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Cutting-edge drone technology is changing -- take a look

You know what a basic quadcopter looks like, but these unmanned-aircraft displays at a drone conference show the state of the art.

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Stephen Shankland
Boeing CAV drone
1 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Boeing CAV drone

You may be familiar with quadcopters for shooting video, but the Commercial UAV Expo had an enormously broader range of drones on display to show where the industry is heading. Most are more expensive than mainstream models like the DJI Mavic. This one is Boeing's Cargo Air Vehicle, shown here in a quarter-scale model, and it's designed to carry up to 500 pounds of payload. It's only a prototype for now, but Boeing's Next group is testing the electric-powered aircraft.

Autel Robotics' Evo video drone
2 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Autel Robotics' Evo video drone

Autel Robotics' Evo video drone is a compact model that can capture 4K video, encode it into AVC/H.264 or HEVC/H.265 formats used in broadcast and editing, then beam it to a control station or a separate Live Deck station. That latter feature is one reason CNN uses the drone for some of its news gathering work.

Hummingbird XRP drone
3 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Hummingbird XRP drone

Dinsmore's Hummingbird XRP drone has six smaller rotors and one central one, with a weight of 225 pounds but a payload capacity of 33 pounds. It's made in part by 3D printing components with HP Multijet Fusion printers.

Micasense multispectral camera for drones
4 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Micasense multispectral camera for drones

Drones used for agricultural surveying benefit from cameras that can see not only in the red-green-blue color spectrum of conventional cameras but also in near infrared light frequencies human eyes can't see and the thermal spectrum of infrared light, too. This Micasense Altum camera model gathers all those frequencies of light so farmers can detect crop health, monitor water and fertilizer use, and map fields.

Baam.Tech Genysys hybrid drone
5 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Baam.Tech Genysys hybrid drone

The $25,000 Baam.Tech Genysys hybrid drone can carry bulky payloads like this lidar scanner. With a 15-pound payload, it'll stay aloft for an hour. Its 29cc gas engine charges an electric battery that runs the six propellers, each on a removable arm.

Mothership Aeronautics' Photon airship
6 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Mothership Aeronautics' Photon airship

Not all drones use propellers and wings for loft. Mothership Aeronautics' Photon airship uses -- you guessed it -- air. It can carry cameras, loudspeakers and advertising displays, and solar panels on the top let it stay aloft for a long time. It comes in models that're 5, 8 and 15 meters long.

Uavita Discovery drone
7 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Uavita agricultural drone

Uavita Systems' Discovery drone, a massive machine with a 20-foot wingspan, is designed for agricultural uses like monitoring crop health and spraying pesticide. It'll carry 176 pounds and fly up to 186 miles on one tank of fuel.

BirdsEyeView Aerobotics FireFly6 Pro
8 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

BirdsEyeView Aerobotics FireFly6 Pro

The BirdsEyeView Aerobotics FireFly6 Pro has propellers to take off vertically, but it can then fly as a more efficient fixed-wing drone once the propellers rotate to provide forward thrust. It costs $7,500 without any camera.

Aertos 120 indoor drone
9 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Aertos 120 indoor drone

Digital Aerolus' Aertos 120 drone is designed to fly indoors for interior mapping and surveying tasks. It's got flight control software specifically designed to work without GPS satellite navigation signals, which rarely work indoors. Its flight time is limited to about 10 minutes.

Boeing PAV passenger drone
10 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Boeing PAV passenger drone

Boeing Next's PAV passenger drone is designed to shuttle four to eight passengers autonomously with no pilot. It's shown here in a quarter-scale model for two passengers. Originally designed by the Aurora Flight Sciences subsidiary that Boeing acquired in 2017, the electric aircraft has a 28-foot wingspan and 30-foot length and should have a range of up to 65 miles. Its first test flight was in 2019. It can take off vertically.

AeroVironment Vapor drone
11 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

AeroVironment Vapor drone

AeroVironment's new Vapor 35 and 55 drones fly up to 1 hour on a battery charge and can fly automatic routes with a three-rotor helicopterlike design. The Vapor 35 can carry a 5-pound payload. and the Vapor 55 can carry up to 10 pounds.

Drone-mounted Phase One industrial camera
12 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Drone-mounted Phase One industrial camera

Many drones use small, lightweight cameras, but some customers employ Phase One cameras with up to 150-megapixel resolution for high-end aerial photography.

Harris Aerial Carrier Hx8 drone
13 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Harris Aerial Carrier Hx8 drone

The Harris Aerial Carrier Hx8 is a heavy-lift drone that can carry loads up to 100 pounds.

SRP Aero's Lynx drone
14 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

SRP Aero's Lynx drone

SRP Aero's Lynx is one of several drones at the Commercial UAV Expo that takes off vertically then converts to conventional forward flight. It weighs 10 pounds and flies 2 hours with its electric motor and can carry a Sony A6000 camera.

Leica Geosystems Pegasus scanning backpack
15 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Leica Geosystems Pegasus scanning backpack

OK, you won't find Leica Geosystems' Pegasus scanning backpack on a drone. It lets people map areas by foot with five cameras and two lidar laser scanners. 

AeroVironment drone eyes
16 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

AeroVironment drone eyes

At a drone conference, you'll see a lot of airborne cameras such as these in an AeroVironment fixed-wing drone. Ordinarily these point downward.

C-Astral Aerospace Bramor drone
17 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

C-Astral Aerospace Bramor drone

C-Astral Aerospace's Bramor drone is launched by catapult for surveying or military surveillance jobs.

Autel Robotics Dragonfish
18 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Autel Robotics Dragonfish

Autel Robotics' Dragonfish is a fixed-wing drone that can take off vertically and carry a 14-pound payload. It'll fly as long as 100 minutes and as far as 30km away from the controller, beaming 1,080-pixel video back as it flies.

First Iz drone for first respnders
19 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

First Iz drone for first respnders

The First Iz (pronounced "eyes") drone for first responders is designed to take off vertically then fly at 60mph to the scene of a fire, shooting, accident or other problem.

FirstPort drone enclosure
20 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

FirstPort drone enclosure

The FirstPort housing is designed to keep drones safe and charged until needed by first responders.

NW UAV engine
21 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

NW UAV engine

Smaller drones use electric batteries, but this engine from Northwest UAV is designed to power military drones weighing up to 100 pounds. It uses heavy fuels like kerosene and even cooking oil and has multiple 3D-printed elements form sister company NW Rapid Manufacturing.

Baam.Tech Elipse VTOL drone
22 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Baam.Tech Elipse VTOL drone

The Baam.Tech Elipse VTOL drone takes off vertically then, over about 10 seconds, the rotors pivot to face forward for forward flight. It costs $4,000 and is designed to carry cameras for up to 80 minutes on one battery charge.

Baam.Tech gas engine
23 of 23 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Baam.Tech gas engine

Baam.Tech uses a gas-powered engine, including a long chromed exhaust pipe, to charge an electric battery on this Genysys hybrid drone. At left is a lidar system for 3D laser scanning.

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