Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
VoloDrone Heavy-Lift Cargo Drone Makes First Public Flight (lloydsloadinglist.com)
48 points by infodocket on Oct 15, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 95 comments

I got to see this in Hamburg.

It was quieter than I expected, even from a couple hundred meters away. Once it was further away it probably dropped to around 60dB, but the frequency (pitch) of the sound was still distinct and therefore remained noticeable above the background noise of the port.

My preconceived expectations of a drone flight also left me caught off guard by the larger moment of inertia. The cargo bay "swayed" during the flight instead of making instantaneous and zippy corrections that I've become accustomed to seeing small drones perform. Looked super alien.

Here is the video if you are interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvUz4LgAJWE

I wonder what it would sound like if they went to a higher blood count on the props. For some reason they don’t seem to have garnered much attention yet, but eight blade props are extremely quiet relative to the smaller prop counts.

Here’s example comparing a typical 2 (or 3) blade 5” prop to an 8 blade on a drone. The 8 blade is smaller, 3” i believe, with similar performance but a major difference in sound.


Here’s another one with two 8’s stacked on each motor.


Also for all the time spent developing the aircraft and the importance that perception plays in selling it you would think they might have put a little more effort in figuring out how to efficiently load it. That was torture watching haha.

(wtf Apple, the ’haha’ in my last sentence autocorrected to ‘gays’?!? I wonder what i haven’t caught)

> higher blood count

Made me chuckle :)

lol I’m leaving it

A lot of the drag on a prop comes from the tip of the blade.

More blades means more drag.

I think from my limited knowledge of propellers that more blades is less efficient, so it would lower flight time.

Propeller efficiency drops off with increasing blade count.

Watching this, several observations:

Why does it have to be in a cabin, even lifted up into it, while most pallets/boxes are shrink-wrapped already?

If avoiding shrink wrapping because plastics, use standardized hoods with deposit, if you have to. Works for pallets/boxes already.

They could do with the net, like shown there anyways.

Also some lighter mechanism which goes into the pallet/box from below, since they are standardized. Or good old rope/chains/somesuch.

Lastly, why the EFFING EFF is he wearing a helmet while riding a Cargo-TRI-Cycle, which won't go above 25kph ever?

Also: Can I have one with joystick to sit in? *g*

I think the cabin is primarily for weatherproofing purposes. In my experience with shipping/receiving big boxes and pallets of stuff (in the US), shrink wrapping is not a given. Even most shrink wrapped shipments are not weatherproof to the degree where they would remain totally dry when flown under a drone during a rainstorm. Usually the shrink wrapping makes it more "drip proof," for brief periods of sitting outside while being transferred between warehouses/vehicles.

IMO, holding customers to a higher standard of weatherproofing is a non-starter. Adoption of drone transport will be more popular if customers can basically assume the weather exposure is the same as with conventional transport.

Cabin also reduces drag, even if it might seem low. Combined with weatherproofing and general enhancement to protection in case anything comes loose, it simply makes sense to me.

Could be. But I've been under the impression they don't move that fast. Cabin or not. Perceived benefit seems to be more direct line of flight, if allowed at all.

I think the netting/chaining of cargo won't work as the winds here in Germany can get quite strong, making the cargo's weight less balanced and messing up the drone's stability.

Then use two L-shaped bars in between the landing skids, fixed to the top structure and/or landing skids. Have two other bars swing down from the top on the other side of the pallet/box, have them lock in. Should be still lighter.

Also I know about the winds because I live in HH and bicycle there all the time ;)

Shouldn't really matter when you think about what even things like Ardupilot or similar firmware for drones can do to stabilize flight in all sorts of situations.

It's just a matter of scale. And that thing has way more propellers to dynamically counteract any imbalances than the small hobbyist things.

I don't know. It looks overdesigned to me. Form should follow function. In vague comparison this looks like the first railroad wagons for passengers still somehow looking like horse-drawn chariots. Makes no sense to me.

alternatively, it is designed enough to ensure a margin of safety required in an experimental aircraft hauling cargo? The expectation should be to anticipate and minimize all failure modes, not to count on shrink-wrap.

source: I have moved a lot of pallets of things, shrink wrap is not for safety it is for convenience. Getting off axis at all with shrink wrap results in failure. (this is why lifting pallets with a skidsteer is much riskier than with a forklift where the pallet is always horizontal.)

