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<Blurry image of the first prototype in flight>

<Image of the prototypes>

User Scenarios

There are many users which can make use of a low cost, high payload UAV. With a ENG-style camera and video downlink, these users would be interested:

  • Realtor
    Aerial views of properties can add desirability to the realty listing. Large ranches and other extensive properties could be surveyed from the air.
  • Sporting events
    Most schools or small town events can not afford to operate a Bell JetRanger at $650 per hour. But a UAV that costs less than $10 per hour to fly and could be used for every game.
  • Sailing
    A special case of sporting events. I talked with a sailboat racing photographer who frequently chartered Jet Rangers for covering boat shows near land. He wanted to be able to get the same aerial photographs for off-shore races, but was limited to climbing the mast for those "airborne" shots. In this case, launching from the fan tail of a sailboat and returning would be key features (zero relative speed approach).
  • Off-road events
    Four wheel drive events typically turn into long lines of trucks spread out over kilometers of courses. Organizers can use the UAV to track the entire traffic jam easily and safely. Magazine sponsers would also benefit by being able to produce aerial pictures to show the terrain and trucks. More interesting photographs translates into more sales.
  • Radio / TV stations
    Radio or TV stations could have UAV's spread out across the city at common traffic hot-spots. When compared to the cost of a single JetRanger used for ENG work, the station could operate between forty or fifty UAV's.
  • Ranchers
    Tracking large herds over expansive ranches requires aerial views. Many ranchers operate R-22 helicopters or Aviat Husky style aircraft to be able to survey their herds and provide direction to cowboys on the ground. The operational costs of full size aircraft are prohibitive, but a UAV can be acquired and flown for a fraction of the cost.
  • Pipeline patrol and powerline patrol
    Pipelines and powerlines typically use slow speed capable aircraft such as Maule's, Husky's, and SuperCubs. These are in the same price range as the Robinson R-22, but can do little more than fly above the lines and report any problems. The UAV would be able to provide very similar capabilities for a much lower cost. Combined with a GPS routing, several UAV's could perform automated patrols and the video downlinks reviewed at high speed by fewer operators.

With a longer runtime, search and rescue operations could scour more area at much lower levels than manned helicopters could be safely flown.

Additionally, a chemical product hopper could be fitted instead of the ENG camera. Combined with a differential GPS signal and map of a field, the UAV could precisely deliver crop dusting to the crop.

The CMU aerial robotics team has put together an excellent list of users, with images for each of the tasks.

Price comparison

UAV Robinson R22 Bell JetRanger Bell LongRanger
Acquisition cost $10,000 $150,000 $1,500,000 $3,000,000
Operational cost (per hour, no operator) $10 $80 $450 $700
Time aloft (hours) 2-6 2 2 4
Payload (kg, full fuel) 50 180 200 300

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