BY ERIN MOODY
Aaron Weller began flying model airplanes more than 25 years ago, when he was 14.
But the models of his youth didn’t have the knife-sharp rotating blades, which spin at hundreds of times per minute, that he sees on today’s drones.
So when he began hearing about plans by companies such as Amazon to use unmanned aerial craft to deliver packages, he looked down at his young daughter and became concerned.
If those drones malfunction and fall, their blades could hurt people.
The Dataw resident has spent the last year and a half working on what he calls the “droplet.”
“This is a more approachable way of sending these around people,” he said.
The droplet is a fully encased drone. All of the propellers and other equipment — such as cameras, batteries, sensors — are within a plastic, meshlike body.
The design is patent-pending, Weller said, and he’s moving from a handmade prototype to a 3-D printing of the first model.
At seven to eight pounds, the printed model will be slightly lighter than the 10-pound handmade prototype and will be a more streamlined design.
“This one was made because I had this crazy idea in my head, and no one understood until I built it,” Weller said.
Weller said he’s already seeing interest in it from large companies. Uses could include package delivery, confined-space inspections, sporting events, advertising and close-up cinematography.
Weller sees other uses as well, including bridge and powerline inspections and mapping.
He dropped the droplet on the wood floor of his home Thursday and gave it a kick to show how it bounces and rolls. The design also cushions the mechanical parts, reducing the chance of damage in a crash.
Weller’s hope is to begin manufacturing by the end of the year, and wants to keep the business local. It could employ up to 24 people, he said, and be a combination of manufacturing and in-house design for commercial orders.
The patent covers a range of sizes, Weller said, starting as small as his palm to “big, really big.” The prototype and first-generation droplets will be oval, but the structure could be customized to any shape or size, he said.
Commercial products would likely range in price from $10,000 to $50,000, depending on the size, application and equipment. Hobby models would be comparable to drones on the market now, between $800 and $1,200.
“To me, this is fun and it’s amazing, and my eyes light up when I talk about it,” said Weller. “I’m such a nerd about it, but everyone is a nerd about something.”