I didn't suggest to count on shrink-wrap, but on reusable hoods, and some sort of net over that. The net can be see in the video.

I also have moved countless pallets and boxes a really loong time ago for about a year. In an eight (metric) ton forklift, going up to 12 meters high, and up to 35kph fast. Needing a change of batteries by another forklift every other half of the shift ;>

They have come a long way from their flying Zumba-ball days [0,1]

[0] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2b/E-volo_e... [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volocopter

Not sure how to say this without sounding snarky, but how is 200kg cargo capacity over 40km "heavy lift"? That barely qualifies as ultralight for helicopters. Cargo capacities of 4,000 kg over 400km, is considered "medium" for helicopters.

Maybe because it doesn't require a helicopter pilot? You could run it 24x7 possibly autonomous to deliver specified goods. Heavy lift is also relative. 20mph on a bicycle is fast, 20mph in a car is slow.

couldn't they focus on developed an autonomous/robotic helicopter rather then a drone? I don't think it can run 24x7 since it needs to refuel/recharge.

It definitely is heavy lift as far as drones are concerned. But I am disappointed that there has been so few drones trying to go in this direction that 200kg is considered “heavy.”

(You can make arguments that the multi rotor approach has lower maintenance needs than swashplate-based conventional helicopters, besides the use of electricity instead of hydrocarbons… these all potentially allow lower operating costs. And the higher pitch sound of multi rotors travels less far than low frequency of helicopter blades.)

It's not just maintenance issues - it's fundamental aerodynamics. Efficiency scales with the diameter of the rotor in rotary wing aircraft. Larger rotors are more efficient. In a helicopter you lose a bit of that efficiency from the tail rotor, but past a certain size helicopters are always going to be more efficient, until you get the size regime that materials drive all designs to become multi-rotor.

It seems like maybe there is a niche for very large fixed-pitch propeller vehicles like quadrotors but at that scale why stick with fixed pitch at all? You could still have variable pitch rotors with variable speed drivers and get the best of both worlds, like a Kaplan turbine in hydraulics, but in reverse.

That's kind of a misconception. You can use a whole bunch of smaller rotors to have nearly the same efficiency as a single rotor of the same diameter (okay fine there are also Reynolds Number effects from going smaller, but not as important in this context). The difference is roughly the packing ratio of circles, about 90%. VoloDrone takes this approach.

For a real-word cargo flight there are climb conditions and cruise conditions and a fixed-pitch rotor can't possibly be efficient at both - it will be tuned for a given rotation speed and a given airspeed across the disk. At any ambient conditions outside those regions efficiency will suffer. variable-pitch rotors can adjust to high efficiency in cruise and good climbing performance, depending on requirements.

Electric cargo vehicles are neat, and maybe the loss in efficiency is acceptable, but you undeniably lose efficiency with a fixed rotor design.

But all of that has maintenance overhead, and whether hover or translational flight dominate the energy consumption determines which to optimize… there’s no great efficiency loss to going fixed pitch unless these two flight regimes have near equal average energy usage per flight. Additionally: Variable pitch is one thing, but swashplate flight is another. There’s no significant efficiency reason to change blade pitch multiple times per second. Much slower variable pitch propellers, aka on horizontal flight aircraft, is much lower maintenance and overall complexity than a swashplate based helicopter.

Single rotor designs remain efficient to a rather large size regime. The largest helicopter in operational use today is the Mil Mi-26 which has only a single rotor. The prototype Mil V-12 was a little larger and had two rotors but was not successful.

In part that’s because combustion engines scale down extremely poorly (they lose efficiency like mad… a micro turbine gets like 5% efficiency whereas a full sized turbine gets upward of 30%) and have high complexity. They’re also difficult to throttle on command with high responsiveness (hence the swashplate). Electric motors are far better suited to distributed lift concepts.

That’s a huge reason why existing vertical lift doesn’t use multiple rotors. Electric motors using high energy magnets, modern solid state power controllers, and modern batteries are only just now becoming available & only now are they starting to impact the aviation trade space.

That is indeed a very big main rotor. I wonder what the material limitations are on rotor length?

Not an aerospace engineer, but my instinct is that spinning larger and larger rotors at the speeds needed to provide lift would likely become an issue before material strength, though obviously it's a consideration also.

