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Hot drone startups: From life-saving UAVs to indoor quadcopters

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

Rather than asking what a drone or UAV can do, perhaps we should be asking what they can’t? Quadcopters are already revolutionising filming and photography, inspection and monitoring, mapping and surveying. DHL recently demonstrated an automated drone delivery service in Bavaria, while drone racing already has its own international competitions.

Read: 8 surprising things you didn’t know a drone could do

So what’s next? According to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, the global market for commercial drones could be worth $127 billion by 2020. No wonder then, that a legion of UAV-focused companies are scrambling to get noticed, pushing new drone designs, new applications and cutting-edge technology.

Here are some of the hottest drone startups you should be watching.

Zipline — life-saving deliveries
There are a number of companies working on drone delivery systems — Amazon, DHL, Walmart and others are all testing the technology that will usher in convenient same-day parcel drops. Zipline, however, has ambitions that soar beyond shopping. Its Zip drone is a small robotic aircraft that can deliver essential medical supplies to remote areas.

UAV America — flying for longer
Your average quadcopter will be able to stay in the air for anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes. The popular DJI Phantom 4 has a flight time of 28 minutes, while the 3D Robotics Solo is rated at 25 minutes, less if carrying a payload. UAV America is hoping to carve out a niche in long endurance drones. It’s carbon-fibre Eagle XF drone promises up to 60 minutes of flying time.

Joby Aviation — passenger drones
Will drones be the flying cars we’ve always dreamed of? If you’re a regular visitor to IQ, you will already have seen some drone prototypes built to carry passengers, such as the eHANG 184 and the Volocopter. Joby Aviation has come up with the S2, which combines modern battery technology, electric motors and control systems in a fully-electric vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft capable of speeds up to 200 mph.

Joby Aviation S2
The Joby Aviation S2 is part drone, part personal electric aircraft. © Joby Aviation 2015.

Cyphy — proving wired is better
Here’s an intriguing way of boosting UAV flying time and ensuring communications security. Cyphy’s PARC (Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications) hexacopter is attached to a ground station by a microfilament tether that carries power and Ethernet. It means that a PARC drone is unhackable and can potentially stay in the air for days.

Yuneec — drones with RealSense eyes
Chinese drone startup Yuneec has made waves with its Yuneec Typhoon H, a versatile hexacopter design that can be equipped with Intel’s depth-sensing RealSense 3D camera. With this technology onboard, the Typhoon H becomes one of the best robotic-flyers around, capable of intelligently and autonomously avoiding obstacles. You can practically fly it with your eyes shut.

An Intel Corporation demonstration team displays the company’s technology in a Yuneec unmanned aerial vehicle as part of their demonstrations on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, at the 2016 Mobile World Congress. Mobile World Congress is among the largest conferences organized by mobile operators from around the globe. It runs Feb. 22-25, 2016, in Barcelona, Spain. (CREDIT: Shawn Morgan/Intel Corporation)
The Yuneec Typhoon H can be quipped with an Intel RealSense module. CREDIT: Shawn Morgan/Intel Corporation

Dedrone — the anti-drone company
With more drones taking to the skies, there are a number of companies working (legally) to detect them and restrict their movement over sensitive sites such as airports, stadiums and government buildings. One such startup is Dedrone, whose Drone Tracker system consists of an RF scanner to identify targets in real-time and a two-channel jammer to stop them.

Rook — a flying security camera
Not all drones are weighty outdoor flyers. The compact Rook drone, developed by Eighty Nine Robotics, is a flying security camera that you can control via your smartphone over the Internet. Where a fixed Wi-Fi camera can only monitor one room, the Rook can fly around the house, blessed with a 7-10 minute flight time, voice control and the ability to auto-return to its wireless charging station.

These are just a few of the drone startups worth watching. There are many more, including Vantage Robotics, which makes the video selfie Snap drone; Airware’s aerial inspection UAVs; plus all manner of agricultural drones designed to help farmers monitor and scan their fields, like Yield Defender by Hangar 78 UAV.

Drones are finding uses that you might not even have thought possible. While we’ve seen UAVs used to good effect filming sea life, did you know that they can also be used to catch it? Watch two Aussies and a UAV catch go drone fishing for longtail tuna in the surprising video below.

Main image © Joby Aviation 2015

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