The Wingtra aerial robot takes off like a helicopter but flies like a plane to complete autonomous data gathering missions or deliver a small payload. Matthew Stock reports.
The Wingtra 1 is an aerial robot that takes off vertically like a quadcopter. But once airborne, it turns on its side and flies like a fixed-wing aircraft. It was designed by a spin-off team from the Autonomous Systems Lab at ETH Zurich. SOUNDBITE (English) STEPHANIE LAMBERT, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT TEAM, WINGTRA, SAYING: "We combined the current technologies of drones, which are quadcopters and fixed-wings, and we combined these advantages while overcoming their limitations... we are developing an aerial robot that starts and lands like a helicopter and its transists [transitions] into forward flight, like an airplane." Turning into a fixed-wing aircraft makes the electric drone far more energy efficient. It has a range of around 60 kilometres on a single charge, with a cruising speed of 50km/h. The team says it could be a game-changer for aerial data collection, especially in agriculture. (SOUNDBITE) (English) YOUSSEF DEMITRI, SOFTWARE DEVELOPER, WINGTRA, SAYING: "So at the moment we're focusing on the sensing market, so that's basically any application where you need to gather aerial data. For example, in agriculture farmers would need that to inspect their farms; in terms of detecting diseases in plants, for example, optimising the use of fertiliser." (SOUNDBITE) (English) S TEPHANIE LAMBERT, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT TEAM, WINGTA, SAYING: "The drone market is really growing. For example, agriculture is a multi-trillion dollar market. And if we covered just one percent; it's huge." The system can fly autonomously, with no pilot required while it carries out its mission. Its algorithms are clever enough to land precisely and safely, and can remain stable even when the weather turns against it. (SOUNDBITE) (English) YOUSSEF DEMITRI, SOFTWARE DEVELOPER, WINGTRA, SAYING: "It's also very smart in detecting the wind around it and being really able to adapt to where the wind is coming from in order to achieve stable flight." Wingtra was recently showcased at the CeBIT 2016 technology fair in Germany. Extensive test missions will take place this year, with the aim of launching the product in 2017.