Very interesting. I wonder though what is the exact use case for this kind of transportation, i.e., in which way it is superior to the current way of transporting goods.

Right now: buy a stack of sheet rock (50+ pounds each) to finish a room, wait while it moves by truck through traffic.

Future: order on your phone, get it flown out to the work site.

It's pretty rare for construction crews to be sitting around waiting for delivery trucks stuck in traffic. I mean it happens occasionally, but the traffic in most places isn't that bad. And contractors usually schedule deliveries in advance, or shift their crews to other job sites if they know a delivery will be delayed. Any contractors who couldn't manage such basic logistics have already gone out of business.

I predict that drone delivery will never be used for heavy, low value items like sheet rock. The costs of flight will remain too high even with better batteries. If delivery drones are used at all it will be for small, high value items like medical supplies, electronics, cooked food, and toiletries.

I will admit I was extrapolating from a single experience of helping finish a room. It sounds like that experience might not stretch as far as I thought.

Who does the unloading of the sheet rock from the device in the future?

Scary that anyone with a gun can bring down 200kgs on people or buildings. But people probably said the same thing about cars and planes.

Could this be MORE resilient to firearms than a helicopter? Multiple redundancy to rotor failure and no pilot who could accidentally get hit

Diz iz in Hämbörg, Görmännie! Vee häff no facking GUNNZ because VÄRRBOTÄHN!

(mostly, anyways)

Since these can life 200kg, I wonder if they could be used to transport people? I'm thinking along the lines of an air taxi, or a personal flyer for short hops).

Obviously the shape of the "cargo bay" would need redesigned, and you'd need to add weight for chairs, doors, safety stuff etc, but could it still transport 1 or maybe 2 people?

Congratulations to them, but 200 kg isn't heavy lift. Real vertical heavy lift capacity is in the 10 tonnes range.

Compared to the 10kg that current drones can do it is.

MQ-8 drones have been in service for years and can lift way more than 10kg.

1) Non-electric. Means higher emissions, operating costs, more complicated.

2) swashplate-based means more maintenance, low frequency sound that travels further.

3) Not commercially available. It’s for military use primarily.

When people (EDIT: i.e. normies) use drone in this context, they’re talking about multi rotor electric vehicles that have less maintenance (in principle) than conventional helicopters.

"Drone" has been an established term for decades. It is absolutely not limited to multi-rotor electric vehicles.

The Yamaha Fazer gasoline powered helicopter is commercially available. They specifically label it as a "drone".


I mean, obviously you are technically correct (and, in fact, there are horizontal flight drones that are a century old... also technically "drones" and were called that a century ago: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unmanned_aerial_vehicle#Early_... ), but I really don't think the claim is misleading for most people, whose concept of "drone" is uncrewed electric multirotor.

HN usually isn’t the place where we prioritize erroneous popular conceptions over the true reality.

Now I wonder what the line that differentiate between a helicopter and a drone?

Multicopters are subclass of helicopters. Drones are unmanned (air)craft, which can rotor or fixed-wing based.

I don't understand the advantage of this drone configuration over a heavy lift helicopter, or something like the V-22. Hard to believe so many smaller rotors are more efficient than 1 or 2 large ones.

I don't call this heavy weight. For now I only see potential market in more efficient sea container carriers. Even within a large sea harbour it could be very useful. Cost wise I don't know.

I wonder how much they pay for insurance and what are regulations around it, i.e. what will happen if it crashes and kills someone in result?

First flights have to be approved by authorities, in order to get that approval safety if flight has to optained through testing. Obviously, you gonna have insurance. Also, flight scenarios and flight paths are pretty limited. E.g. flying of inhabited regions is a non starter. One of the reasons in Europe more ambitious flight tests are done in Spain where you have a lot of space. And one of the reasons Jobi for example is testing at military airports and airspace.

Not clear to me what kind of goods would be transported this way?

Amazon could deliver a wide range of goods using this. Pallets of groceries, furniture, household appliances. 200kg is a good payload.

And then they land in your garden? Warehouse to warehouse transfersaybe, but for that proper planning can make that work with trucks over night.

Maybe create virtual roads for flying? The "roads" do not have anything there and are therefore safe to fly over?

How about an amazon locker location that has a landing zone. I'd love that.

