Big blue balloon drone uses an ultrasonic propulsion system

Shane McGlaun - Nov 16, 2021, 7:32am CST
Big blue balloon drone uses an ultrasonic propulsion system

There have been remote-controlled flying machines for use indoors that utilize mylar balloons for hobbyists for years. Typically these balloons utilize helium to float and battery-powered propellers to move around an environment. More common today are multi-rotor drones that slurp a lot of power and are noisy. A Japanese company called NTT Docomo has introduced a new type of drone that uses a round helium-filled balloon and a unique ultrasonic propulsion system.

By utilizing ultrasonic propulsion, the blimp needs no propellers, and the helium-filled balloon keeps it aloft without constantly needing to expend energy to fly. Presumably, like those remote-controlled mylar balloon blips, the NTT Docomo drone would be weighted precisely so that it remains neutrally buoyant in the air so when the propulsion system stops, the balloon stays where you left it. However, having played with those blimp-like mylar remote-controlled balloons in the past, reaching that neutral buoyant point can be challenging.

Since there are no spinning blades and a balloon keeps the drone in the air, there would be no damage if it did come in contact with a person or surface. Another big benefit of the drone’s design is that it’s very quiet. Any video the drone might shoot wouldn’t have whirring of blades and motors, which is often the case with traditional drones for shooting videos.

Another big benefit of the design is that the ultrasonic propulsion system uses much less power than traditional motors and rotors, allowing it to stay in the air for significantly longer flights and capture more photos and video than other designs. Unfortunately, NTT Docomo didn’t give any indication of exactly how long the drone can stay aloft.

One of the most interesting parts about the drone is the ultrasonic propulsion system. The system has a pair of small ultrasonic modules on each side that create vibrations. The vibrations interact with the air to push the drone in any direction. The drone’s design is ideal for various events, and while it appears very lightweight, the company says it can be used outdoors.

Presumably, in outdoor situations, since it’s big and lightweight, winds would be an issue. NTT Docomo does say it will commercialize the design before March of next year. Pricing is a mystery, but with few moving parts and balloons doing the heavy lifting, it doesn’t seem as if it would be particularly expensive. Presumably, a design such as this can be scaled using whatever size balloon is required to keep the camera or video equipment needed for an event aloft. The prototype balloon is fitted with a high-resolution camera and LED lights inside to make it glow.

NTT Docomo is mainly known as the largest wireless carrier in Japan. However, the company has a history of making some interesting products. Back in 2014, the company revealed a smart shirt that monitors the wearer’s heart rate. This was before cheap wearables for measuring heart rate were so abundant. At the time, many people who needed to monitor their heart rate had to wear a chest strap.

The smart shirt, in this instance, had electrodes and electronics integrated into the fabric, allowing it to transfer heart rate data to a smartphone. In addition, it was designed to be thin enough to be worn under other clothing.


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