Edge of Innovation

These record-breaking drones push tech to the limit

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter
Starship Technologies same-day delivery

On December 1 2016, Just Eat claimed delivery of the first takeaway meal by a six-wheeled, Starship Technologies bot. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I opened the door to find a robot waiting to greet me,” said their first surprised customer. “It was like something out of a movie.”

It’s not the only record that robots and drones have set. Just Eat’s autonomous delivery isn’t even the longest by a drone. DHL’s Parcelcopter flew packages seven miles between Reit im Winkl and the nearby Winklmoosalm plateau, while Amazon has been testing its Prime Air service in Cambridgeshire with a reported range of 10+ miles.

Drone with the biggest range?

But these are small hops compared to Zipline’s drones, which have started to deliver blood and life-saving medical supplies across Rwanda. The company’s fixed-wing Zip UAVs have an operational range of over 90 miles and can fly at speeds in excess of 60 mph.

Zipline fixed-wing drone
Fixed-wing Zipline drones can fly up to 90 miles delivering medical supplies by parachute drop.

The Zip aircraft are certainly fast, but they’re nowhere near the speediest drones around. Discounting military hardware, Teal claims that its quadcopter is the world’s fastest production drone. The official specs rate the speed at 70+ mph, but Teal admit that they’ve “reached speeds over 85 MPH in certain conditions.”

Fastest ascent by a drone?

If the Teal drone is the fastest in terms of horizontal flight, German engineer Dirk Brunner has built the fastest vertical flyer. In fact, he flew into the record books after his custom-made drone soared 328 feet skywards in just 3.87 seconds. Guinness World Records officially recognises the achievement as the Fastest 100 metre ascent by a quadcopter.

Speaking of record-breaking flights, the solar-powered AtlantikSolar drone holds the world endurance record for unmanned aerial vehicles under 50kg. It flew continuously for 81 hours back in 2015. The feat was designed to prove the staying power of solar UAVs and their ability to provide emergency communications or live inspection/sensing imagery.

Heaviest payload lifted by a drone?

A Norwegian Megacopter, meanwhile, holds the Guinness World Records title for Heaviest payload lifted by a remote-controlled multicopter. “The aircraft lifted an incredible weight of 61kg (134 lb 7.6 oz, excluding the weight of the craft itself) when it was officially tested at the Oslo Science Park, Oslo, Norway,” said guinnessworldrecords.com.

Finally, Intel smashed its own drone world record for Most Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) airborne simultaneously when 500 Shooting Star drones took to the sky for a spectacular light show. Flying in formation, the tiny LED-equipped quadcopters formed 3D shapes, spelled out recognisable words and painted the number 500 in the air.

You can watch the record-breaking Shooting Star drones in action here.

It’s yet another example of how drone technology is rapidly evolving. In the coming years, autonomous copters will whine across our skies and delivery bots will trundle along our pavements. High-flying, solar-powered UAVs might even be powering our Internet. If so, we’ll have these early drone pioneers to thank (or blame) for it.

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