January 17, 2019
Drones have a fundamental design problem. The kind of drone that can carry large payloads at high speeds over long distances is fundamentally different from the kind of drone that can take off and land from a small area. In very simple terms, for the former, you want fixed wings, and for the latter, you want rotors.
This problem has resulted in a bunch of weird drones that try to do both of these things at once, usually by combining desired features from fixed-wing drones and rotorcraft. We’ve seen tail-sitter drones that can transition from vertical take off to horizontal flight; we’ve seen drones with propeller systems that swivel; and we’ve seen a variety of airframes that are essentially quadrotors stapled to fixed-wing aircraft to give them vertical take-off and landing capability. These sorts of compromises do work, more or less, but being compromises, they’re inevitably adding weight, cost, and complexity in order to be able to do everything they need to do.
A South African startup called Passerine has a better idea, which is to do what birds do: Use wings to fly efficiently, while relying on legs and feet for takeoff and landing.