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Move over, quadcopters! A hexacopter could be the most versatile drone yet

VOLIRO - The Omnidirectional Hexacopter
Seemingly every week there is some new exciting drone design appearing on the horizon, both figuratively and literally.

One fascinating new concept is Voliro, a hexacopter with six individually tiltable axes, created by students from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Zurich University of the Arts. With a massive 12 degrees of freedom in the air, this could be the most versatile unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) yet!

“Multicopters have enabled a variety of possibilities and revolutionized entire industries with their potential,” Cliff Li, a mechanical engineering student who served as team leader on the project, told Digital Trends. “Yet multicopters are not unlimited in their flying capabilities. To hover, they have to stay horizontal, and to move they have to tilt. For the Voliro hexacopter this is not necessary. It can turn in midair, and move in any direction, no matter how it is oriented. It can fly vertically, upside down, or at any other angle, and proves that completely unrestricted flight is possible.”

Those are big claims, but watching Voliro in action makes us want to believe them. It almost certainly wouldn’t be the easiest drone to pilot, but the tantalizing promise of omnidirectional flight would make the steep learning curve worthwhile.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

“Similar to a regular multicopter, modules can be attached on the underside of the Voliro hexacopter, giving it further functionalities,” Li said. “One example is a camera module. The hexacopter can act as a gimbal and therefore doesn’t need one. It can also fly upside down and take footage of what is above the rotors, which is impossible for a regular multicopter with a gimbal. Another example is interaction with walls and various curved structures, as it can adapt its orientation to that of the surface.”

At present, however, Li said that the project has been more about demonstrating that omnidirectional fight is feasible than focusing on use-cases, but these applications are things the team might focus on next.

“Further research will most likely be scientific in nature, but commercialization is not ruled out,” he said. From the sound of things, we could be waiting a while, though.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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