Drones Get Hands-On with Robotic Arm Technology

Drone manufacturer PRODRONE develops large-format drone with dual robotic arms.

The PD6B-AW-ARM drone with its slightly intimidating robotic pincers. (Image courtesy of PRODRONE).

The PD6B-AW-ARM drone with its slightly intimidating robotic pincers. (Image courtesy of PRODRONE).

Drones just got a lot cooler (or a lot creepier, depending on your point of view). Japanese drone manufacturer PRODRONE recently announced its latest model, the PD6B-AW-ARM, with an attention-grabbing feature: a pair of robotic arms that can grasp, grab and snatch from mid-air.

Engineering Robotic Arms

Engineers developed the new drone by starting with one of the company’s existing airframes, the PD6B-AW. This is a large, six-rotor model with a weight of approximately 41 lbs. (18.8 kg) and a carrying capacity of 44 lbs. (20 kg)—in the world of drones, that’s pretty heavy-duty. To get an idea of its size, the distance between opposing motors is a whopping 4.75 ft (1.45 m), the propeller diameter is 27 in (686 mm) and the drone’s total height is 31.5 in (800 mm).

As for the robotic arms, they were internally developed so as to be completely complementary with the PD6B-AW airframe. The five-axis arms can carry a maximum payload of about 22 lbs. (10 kg) and an algorithm works to maintain the drone’s center of gravity as it shifts from the movement of the arms. The arm-enabled drone has a flight time of up to 30 minutes, which is high considering the size and capabilities of the PD6B-AW-ARM.

Take a look at the drone in action:

Most industrial and commercial drones up until now have been focused on tasks such as photography, filming, surveying, spraying pesticides and similar jobs that allow the drone to accomplish its goal from afar. However, there’s an increasing demand for drones that are capable of performing hands-on tasks, such as picking up and delivering cargo.

But the applications go further than a drone delivery service. Drones with hands-on capabilities can be sent into difficult or dangerous environments to manipulate equipment, retrieve hazardous materials, or help humans in ways such as dropping life-saving buoys. Drones could be well on their way to being a jack-of-all-trades robotic helper.

So if you’re looking at the potential applications here, this is a really cool and trend-setting development in drone technology. On the other hand, if you’re not that into giant robotic insects buzzing around everywhere, these types of drones and their pincer limbs will probably take a bit of getting used to.

Sick of all these flying pests? Here are five ways to kill drones.

Written by

Michael Alba

Michael is a senior editor at engineering.com. He covers computer hardware, design software, electronics, and more. Michael holds a degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Alberta.