Monday, June 09, 2014

Paper Drones

Chuck Pell holds a paper plane outfitted with a PowerUp engine. Jack Nicas/The Wall Street Journal

DURHAM, N.C.—It took Chuck Pell less than a minute to build his drone. 

He folded a piece of paper 11 times, clipped on a battery-powered plastic propeller and rudder, then opened an app on his iPhone

Next he flung the aircraft skyward, steering it above the trees with turns of his phone. The plane soared out of sight. 

It's a good technology, according to Mr. Pell, who has suffered plenty of nose dives. It just "needs more pilot training."

Aerial drones have fought in wars, filmed movies and factored into the ambitious plans of high-tech executives who want to supply Internet service from the air. 

Now there is a new but familiar shape to the fast-growing world of unmanned aircraft: the paper airplane.
The PowerUp 3.0, brainchild of former Israeli Air Force pilot Shai Goitein, is a lightweight guidance-and-propulsion system powered by a dime-size battery. It clips onto origami aircraft and connects to iPhones using Bluetooth, transforming them into remote-control drones.

Pocket-size drones like the PowerUp aren't as sophisticated as the devices Jeff Bezos says could one day deliver packages for, or the big solar-powered models being engineered by companies that Google and Facebook recently acquired. 

But enthusiasts are embracing these minidrones as a cheap, souped-up way to get high. 

In less than a year, Estes-Cox Corp., a Colorado maker of model rockets, has sold more than 500,000 versions of its remote-controlled nanodrone, which is 1.8 inches square and retails for $40. French company Parrot SA, PARRO.FR -0.62% one of the largest drone makers, is launching a minidrone with detachable wheels that allow it to land and immediately start driving—even up walls.

Harvard University researchers have developed a still tinier drone, the RoboBee, which has insectlike wings that span the diameter of a half dollar. The whole machine weighs less than a third of a penny. 

The researchers say the potential uses of tiny drones range from pollinating crops to military surveillance to traffic monitoring.
Read the rest at the Wall Street Journal (includes video).

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