Azerbaijani Aviation Engineer Seeks Niche In Civilian Drone Market
February 10, 2012
by Ron Synovitz
It looks like a giant flying spider robot from a science fiction film. A glass bubble protects the GPS technology and video links at the heart of "DroidOne," while eight carbon fiber arms each hold out a rotary helicopter propeller.
Beneath it, a monster-like claw carries a mounted camera -- allowing a remote-control operator on the ground to aim the lens while monitoring the video footage in real time.
These flying "droids," produced in Germany by Baku-born aviation engineer Rauf Guliyev, are not a Hollywood fantasy. Guliyev's firm -- Droidair -- is one of a growing number of drone aircraft manufacturers seeking a share of a global market with an estimated annual value of $95 billion.
To be sure, much of that global market is for military grade Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles, or UAVs. A firm like General Atomics Aeronautical Systems sells its Predator, the main drone used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, for up to $10 million each.
The Predator can fly for 14 hours, search out targets, and launch Hellfire missiles before returning to base.
Guliyev's DroidOne, on the other hand, sells for a relatively modest 5,000 euro and is marketed mainly at media companies and filmmakers.
His company, DroidAir, is part of an emerging market that produces drones. In fact, it's not even the only firm in Germany producing multirotar drones.
German-based "Microdrone" has been selling a four-rotor miniature drone for aerial photography since 2006. It has an affiliated production facility in China and has built a worldwide distribution network.
To find his own niche, Guliyev has increased the DroidOne's payload size and improved its camera mount system so it is stable enough for film industry production.
His main customers -- freelance photographers, media companies, and film production firms -- are looking for cheaper and more effective ways of shooting aerial footage besides using crane-mounted cameras.
"We can lift 10 kilograms, but [we are] fluently flying with five kilos," Guliyev says. "So we can take a camera filming something. We are specializing our production for the film industry. That's why the payload is the most important question"
He adds that his company's machines should be able to manage long-range flights of "about half an hour."
"Generally, for us, you can charge in 20 minutes a Litho battery for a flight of about 20 minutes," he says.
Guliyev also is selling miniature drone helicopters to local police and emergency workers to whom he is marketing various designs for search-and-rescue operations, traffic observation and crowd control.
More Advances Expected
The son of an Azerbaijani pilot, Guliyev graduated from Azerbaijan's National Academy of Aviation in 2002.
He established DroidAir after moving to Germany to continue his studies.
The firm is now working on a German government grant to develop a drone that can transport small industrial cargo and Guliyev is hopeful that a breakthrough will not be long in coming.
"The idea of the multi-rotary platform is just for vertical takeoff upon starting and you need a lot of power for this," he says. "It's not a good idea for long-range flights. For one or two kilometers, you can transport something. That's what we can do now.
"But five-to-eight kilograms, you can transport it only one kilometer [because of limited battery supplies. It is not possible to transport a] 50 kilograms over 100 kilometers now.
"But in the future, the capacity of the batteries is increasing."
Guliyev has submitted a German patent application for a hybrid drone plane-and-helicopter with a fixed wing for distance flights and the ability to take off and land vertically.
He hopes the project will help him develop economically feasible drone transport within three years -- opening up new uses, such as delivering humanitarian aid to disaster areas that are inaccessible by land.
RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service contributed to this report
Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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