Anything? I mean, use your imagination.


Sooo, when will they realize a helicopter is more efficient?

Multicopters are mechanically simpler than helicopters and thus can be cheaper. Assuming that power system is electric, they are easier to control. Because of the rotor redundancy they can continue flight even after losing several engines/blades, while losing engine on helicopter requires to perform autorotation landing, which is far from trivial. Also smaller blade size results in lower noise levels, which is important in urban settings.

If we are talking about efficiency at longer distances with VTOL capability, then convertiplanes are more efficient than helicopters.

Ecomax helicopter is about the same size (10m rotor dia), is targeting similar flight time (40+20mins) and payload (600lbs). So not obvious how much the difference between single vs multi rotor is significant here.


This one will not fall out of the sky like a brick if the electrical failure will occur

I myself researched how to detect quadcopter failure, and land them in a less catastrophic way. The easiest way to survive a single motor failure, is to spiral your way down at full motor torque, but it will not save you from an electrical failure in the main DC-DC — where they most often occur.

Pretty sure a total electrical failure will preclude a successful autorotation failure on a swashplate-based drone as well as you still need to power the actuators (and the avionics). So redundancy (including in the DC bus) is just as valid of an option as autorotation is… more so as you could continue powered flight and means you can survive blade failure, etc.

And you will still have manual controls (if they are implemented)

You will continue going forward on inertia

I would assume you can make reasonable design changes to fix those cases though? To survive motor failures more gracefully add more props. With a hexacopter you should be able to switch to four props if one fails. Or use one of those designs with for pairs of counterrotating props.

I was about ot make this comment. Multirotors do not seem to auto-rotate.

Never, because it isn't. The problems with helicopters are the need for a pilot (cost, risk) and the significantly higher cost (both purchase and upkeep).

I get that they're mechanically more complicated, but why is a pilot necessary?

I believe helicopters are less stable than multirotor vehicles, so a pilot is more necessary.

Helicopters are much more stable. Multis has zero static stability. Just look at how they tumble out of sky when controls die.

Yes, helicopters can be made statically stable through mechanical ways only.

Most modern helicopters have electronic-hydraulic control systems.

Computers are better than humans at dynamic stabilization, so this would be an argument for not having a pilot.

It could be that there are other factors that are more important than energy efficiency. Maybe they are more stable or more precise, which could be a requirement for having autonomous cargo handling?

Volocopter is the perfect example of what's wrong with "the german way" of thinking about transportation.

Instead of improving public transportation, goods on the rails, improving bicycle infrastructure, lots of effort is put into crowding the skys, too.

All pushed by a blatantly incompetent minister who was fantasizing about "air taxis" and how they will improve our life, while rural Germany is still stuck on < 16 MBit internet connections.

It's all just a giant clusterfuck with setting the wrong priorities.

Your comment is a perfect example of what’s wrong with “The German Way” of thinking about innovation.

Instead of inventing the future, we want to maintain the past.

That’s why Tesla was invented in the States and China has brought our Transrapid to the market.

We used to be a people of inventors who embraced the possibilities that technology provides to shape the future. That’s why the automobile was invented here. The bicycle. And so much more.

Today we just want to faster Internet to consume American Services even faster.

It's not about maintaining the past, but we are _so bad_ in utilizing the existing infrastructure efficiently, that we are now trying to build a completly new one in the airspace above us.

Why not push what we have to the limits, gladly in innovative ways, instead of adding just another half-baked layer?

> Today we just want to faster Internet to consume American Services even faster.

Nah... I want faster internet so I can work from home in a rural area and don't have to spend a third of my income on rent, because I need to live close to my work because we don't have cheap and fast public transportation.

Infrastructure is completely overrated for innovation. We have global leaders in tiny villages on the Schwäbische Alb, who deliver parts to anywhere in the World without having an Autobahn anywhere near them. If you have ever been to the Silicon Valley you might have noticed that internet and wireless is a mess. At least when I lived there it was really bad. Same with any cab service by the way, which are way more efficient in Germany.

Improving infrastructure might increase your personal efficiency. It won't help innovation in any way.

PS: A great example how infrastructure is irrelevant can be seen in this Ted Talk. It compares India and China after WWII.


