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Consumer drones could carry more with twice the rotors, NASA experiment suggests

Want to design a quadcopter that can lift heavier DSLR cameras or actually deliver packages? Just make it an octocopter, a new experiment from NASA suggests.

Earlier this month, NASA used its computer model stimulation software at the Ames Research Center in California to analyze the airflow for the popular DJI Phantom 3 quadcopter. The simulation shows how the air moves around the drone, with the color red indicating high pressure and blue illustrating low pressure.

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While the footage may be mesmerizing to watch, it also led NASA to a few conclusions about the next generation of consumer aerial vehicles. The Phantom 3’s X-shaped body and four rotors allow the quadcopter to carry it’s own 1,280g weight with a built-in camera for up to 25 minutes. The drone’s four rotors create enough thrust to lift the unmanned aircraft off the ground.

NASA simulated how the drone’s capabilities would change if there were eight rotors instead of four. Doubling the rotors nearly doubled the level of thrust that the drone produced — suggesting drones with more rotors could carry heavier loads than the more common four-rotor aerial vehicles.

The compute- generated experiment suggests that drones could be used to transport cargo by increasing the amount of thrust with eight rotors. NASA isn’t alone in its thinking — DJI’s latest cinema-level drone, the Matrice 600 Pro, uses six rotors. And E-Volor recently proved that an 18-rotor drone could lift the weight of a human.

NASA presented the computer simulation at the 2017 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech Forum earlier this month. Along with exploring options for creating more thrust, NASA has conducted several drone experiments recently. Using the same drone as in the computer generations, NASA tested out-of-sight flights in October to help develop safety standards.