It seems like not a day goes by without another announcement of a new quadcopter drone. Needless to say, that makes it very hard to stand out in this crowded field … unless your product features something truly unique. With that in mind, Mobile Recon Systems has announced a Kickstarter campaign starting July 7, for a new super-sized quadrotor drone with three camera mounts.
The Monarch is 37.5 inches (95 cm) across and weighs 9.5 lb (4.3 kg) with a payload capacity of another 9.5 lb (4.3 kg) for an all-up flying weight of nearly 20 lb (9 kg). The Monarch can carry three cameras, two of which are on gimbals – one on the bottom, another gimbal on the top – and a third camera fixed looking straight ahead.
Gizmag interviewed Mike Dowell, the CEO of Mobile Recon Systems, about this new flying machine. Mr. Dowell describes himself as a serial inventor, with a number of patents to his name (three granted so far, five applied for, according to the patent office). Mike took a systematic look at current quadcopter design from the perspective of safety and usability, and came up with the Monarch design as a response.
The first and most striking feature of the Monarch is the full-sized prop guards, making the Monarch look like a scaled-up Parrot AR Drone. The prop guards have included hand-grips for moving the drone, and offer protection from the high-powered spinning carbon fiber propellers. The wide stance also makes tipping the quadrotor over and damaging the props very difficult. Mike says that not having propeller guards on a large drone was “stupid” and dangerous.
Another interesting feature is a large LED spotlight attached to the front of the quad, assisting the pilot with orientation and providing some illumination for the cameras. The spotlight can be turned on and off remotely.
Why three cameras?
Speaking of cameras, we asked Mr. Dowell why there were three – and why a camera on the top of the drone?
He could see several applications of the top camera – doing real-estate photography, performing bridge inspections, looking at power lines, or inspecting wind turbines. He could also see the top camera being used to inspect amusement park rides from all angles. The three cameras combined can provide 360-degree panoramic images by spinning the quadcopter in place. The cameras can be operated by a separate radio control unit, allowing the piloting and photography functions to be split. There is one radio video downlink for live video, but a three-way switch allows the operator to select which camera is being transmitted. The top and bottom cameras can record video onboard for later review.
The onboard brains of the Monarch quadcopter is the open-source Pixhawk PX4 autopilot. This package enables a number of flying modes and includes GPS guidance for autonomous flight. The big drone can circle a photography subject, or fly a “follow me” route that keeps the controller in sight. The Pixhawk is located on the top canopy of the Monarch, where a clear window lets the user see all of the LED status indicators on the controller.
Mobile Recon Systems is also working on incorporating a small LIDAR (laser radar) sensor into the Monarch to enable obstacle detection and avoidance . This should be available in “about 11 to 15 months.”
Mobile Recon Systems is located in Lexington, Kentucky, and has six full-time employees. It has been in business about two and a half years. “We want to give DJI some American competition,” Mike said. The Monarch will be built in the US.
There are three models of the Monarch being offered. The standard model, called the Classic, comes with just the one forward-facing camera and no gimbals. Price for the Classic model is US$2,259. The Luxury model has a multi-axis belly gimbal for a GoPro or similar camera system, and is priced at $3,999. The Supreme version has larger propellers, a double-sized battery, and a much larger gimbal sized for a DSLR on the bottom, the smaller GoPro-sized gimbal on the top, and the FPV (first person view) forward camera. The Supreme Monarch is priced at $4,579.
Mobile Recon Systems is now working on a number of upgrades to the Monarch series of drones. It has already announced a retractable landing gear upgrade. Another feature for later is an emergency 6-foot (2-m) parachute that would pop out of the canopy automatically in the event of engine failure. Mobile Recon Systems also has plans for an even larger quadcopter that would weight 30 lb (13 kg) and be capable of carrying a pressurized sprayer for agricultural uses, or a drop box for small cargo delivery or rescue operations.