Hey, while you're up there...
Hey, while you're up there... (Photo: Vantage Robotics)

Why Yes, You Can Teach a Drone To Fetch Your Beer

This is science at its best

Hey, while you're up...

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Since you unwrapped the drone Santa gave you for Christmas you’ve: 

  • Thoroughly annoyed your neighbors
  • Caused serious damage by flying it into your TV, your child, or your dog. 
  • Gotten at least one threatening letter from the FAA. 
  • All of the above.

Now it’s high time you put that drone to work doing something useful—like, say, fetching cold ones. 

A few weeks ago this video showing a drone carrying a beer featured on a few time-wasting websites. But watch and you’ll see that the mechanics of “the get” are all done off screen—for all we know, there’s someone standing in the next room, carefully hooking the beer to the drone.

But sometimes—like when you’re fly fishing and your beers are all the way back at the campsite—you need the drone to do all the heavy lifting, and we wondered, is that possible?   

It is—but you’re going to need a little creative problem solving to make it happen. Here’s your step-by-step guide to turning your quadcopter into a personal beer delivery service. (Note: You should definitely do this with aluminum cans, not glass bottles, okay guys?)

Step One: Figure Out Whether Your Drone Can Hang 

A 12-ounce can of beer isn’t terribly heavy, but it’s hefty enough that your drone will need a solid motor and decent stabilization to get the beer safely into your loving arms. “A drone that cost $800 or more is going to be strong enough and have some pretty sophisticated stabilization technology,” says Tobin Fisher, the CEO and co-founder of Vantage Robotics, a drone company specializing in safe, portable drones that capture exceptional action video. Ideally, your drone should have gimbal axis stabilization, which Fisher says is the current gold standard (the DJI Phantom 3 has this type of stabilization system, as do many of the other high-end fliers). “Gimbal stabilization is best and digital stabilization is second best. No stabilization is painful,” says Fisher—meaning your video stream as you tried to pick up the beer would be nauseatingly shaky. 

Step Two: Figure Out Your “Catch Mechanism”

Unfortunately, robotic gripping arms haven’t evolved as fast as other drone technologies, says Jackie Wu, the founder of Eighty Nine Robotics, a drone startup. So, at least for right now, using a robotic claw to pick up your frosty tall boy isn’t going to happen. 

Instead, the easiest way to pick up that can is going to be with a magnet. But aluminum cans aren’t magnetized, so you’ll need to attach a magnet to the top of each can. “If you glued a magnet to the top of each can that would probably be easiest,” says Fisher. 

The good news is you only need a tiny magnet to do the job. Michael Paul of K&J Magnetics says you’ll only need a magnet with .75 pounds of pull force to hold onto a 12-ounce can, though for extra security you might want to choose one with slightly more. The company sells a pencil eraser-sized option that has 2.30 lbs. of pull force, which would be more than enough. At 34 cents, it’s a small price to pay for the space-age thrill of having your beer delivered by robot.

After gluing a magnet to your beer can, tie a sturdy bit of string to your drone and affix another magnet to the end of the string. Tie it as close to the center as you can so it doesn’t throw your drone off balance.

Step Three: Set Your Beer Location and Set Up Your Cooler

Set your cooler down where you want to store your beer and then pull up your drone’s GPS map. Drop a pin exactly where the cooler is. All you have to do is make sure your drone can fly itself to the vicinity of the cooler so that you can guide it to the beer remotely. “The GPS location will be accurate to plus or minus a meter or so,” says Fisher. Glue one more small magnet to the top of your cooler; this will allow you to open your cooler when the time comes. Once your GPS coordinates are set, march off into the woods with your drone in tow. 

Step Four: Fetch, Drone, Fetch!

When you start feeling thirsty, point your drone towards the GPS point you set and send it on its way. After that, you can stream the images your drone is sending to your phone to let you gently lower the craft down to your cooler (more on that in a bit).

Step Five: Open The Cooler 

Fly down, attach your drone to the magnet on the cooler, and then fly up sharply. The drone will pull open the lid and then disconnect when it can’t lift the cooler off the ground. Your ice cold beers will now be in view. 

Step Six: Pick up Your Beers

Channeling your inner kid-at-an-arcade, use your phone screen to lower the drone, attach the two magnets, pick up the beer, and fly it back to you. 

Step Seven: Serve Yourself First

Unless you own a massive drone, you’ll have to move the beers one at a time, and carrying a heavy object will seriously limit your battery life. Fisher points out that most consumer drones can fly up to 20 miles an hour, so it won’t take long to make each trip. Still, most drones also have a battery life that supports about 20 minutes of flying time, and that’s without a beer in tow. So if you’re hanging with a group, it’s probably best to make the event BYOD—that’s bring your own drone. 

Lead Photo: Vantage Robotics

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