Quadcopters can be controlled with the flick of a hand to deliver a pizza. Quadcopters are small drones from the Moskva Technopolis. Copter Express Co. Director General Oleg Ponfilyonok discusses the practical applications of quadcopter “instructors” at schools, robotic mailboxes and the law on small drones.
Question: Let’s start with the simplest question: What is a quadcopter, and how do you control it?
Oleg Ponfilyonok: A quadcopter is an aircraft with four rotors. Two of them rotate clockwise and two counterclockwise. The controller independently steers each rotor, stabilises the drone, moving it back and forth, left and right. Some models are controlled with control boxes. Others can fly automatically on preset routes, and our company manufactures mostly these quadcopterst. Sometimes we experiment: for example, we have developed a system that can control a quad-copter with the flick of a hand. We used a special bracelet with gyroscopes that responds to muscular contractions and controls the drone accordingly.
We have developed a system that can control a drone with the flick of a hand. We used a special bracelet with gyroscopes that responds to muscular contractions and controls the drone accordingly
Pizza through the window and robotic mailboxes
Question: Automated flying systems are being developed very actively now. Some companies are planning to use food-delivery drones. What can you tell us about the prospects for this technology?
Oleg Ponfilyonok: In addition to evaluating, we conduct demonstration deliveries. In 2014, our drone delivered a pizza for the first time in history. But we are still having trouble persuading recipients to accept payloads from drones. It is possible to launch a drone along a preset route and steer it towards its destination. But handing a payload to a client is still a major problem because many people are used to interacting with people rather than scary-looking flying machines.
Question: Sounds interesting; I personally would order a drone-delivered pizza.
Oleg Ponfilyonok: Yes, not everyone is afraid. But we don’t want people to touch and handle drones or try to move them. This type of interaction can cause problems. You see, drones are programmed to fly on certain trajectories. If someone moves it, the drone might hit something in midair.
Question: How can you solve this problem?
Oleg Ponfilyonok: We have developed robotic mailboxes that can interact with delivery quadcopters. The drone opens the mailbox and inserts the payload. Recipients can then retrieve the load, just like from an ordinary mailbox. It is possible to deliver anything, not just food, using these mailboxes. But it is impossible to quickly implement this ambitious infrastructure project because mailboxes would need to be installed in every residential building section or flat.
Much depends on specific areas. Some foreign companies offer test food delivery to private suburban homes’ lawns where quadcopters can leave their loads. Our company has test-delivered payloads to parks and squares, and we have also tried delivering them through a window.
Question: Did you succeed?
Oleg Ponfilyonok: Mostly yes. The recipient needs to open the window at the right time and allow the drone to land on the windowsill, leave the load and fly away. This mechanism has to be streamlined, and we need to continue our tests. Everyone is currently looking for the best way to proceed, and even foreign companies don’t have the right system so far.
Question: What can drones deliver?
Oleg Ponfilyonok: Our drone can deliver loads weighing up to one kilogramme, including pizza, sushi or other food, as well as clothing and light mobile phones or tablet computers. Once we have demand, we can develop a drone capable of carrying two, three, five or even ten kilogrammes. We have already assembled a custom-made octocopter for delivering a ten-kg payload. This is no problem, but production costs are bound to increase.
Surveying drones and patrol copters
Question: You are also developing construction-monitoring drones? How do they work?
Oleg Ponfilyonok: Drones can conduct all kinds of surveying operations and obtain more data than humans. This makes it possible to compile detailed 3D construction site models. Experts are now developing 3D construction-monitoring software. This service is already popular, with experts delivering quadcopters to construction sites and conducting aerial photography in manual mode. We are promoting a fully automated solution: A drone flies on a preset route and later lands at a special docking station to recharge its batteries. There is no pilot.
The copter takes images of the same objects from various angles and fixes their coordinates using GPS transponders. Software is then used to make 3D models from the drone photos.
Drones can patrol any perimeter at preset intervals using photo and video cameras
Question: Can drones patrol any territory?
