Futuristic aircraft and robotic loaders dazzled at a Dallas tech summit

Check out these photos of cargo drones, electric flying machines, Army gear, and remote-controlled construction equipment at a Texas event.
This bizarre-looking flying machine is an ultralight aircraft called the Black Fly, and it holds precisely one person. The company that makes it, Pivotal, recently changed their name from Opener. They plan to start selling a similar model to this one, called Helix, which will cost $190,000. The operator doesn’t need to be a pilot, and the small aircraft also has an emergency parachute. The eight propellers and two wings allow it to fly, and it can travel for about 20 miles or 20 minutes. Rob Verger

Last week at a ranch outside Dallas, Texas, hundreds of people gathered to hobnob and discuss topics like transportation, aviation, drones, and more. Some were clad in cowboy hats. The event, called the UP.Summit, included investors, politicians, business leaders, representatives from large companies like Airbus, Bell, Boeing, as well as relatively newer players like Beta Technologies and Joby Aviation that are working on electric aircraft. 

On display was gear and hardware from companies like Wisk, Zipline, Jedsy, and much more.  

Take a look at some of the flying machines and other gadgets and equipment that were at the event, which is put on by investment firm UP.Partners.

This helicopter-like prototype aircraft is called a Volocopter, and it holds one person. Up top are 18 all-electric propellers mounted on a ring that’s about 26 feet in diameter. It can fly for about 20 minutes and has a range of about 11 or 12 miles. Rob Verger
The CEO of Bulgaria-based Dronamics, Svilen Rangelov, tells PopSci that this aircraft is basically a “flying delivery van.” The drone has a wingspan of about 50 feet, measures about 25 feet long, and is called the Black Swan, even though it’s white. Rangelov says that it can carry about 770 pounds of packages a distance of some 1,550 miles, and that ground-based pilots operate or oversee the aircraft as it flies. The company plans to start operating delivery flights in Greece early next year. (The aircraft in the photo is a replica and can’t actually fly.) Rob Verger
This piece of construction equipment is a John Deere wheel loader, but on top of the cab is special gear from a company called Teleo that allows the machine to be remotely operated from large distances. Popular Science had the chance to control a piece of construction equipment called a compact track loader in California from a base station in Texas, and observed a Teleo employee at the same Texas station operate a different large construction vehicle—a Komatsu WA500-8 wheel loader—in Oulu, Finland. Rob Verger
This small robotic helicopter is roughly 22 feet long, 7.5 feet high, and is called the Mosquito. It’s a development aircraft for a company called Rain that’s working on software to snuff out wildfires early. “We’re building technology to stop wildfires before they grow out of control, when they’re the size of a single tree, not when they’re the size of a warzone,” says Maxwell Brodie, the CEO of Rain. They’re collaborating with Sikorsky, which has already developed the tech for a Black Hawk helicopter to be able to fly itself. Brodie says their plan is to eventually pre-position autonomous, uncrewed helicopters (big ones like Black Hawks, not this Mosquito) with their software so they can tackle wildfires with a quickness when they’re small. Rob Verger
The goggle-like pieces of gear on top of the backpacks are the latest iteration—version 1.2—of the Army’s IVAS (Integrated Visual Augmentation System), which has been a challenging technology to get right and has a history of causing issues like nausea. The goal is to give a soldier a head-up display that can show a compass heading, map, or other information right in front of their eyes. Think of them as augmented reality goggles for soldiers that continue to be a work in progress; they’re made by Microsoft. Rob Verger
This is the tail rotor of an Airbus H160 helicopter. Notice how it’s tilted, or canted, ever so slightly? The 10-degree tilt gives the helicopter a tiny bit of lift—about 1 percent. (The vast majority comes from the main rotor, up top.) While some tail rotors just have blades that spin freely in the air, the ones that are enclosed like this are called Fenestrons. Rob Verger
Like the uncrewed flying machine from Dronamics, this drone’s sole purpose is to carry cargo. But unlike the Dronamics vehicle, it can take off and land vertically by using eight electric motors and propellers. (It has another four props for forward flight.) It’s also hybrid electric—an onboard engine and generator create the electricity the system needs. “Jet fuel goes in, 700 volts of electric power comes out, and that electrical power drives the propulsion, and charges the onboard battery,” explains David Merrill, the CEO and cofounder of the company. The drone, called the Chaparral, carries cargo in the canoe-like container below it. Merrill says that its range is about 300 miles with a 300-pound payload. They’re working with the Air Force and FedEx. (The drone in the photograph is a full-sized replica of the real thing.) Rob Verger