TED talks are overrated for information/education. I wasted 18 minutes, and it has given me nothing. One could maybe discusss differences in protocol implementations, regarding error correction, latency, overhead on networks of a given topology. This was nothing like that.

What market? That one demo piece in Shanghai from the airport to the not so central border of town?

Making no revenue? Not really suitable because it has almost no space for luggage,

which passengers from the airport tend to carry with them?

Also I am still unaware of any larger testtrack for the 'updated' thing the media is so extatic about.

That is just one private company trying to get investments.

Which they probably won't get, except if the Zentralkommitee would maybe pushing it.

Which seems unlikely, because why they didn't extend the Shanghai line as planned, then?

I mean, I don't really care because it won't happen here anyways.

But don't say brought to market until they have at least an Emsland equivalent test track,

and actually shown the 600kph they say 'Yes! Yes! We can do!' and rave about all the times.

None of this has happened so far.

Correct me if I'm wrong.

> Your comment is a perfect example of what’s wrong with “The German Way” of thinking about innovation.

I feel your comment is misguided and frankly clueless.

Research into point-to-point logistics has been a thing for the past decade thanks to developments in drones. One of their main markets is actually under-developed regions where investing in infrastructure is outright impossible. Another important market is actually automating parts of the logistics chain and removing people from the process.

What this newspiece shows is the last decade or so of research coming to fruition. It's incomprehensible how you're criticizing autonomous drones as being "maintaining the past" but presenting tech from the 1960s that has virtually no commercial viability or practical use as being "the future".

I’m not sure if we have a misunderstanding here. I am not at all criticizing autonomous drones. I’m all for them.

I was criticizing OPs lack of enthusiasm for them. He/She is comparing faster Internet and better bicycle roads to a highly innovative idea of drone logistics.

It is much harder to productify infrastructure improvements across the nation, meanwhile this drone can be sold in the thousands to retail operators and the likes (so the makers can get rich).

In Germany? These will hit the same problems as improving existing infrastructure.

Want to pull fibre under the road? 18 months planning permissions. Dig ditches in rural areas? Well, some of the locals don’t like the noise or mud on the road, tough luck. They object and the whole process extends by months. Want to replace the roof? Better make sure you don’t make it higher than what local code allows! And use the same colour for the tiles… New road? 2 years. Improving drainage? 2 years. Everyone has something to say, everyone can object and block the nice things for everybody else.

These will hit the same issues. People will complain about noise or just simply drones flying above. Soon it will turn out they can’t fly here, or there, or from there, or to there.

> In Germany? These will hit the same problems as improving existing infrastructure.*

Germany already has outstanding roadway and railway infrastructure. DB, the parent company of DB Schenker, operates their ICEs in Germany and across Europe as well, and the only reason they can go at speeds up to 300km/h is the fact that they did all the right things putting together their highspeed rail network.

I suggest you take a look to the amount of work, both technical and political, that is required to get a single railway line out of the paper and into the real world. This is something that in some cases requires even diplomatic work.

Germany has Autobahn, plenty of good roads and yes, some railway lines are fairly decent. Stuttgart to Munich or Düsseldorf north comes to mind. But outside of main corridors, it ain’t that nice everywhere. An example is the A1 Autobahn through Eifel which would help offloading A61 (which is a mess already as it is).

> Dig ditches in rural areas? Well, some of the locals don’t like the noise or mud on the road, tough luck.

The problem here in Germany is that they take an absurd amount of time for ANY road work. I've seen roads blocked for years, just to widen the sidewalk. In other countries I've lived in, these get done ASAP.

Is the US alternative, where people simply have no voice at all, better?

Do they not? I thought California high speed rail was impeded by NIMBYs for example?

If the folks in the US had no voice, ‘NIMBY’ wouldn’t be a term we’re all familiar with.

It's not just Scheuer. The guy is only the public clown face / scapegoat.

Blame the entire politics of the last 40 years, beginning with Kohl who tore down the fiber projects in favor of cable TV to counter "left-wing", government critical public TV, over Schröder who auctioned off the UMTS licenses for nearly 50 billion € in 2000 to achieve the infamous "schwarze Null" budget, to Merkel who broke one promise after another to bring Germany up to speed.

Giggle. Have you heard about the idea of using Hovercrafts in the harbour, to ferry containers from one place to another? Because the road and rail-traffic is often maxed out already?

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact