. In case you haven’t seen this, here’s a prime example.
These collective pitch model helicopters can also fly in essentially any direction from any position. Although, of course, it takes an immense amount of skill. There have also been collective pitch quad-copters such as the Stingray 500 capable of similar 3D flight. The ETH Zurich system has none of the rotor complexity of a collective pitch system. At the same time, it also manages to reach new levels of precision, utility, and efficiency.
In the near future, it might not be strange to see one or more drones doing tool-based repair work or precisely dragging cables into position. With this type of flight freedom and pin-point force application, drones can do much more than deliver your lunch.