Delivery drones are something being explored by everyone from Amazon, which announced its Amazon Prime Air initiative in 2016, to medical organizations looking for a new way of transporting transplant organs.
While drones have plenty of advantages over road-based vehicles, they have a big limiting factor: They can only carry fairly lightweight items. Getting a book delivered to your home sounds pretty reasonable. But a sofa? Don’t bet on it, right?
Well, don’t make that wager with the folks at San Francisco-based startup ZM Interactive because you’ll quickly find yourself down a few dollars. The company, which develops drones, has just unveiled its new xFold drone line, which is capable of lifting objects weighing up to 1,000 pounds.
There are multiple xFold drones, ranging from a small model — the xFold Spy, able to lift up to 15 pounds — to a 12-propellor beast called the Dragon H that’s able to haul the aforementioned 1,000 pounds. The drones are modular, allowing different configurations of arms to be attached. Each drone has a carbon fiber body and can be flown in quadcopter form with four propellers, or with six, eight, or 12 propellers. The drones are functionally the same, but scaled up according to the payload they’ll need to carry.
The xFold name comes from the fact that they can fold up to be made more compact for transportation.
“Even the biggest drone that can lift 1,000 pounds can fold up so that it can fit into a regular-sized SUV car,” Ziv Marom, CEO of ZM Interactive, told Digital Trends. “That makes them really easy to transport to get to select applications such as search-and-rescue missions, for example.”
Marom said that the ability to handle heavier cargo payloads has gotten xFold plenty of interest from a variety of industries. This includes the Navy, which wants to use the drones to transport cargo from shore to naval vessels at sea, the construction industry, which wants to use them as an alternative to cranes, and the wind turbine industry, which is hoping to use them for repairs.
The drones cost anywhere from $5,000 for the smaller model to upward of $100,000 for the 1,000-pound carrier. Marom noted that there is a bit more complexity to it than that.
“Each drone comes in so many different configurations, so it’s really hard to say the drone costs [a particular amount],” he said. “It depends on the location, the mission, the weather. We can tailor the drone specifically to the mission or to the client. You can switch between configurations, removing arms or using different arms with different models.”
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