Jeff Bazos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, promised to millions of audience that Amazon was going to speed up delivery of online orders with delivery drones (Prime Air it is called) on the CBS TV Show 60 Minutes back in 2013. "I know this looks like science fiction," he said, "It's not."
Only two years later, it has become common knowledge in the industry that drones will disrupt the traditional logistic industry. A number of big names, including Walmart, Amazon, UPS and DHL are working together to explore drone deliveries.
However, delivering packages as quickly as possible might not be something that consumer drones like DJI or 3DR can easily accomplish. These quadcopters, despite their good performances in taking selfies or doing aerial shootings, are like toys in the logistic industry. They can barely meet the strict standards as a small aerial logistic platform from the aspects of load-bearing, safety and speed, which results in a huge market gap in professional delivery drones.
That's where Ziyan unmanned helicopter kicks in.
Industrial Unmanned Helicopters vs. Consumer Drones
When people talk about "unmanned aircraft" on the market now, most likely they are referring to consumer quadcopters with multiple propellers on their arms to hover, rotate or fly. Due to the comparatively low technical barriers and open source model, there are numerous quadcopter products on the market. More often than not, when people think of UAVs, the image of quadcopters is what comes to mind. As of now, quadcopters remain the first choice for consumers who are interested in drones.
However, as noted by Jiangping Wang, founder and CEO of Ziyan UAV, the quadcopter is not a new invention, nor the best choice for industrial use. It was eliminated by the U.S. Army back in the 1960s. In recent years, its comparatively low technical barrier has brought it back on stage.
After years of research, the Ziyan team believes that single main rotor unmanned helicopter is the best solution for the future air-logistic use whereas the quadcopter is more for the consumer market.
Due to the low aerodynamic efficiency, quadcopters are faced with performance bottlenecks.
The propeller in a quadcopter and the rotor in a helicopter can both be seen as a wing that provides the pull by their rotational movement. The narrower the wing is, the higher the lift-to-drag ratio will be, which means that with the same level of pull strength, you'll need to conquer less resistance and consume less power.
The induced drag in the wingtip of a wing, a propeller or a rotor is where the largest resistance appears, and also is what consumes the most power. That's why a quadcopter with numerous propellers not only lacks the aerodynamic lift brought by the wings, body or rotor disc in a fixed wing aircraft, but also has pretty low efficiency because of the large number of propellers (and wingtips) and its limited size.
Moreover, the lift efficiency of quadcopters is also impaired due to the fact that it cannot function continuously with a pneumatic high angle-of-attack as the rotors of a helicopter. Also, the opposite direction of the blades in quadcopters has led to downwash turbulence that further decreases the lift efficiency.
These limitations have led to the poor performance of the quadcopters -- low flying speed, short flying time and being not able to upsize or bear large loads.
Under a similar level of power consumption and weight, the performance and economic efficiency of quadcopters cannot really compete with helicopters.
This has led to their differences in application with quadcopters focusing on consumer uses like entertainment or photography and unmanned helicopters being the best solution for the logistics industry. Not surprisingly, the big names that have been working on drones, including Google, DHL and Amazon, and they have not taken quadcopters as an option for transportation.
Moreover, the traditional fixed wing aircraft does not possess the VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) ability and thus requires a take-off runway or an open space for taking off and landing. However, the unmanned helicopters' requirement for taking off or landing is much easier to fulfill due to its VTOL ability. It is also why unmanned helicopters can be applied to a wide range of use.
With all these deficiencies, why are quadcopters still the hostest drone?
According to Wang, the comparatively low technical barrier and existing open source platform of quadcopters enable people to produce quadcopters after optimizing the preexisting development kits without much effort.
For the unmanned helicopters, however, the technical barriers in wing configuration, rotor design and autonomous flight control have stopped people who have no profound experience from entering the industry. This is why quadcopters are all over the market whereas unmanned helicopters are not.
The Five Strengths of Ziyan Unmanned Helicopter
Unlike most of the developers in the industry of drones, the Ziyan team has always focused on the research and development of the integrated manufacturing and smart flight control of unmanned helicopters.
As a matter of fact, the Ziyan team does not take quadcopters as their rivals. According to Jiangping Wang, they have set small or medium size cargo helicopter as their performance benchmarks.
Ziyan is working on three unmanned helicopters, ZYG 800, ZY-50 and ZY-280, which are distinctive in their sizes, loads, and power. The last one is still under research. These products are able to finish beyond-visual-range and accurate point-to-point autonomous flight under high speed and heavy loads.
Compared with the gas-powered medium-size unmanned cargo helicopters, Ziyan's small-sized logistic platform (with a net load less than 15 Kg) is powered by batteries that largely reduce the risk while flying. Moreover, with the technologies in design and manufacturing, Ziyan is able to turn these aircraft into robotics, which can get tasks done for pilots, increasing the marginal cost of safety as well as the added value of their products. For users, it also helps to save time and cost.
Completing a fully autonomous flight envelope with an unmanned helicopter has long been an industry wide challenge. The smart flight control system of unmanned helicopters, in which the Ziyan team has put valiant effort, is an answer to this challenge. Adopting the modular design concept of the Model based development in the aircraft industry as well as advanced flight control algorithm, the Ziyan products are suitable for a variety of industrial uses in harsh environments. The next generation flight control with obstacle avoidance abilities as well as automatic identification and tracking function is now under development, according to Wang.
What exact advantages do Ziyan products have to disrupt the aerial logistics industry?
The speed of vehicles is vital to its efficiency and also the economical success of logistics. The ZYG 800, the primary product of Ziyan, can reach a cruising speed of 100-130 km/h and a maximum flight speed of 160 km/h, which is four times of that of a quadcopter.
Also, speed is crucial to safety. The faster these vehicles fly, the less hang time they have and the lower the accident rate will be. In other words, the faster, the safer. Also, with a guaranteed transportation speed, the Ziyan unmanned helicopter can deal with maximum wind level s . This has well excelled the quadcopters that can only deal with a gentle breeze or moderate breeze at best.