Even though drone technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the past few years, there still room for improvement with regard to aerial performance. Even some of the Best Drones of 2017, whether it’s the DJI Phantom 4 or the Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K, have yet to master multi-planed in-flight maneuverability. That’s mostly due to the limitations surrounding the Quadcopter propulsion system – making it difficult to turn either left or right.

The Omnicopter Flight Test

Introducing ETH Zurich’s Omnicopter – a revolutionary eight motor drone capable of translating and rotating in any direction. During its flight test at the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control (IDSC), the ETH Zurich Omnicopter showcased its midair skills by playing a game of fetch with a floating ball.

“We have developed a computationally efficient trajectory generator for six degrees-of-freedom multi-rotor vehicles, i.e. vehicles that can independently control their position and altitude,” researchers Dario Brescianini and Raffaello D’Andrea noted in their Study. “The trajectory generator is capable of producing approximately 500,000 trajectories per second that guide the multi-rotor vehicle from an initial state, i.e., position, velocity, and altitude, to any desired final state in a given time.”

Evolution of Drone Technology

The Omnicopter, while playing fetch in the demo video, is capable of both catching the flying object and at the same time, keeping the boundary net stationary – even while the rest of its platform remains in motion. Returning the ball to its original spot takes strategic rotating and mid-air adjustments that no quadcopter drone could ever achieve. According to the Study, the main difference between a quadcopter and the Omnicopter is “translation and rotation are decoupled from each other,” whereas other drones “have to rotate themselves in order to control translation.” Simply stated, tilting sideways comes easy for the Omnicopter and is difficult for quadcopter drones.

The evolution of the four-propeller quadcopter propulsion system to the omnidirectional eight-rotor drone starts with pushing the limits of aerial manipulation. The multi-DoF arms fastened to the arms of quadcopters has proven to restrict left and right movement – making it extremely difficult for drone pilots to control their UAV. Notorious for causing issues with both accuracy and torque, UAV platforms are designed around vertical takeoff and rely on gravity for downward maneuverability.

The IDSC Study Continues

“The inability of traditional multi-rotor vehicles to point their thrust and torque vector independently in any direction limits their set of feasible position and attitude trajectories and also their ability to physically interact with the environment or to perform complex manipulation tasks as this often requires the vehicles to instantaneously resist arbitrary force and torque disturbances.”

The IDSC study concludes its findings by stating that although their Omnicopter is a lot easier to manage there is still plenty of room for improvement. With that being said, the transition from the quadcopter propulsion system to the omnidirectional eight-rotor drone may be on the horizon – especially after the success of ETH Zurich’s Omnicopter.

Source: IEEE Spectrum