Oleg Ponfilyonok: Yes, security drones can patrol any perimeter, including a gated community, a courtyard, a business, etc. They can patrol a perimeter at preset intervals mostly using still cameras or sometimes video cameras. They can substitute for patrol cars and can see almost anything being spotted by the police, including damaged fences or any other signs of intruders, as well as suspicious- objects or footprints in the snow. Even if the situation is normal, copter footage is usually stored in archives and can be reviewed later in an investigation.
Question: Patrol missions can last awhile. How do you recharge the battteries?
Oleg Ponfilyonok: Each quadcopter has an automatic recharging station. After completing a 40-minute mission, the drone lands and recharges itself for 60 minutes. A video camera in its lower section scans the recharging station, locates its illuminated QR code, locks onto it, lands and plugs in.
Do it yourself kit
Question: What are quadcopter “instructors”?
Oleg Ponfilyonok: We developed the Klever pre-programmable quadcopter assembly kit. You first put it together and pre-programme it for automatic flight mode. Students from sixth through tenth form mostly work with them. This is a good way to study electronics, the laws of physics, engineering and aerodynamics. Young people assemble quadcopters, fine-tune, programme and launch them. Schools, colleges and Quantorium facilities for math students all can use these kits. We also train teachers, including IT teachers. Some of our experts also supervise hobby groups at schools.
Question: It sounds pretty popular.
Oleg Ponfilyonok: Yes, it is so popular that we are planning to export Klever assembly kits to Europe and enter US, Indian and Chinese markets later on. Distributors from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Hungary, Turkey and India are also interested in them.
Unique market niches are our advantage. Youth at modern schools are supposed to develop their technical and creative skills, and quadcopter “instructors” are an excellent way to do this
Question: But China has many drones of its own. How do you plan to compete?
Oleg Ponfilyonok: France and China are our main rivals. Of course, they are real giants. But our Klever model is different. Other manufacturers offer complete drones that can be programmed but whose functions are very limited. We have a different approach. First, you put a drone together, and this is very interesting. Second, it is possible to make quadcopters, hexa-copters and octocopters, with four, six and eight rotors different in size. It is also possible to use different motors and other systems. So unique market niches are our advantage; many people are into our approach. Young people at modern schools are supposed to develop their technical and creative skills, and quadcopter “instructors” are an excellent way to do this.
Are quadcopters legal?
Question: What about drone regulation?
Oleg Ponfilyonok: This is a complicated issue. The federal regulations for the use of airspace were amended in 2010. According to these amendments, drones can only fly in closed airspace. Otherwise individuals can be fined 3,000-5,000 roubles, with companies facing 300,000-500,000 rouble fines. But Moscow airspace remains closed, and the definition of drones is unclear. The law implies large military drones. If necessary, this could be interpreted differently.
Amendments to the national Air Code were passed in December 2015, specifying the drone concept and noting that all aircraft with a takeoff weight of over 250 grams must be registered and certified. A new law, passed in May 2016, annuls the 2015 law and notes that only drones weighing over 30 kg are subject to registration and certification, and that others need to be monitored. This year, the Ministry of Transport is to issue new drone-flight regulations. I hope we’ll hear about them soon.
It is safe to say that cars will learn to fly using the same independent flight-control systems as quadcopters
Question: What do you see in the future? How will quadcopter applications change or expand?
Oleg Ponfilyonok: Although manual drone control modes are currently being used, I believe that automated systems have a lot of potential for unmanned missions. As I said, unmanned deliveries, construction and security monitoring will continue to develop. Urban monitoring is another promising area. We can monitor roads, the adjacent areas, courtyards, etc. Drones can keep an eye on road traffic, utility vehicles and pedestrian traffic. We can guard specific areas and collect data or monitor a situation.
It may even be possible, in a more distant future, that cars will fly using the same independent flight-control systems as quadcopters.
What are the advantages of being in a technology park?
Companies receive tax breaks; taxes can be reduced by as much as 25 percent. Park residents don’t have to pay property tax, and they are also eligible for lower, 13.5 percent, profit tax. These tax incentives apply to technology park residents for a period of ten years upon receipt of their current status. The city now has 27 tech-parks, including Moskva, Strogino, Mosgormash, Slava and Kalibr.