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UAS Innovation Drives XCraft

By Patrick C. Miller | December 31, 2015

In the few months since Idaho-based XCraft appeared on the ABC TV show Shark Tank and wowed five big-time investors with its two unmanned aerial systems (UAS)—the XPlusOne and the PhoneDrone—the company hasn’t been content to rest on its laurels.

Co-founder and aerospace designer JD Claridge said the company is in the enviable position of having two products with great appeal and great potential. And it doesn’t hurt that they’ve both had great exposure through successful Kickstarter campaigns and a TV show viewed by millions.

The XPlusOne can take of vertically and hover like a rotocopter, but can also transition to horizontal flight and fly as a fixed-wing UAS at speeds up to 60 miles per hour.

“The capability of being able to take off and land in a small area and then fly long distances at high speed is one that most applications are going to require,” Claridge said. “It’s needed for delivering packages or inspecting pipelines or for search and rescue applications.”

Yes, there are other UAS that can do the same thing, but XCraft’s patented design is unique.

“Ours is different in that it’s very simplified,” Claridge explained. “There’s no articulating arms. We use one set of motors for everything. You end up with a lighter, more efficient design. I think this tail-sitter configuration is a great way to do it and has advantages over others that have similar ideas, but a lot of times are using more complicated mechanical components—as well as additional sets of motors.”

XCraft is looking to the future by designing a version of the XPlusOne specifically for commercial applications. The new versions will be faster, have greater endurance and be able to haul larger payloads.

The PhoneDrone has appeal to every gadget geek with a smartphone. It enables you to turn your smartphone into a drone, using its GPS for navigation and its camera for shooting photos and movies. If you don’t want to risk losing your smartphone or having it damaged, Claridge suggested taking an older smartphone out of the drawer where it’s been gathering dust and turn it into a drone for around $400.

XCraft has listened to customer concerns about having their smartphones fly away or crash.

“The case it mounts in inside the drone is a protective case,” Claridge explained. “The phone would likely survive a bump or crash just fine.”

Using his background as a systems engineer, Claridge has also added extra features to the PhoneDrone’s software and hardware.  

“We’ve also built in some electronic redundancies, something you don’t see in a lot of drones these days,” said. “We’ve put a lot of thought into what happens when something goes wrong.”

If the drone loses link, it will hover in place until recovered. If its battery starts to get low while it’s hovering, it will automatically land.

“I’m not saying a fly away condition isn’t a possibility, but we’re doing crosschecking with other sensors to make sure the GPS is directing it somewhere,” Claridge said.

XCraft is also looking to the future, the day when Federal Aviation Administration has UAS regulations that allow for beyond visual line of sight and fully autonomous operations.

“The next real stage is going to be onboard data processing,” Claridge said. “Ultimately where I think we’re going is fully autonomous drones. That’s not one operator per drone, it’s one operator for potentially thousands of drones. The drone does its thing automatically. It doesn’t need an operator to go out there are fly it and have an observer. I think there is a safe way to do that and it will happen eventually.”