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Five drones at Xponential under $25KFive drones at Xponential under $25K

Although AUVSI Xponential has in years past been dominated by military and other high-end systems, five unmanned aircraft systems that were on exhibit can be had for $25,000 or less.

  • Intel’s Falcon 8 Plus octocopter features obstacle sensing systems and a camera for data capture on a gimbal that can rotate 180 degrees, from straight down to straight up, to facilitate inspection missions. Photos by Jim Moore.
  • The Sentera Omni is a thermal and visual camera drone built on a DJI M100 chassis, and sold by Dynamic UAV Solutions for missions including industrial inspection.
  • The FireFly6 Pro by BirdsEyeView Aerobotics is a fixed-wing drone with VTOL capability, thanks to rotating motors. It can carry a variety of sensor payloads and fly for 40 to 50 minutes.
  • Louban Sfar of Flyability SA holds the Swiss company's creation called Elios, a drone that flies inside its own gimballed cage to capture HD and thermal images inside confined spaces for industrial inspection of storage tanks and other confined spaces, as well as search and rescue.
  • A DJI Inspire 2 is flown at AUVSI Xponential.

The sprawling exhibit hall at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas was packed with drones during the annual event, which attracted hundreds of exhibitors and a reported crowd of 7,000 or more. Robots made for land, sea, and air vied for attention, and that included some interesting new (or relatively new) systems that are priced to fit the budget of Part 107 remote pilots and companies. While much of the military and defense-derived drones come with huge price tags, we found five that will set you back $25,000 or less for a complete system, and bring some impressive capabilities at that.

Intel Falcon 8 Plus

  • Type: Octocopter
  • Mission: Industrial inspection
  • Payload: Sony A7 mirrorless camera on a gimbal that can rotate 180 degrees up or down, and additional cameras and sensors for obstacle avoidance
  • Price: $20,000 to $40,000, depending on options

The upgrade Falcon 8 Plus is Intel’s latest entry into this segment of the market, and demonstrated impressive obstacle avoidance and precision flying during CEO Brian Krzanich’s keynote address, when the Falcon flew (on a preprogrammed mission) around a prop bridge set up in the hall. Designed to be a robust, high-precision platform for inspection and survey applications, the Falcon 8 can fly through motor failures. The price includes the ground station and other accessories. Learn more.

Sentera Omni

  • Type: Quadcopter (DJI Matrice 100 chassis)
  • Mission: Precision inspection, dual-camera, multispectral imaging
  • Payload: Visual and infrared camera systems (both at once)
  • Price: $17,000, excluding FLIR camera

The Omni is a Sentera modification of a DJI quadcopter designed to offer a complete turnkey solution for multispectral (visual and infrared) imaging missions, such as agriculture and infrastructure inspection. The system is sold by Dynamic UAV Solutions, and the price quoted includes a case, battery, and other accessories minus the FLIR camera. It features a dual-camera setup with wide and zoom lenses for visible light inspection, and also comes with data management software.

FireFLY6 Pro

  • Type: Hybrid fixed-wing with VTOL and hover capability
  • Mission: Image capture, long-endurance inspection
  • Payload: Various downward-facing camera systems can be mounted in the belly
  • Price: $6,000 for basic system with travel case and control software

The FireFLY6 Pro is the latest iteration of a hybrid fixed-wing drone with rotating motors that can transition from horizontal to vertical in flight, allowing endurance of up to 50 minutes in fixed-wing mode, and the typical 15 to 20 minutes if used in vertical lift mode. FireFLY6 was deployed in January by a research team from the University of Maryland testing beyond-line-of-sight operations in Belize. For mapping missions, it can cover significantly more ground on a single charge than a typical multirotor system. Learn more.

Elios

  • Type: Multirotor in a protective cage
  • Mission: Inspection within confined spaces
  • Payload: Dual cameras, visual and infrared
  • Price: $25,000, includes full system and accessories, and one-day training in Switzerland

Designed by Swiss company Flyability and billed as the world’s first collision-tolerant drone, Elios is made for applications outside of the National Airspace System, probing the inside of storage tanks and other industrial applications, as well as search and rescue in tight quarters. The drone has both a high-definition video camera and an infrared camera, and the entire assembly rotates inside a protective cage that allows this drone to bang into things and bounce right off. Learn more.

DJI Inspire 2

  • Type: Quadcopter
  • Mission: Cinematography
  • Payload: Various camera options (visible light)
  • Price: About $6,000 for aircraft and camera, depending on model; about $10,000 for a complete system including case, second controller, spare batteries, camera, and other accessories

DJI introduced the Inspire 2 in November, enlisting the services of an award-winning Hollywood cinematographer to show what this drone can do. The Inspire 2 remains hard to beat for what it does, capturing professional-grade images suitable for broadcast and cinema. Learn more.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Editor-Web
Editor-Web Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.
Topics: Unmanned Aircraft, Gear

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