Airobotics homing drone flies and lands without any need for a human

Self-flying drones are now commonplace, but the model pictured here can also land in an area the size of a toolshed – no operator required. The quadcopter and its landing box are the work of Tel Aviv-based Airobotics, which makes them for deployment on surveys and security patrols. “What makes us different is that ours is the only solution that automates the entire operation,” says co-founder Ran Krauss, 34.

Krauss started out making flying tools for photographers, but the price of drones was falling too fast to make a profit – so in 2014 he switched to industrial uses. An early test came that December, when oil from the Evrona oil field in Israel leaked into a nature reserve. Airobotics gave the clean-up crew a bird’s-eye view of the situation, but manual piloting was time-consuming and expensive. “This required automated drones,” says Krauss.

So he started building a UAV system that could function without operators. Airobotics’ drone can take off, fly preprogrammed flights for 30 minutes, then land without human assistance. Drones often struggle to land because of the turbulence their rotors kick up, so Airobotics devised a system that connects the vehicle to its base with a magnetic metal cord. On landing, brackets slide into place to secure the drone, and the launch pad withdraws into the weatherproof base.

Airobotics charges a monthly fee – “tens of thousands of dollars per unit” – for the drone, its software and servicing. Its dozen or so clients include Israel Chemicals, which uses the drone to calculate the volume of phosphate stockpiles without the need for a surveyor on the ground. Another has a model with a chemical sniffer checking for leaks in pipes and storage tanks. Krauss predicts that while delivery UAVs struggle with safety regulations, “drones-in-a-box” will become standard workplace tools in mining and agriculture. “This year will be a defining year for drones,” he says.

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