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Wingtra drone brings the best of two worlds to professionals

Dale Davies |
A spin-off company from the Autonomous Systems Lab at ETH Zurich is trying to mix helicopter-style drones with fixed-wing aircraft with its eponymous Wingtra drone.

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The Wingtra takes off vertically, then levels out into horizontal flight. For landing, the process is reversed, but with the assistance of a camera located in the tail. This camera allows the drone to spot a printed target placed on the ground. Once in sight, the Wingtra will autonomously descend to touch down on the target, within about 10 centimeters of the target. The battery-powered Wingtra can fly for about an hour, during which time it can travel 60 kilometers.

There’s no need for continuous control by the operator, as the Wingtra will follow its flight path autonomously. A removable module can carry different payloads: Those looking to inspect railway lines or survey crops for precision agriculture might choose to equip the drone with a high-resolution LIDAR or camera package, for example. An add-on freight module lets the Wingtra carry up to 0.5 kilograms, which Flechsenberger says might prove invaluable in dispatching medical supplies to rural areas.

The drone was designed with simplicity in mind. There are just five primary components: a set of wings combined with the fuselage to form a single body, plus two propellers and two flaps. The drone doesn’t even have a forward-looking camera. The price has yet to be announced, but the Wingtra is aimed at professional and institutional users, it’s likely to be considerably more than what one would expect for anything aimed at consumers or prosumers. The drone is expected to be commercially available in 2017.

The Wingtra is to become a standard tool to collect images from above. In agriculture, this data is used to make specific maps in order to predict yields and diseases. Thanks to the data analysis, farmers are able to reduce fertilizer usage by 30% and increase their harvest. In mining, precise spatial maps of mines can be made within hours instead of days, without workers being at risk. Gas or oil pipelines can be monitored more frequently and at a lower cost to decrease the risk of leaks and environmental pollution.

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