Given the increasing popularity of drone applications in myriad industry segments, research now focuses on ‘human-drone interaction (HDI)’. Although multi-copters are a promising technology for quick delivery at inaccessible locations, people are at risk of serious injuries- they could get hit propellers of the falling or miss-operated drones for example or the strong noise of drones in flight could be disturbing. Studies reveal that in some cases a quadcopter’s sound is about 80 dBA, comparable to a freight train passing 15 m away.
In a new paper, presented by researchers Wataru Yamada, Hiroyuki Manabe and Daizo Ikeda during the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’19) at Glasgow, Scotland in 2019 the ZeRONE: Safety Drone with Blade-Free Propulsion was presented. “ZeRONE” a new drone which can fly without mechanically driven parts such as a propellers or a flapper mechanism is a helium blimp type drone for indoor spaces.
To realize propulsion, microblowers generating weak winds by the ultrasonic vibration of ceramic surfaces, are attached to the drone. Microblowers provide propulsion force in the vertical, yaw and forward directions, so this drone can move freely in 3D space. The proposed device has several advantages over conventional drones.
The balloon is set at the center of ZeRONE and provides the buoyancy needed. The soft body of the balloon eliminates the fear of collision injuries.
The trials of the Zerone prototype used a 24 inch aluminum-metallized film balloon from S.A.G.Balloons with maximum gas capacity of 140 L. When filled with helium gas the balloon can lift about 100 g which includes the weight of the balloon itself. Mechanical parts excluding balloon, carbon rods, etc. were 3D printed thereby reducing costs further.
ZeRONE doesn’t consume electricity to provide lift but controlling the microblowers does. The drive circuit continuously consumes about 50 mA even if the microblowers are not activated. Notably however, the ZeRONE does not crash if the battery becomes empty, but keeps drifting. ZeRONE generates only a light sound of wind while moving.
ZeRONE’s long operating time leads to lower maintenance costs and encourages applications such as long-term sensing. The current prototype can float for about 2 weeks; however, as the buoyancy of the balloon changes, the ballast weight must also be changed to ensure constant buoyancy over long periods.
- ZeRONE units that form logos or words for advertising could fly above the crowd at events or halls.
- Videos can be shown by projecting images on the surfaces of the balloons.
- The current ZeRONE prototype is already able to carry a camera flying safely over people taking pictures everywhere, unlike drones human proximity restrictions due to safety concerns. The data collected by a swarm of ZeRONE units would be valuable for human flow analysis and security too. ZeRONE could also collect various environmental data streams such as temperature, humidity and sound.
The team’s future plans for the ZeRONE involve:
Enhancing ZeRONE via advance sensors and displays; developing a ZeRONE that automatically moves to a gas station and recharges itself on detecting a gas shortage; combining data analysis technology with ZeRONE swarms to build a new spatial platform that can automatically collect and analyze data and present information to enhance the ubiquitous environment and studying human perception of make it a practical platform that can always operate in the human living space.
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