Flying into the future

Updated: 2014-09-20 09:58

By Wang Shanshan and Yang Yang(China Daily)

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Flying into the future

Researchers at Tsinghua University in Beijing experiment with their drone called 'throne'. [Photos by Kuang Linhua / China Daily]

Drones are being built that can deliver pizzas, herd sheep and steal your identity. Wang Shanshan and Yang Yang tell you what you need to know about the machines that may be a blessing - or a curse.

Would you be pleased if you ordered a pizza and instead of arriving via a deliveryman on a scooter, it is flown across the sky and dropped at your feet? Or even better, you don't order a pizza but one gets delivered anyway, thanks to a misguided drone?

Flying into the future 

Amazon testing delivery with drones

Flying into the future

Drone hobbyists taking off in China 

Online retail giant made headlines in 2013 when it announced that within five years, its "Octocopter" drones will fly packages directly to your doorstep in 30 minutes.

Six months before that, pizza chain Dominos released videos of its DomiCopter, an eco-friendly machine capable of carrying pizzas in heat-protective bags for long distances without refueling, similar to how an eagle would carry a rabbit.

Drones were the first aircraft to enter Ludian county in Southwest China's Yunnan province on Aug 3 after a 6.5-magnitude earthquake hit the area. More than 600 people were killed in the natural disaster. The drones took pictures and sent them back via radio waves. As a result, rescuers already had a bird's-eye view of the area when they arrived in the quake zone.

China's civil research on drones is mainly carried out on campuses such as Tsinghua University and Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Northwestern Polytechnical University, and Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Researchers at Tsinghua University beat 31 other institutions from the United States, Germany and elsewhere when they won the International Aerial Robotics Competition in August 2013. The US-based Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International has held the competition every year since 1991.

The Tsinghua drone, called "throne", flew on its own, without human control. It went through a small window and entered a hotel corridor. It recognized the right number on the door of one of the rooms and entered and searched the room, which turned out to be a suite.

It found the USB disk that it was looking for in a box on a corner table in the inner room of the suite, grabbed the disk, and replaced it with an identical one. It then flew the "stolen" disk to those waiting outside.

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