Most, if not all consumer drones have propellers. It’s such an iconic piece of drones that it’s hard for any one who spent a long enough period with drones to imagine them without propellers.
However, chances are you’ve probably seen some drones circulating social media that look futuristic and that fly without the use of propellers. The sad truth is that most often than not those pictures and videos are edited and the drones are purely fictional.
That being said, the technology for developing drones that have no need for propellers is being developed and there are actually some drones that are experimenting with “propeller-less” flight. So, do drones without propellers exist?
Drones without propellers do exist. A drone that comes to mind and doesn’t use propellers is called the “impeller drone”, designed by London’s royal college of art student Marcus King. It uses centrifugal fans in place of axial fans and it works exactly like leaf blowers.
We’ve just confirmed that drones without propellers do in fact exist (there is another type called bladeless drone which I’ll go into). But all of this begs the question, why aren’t there more drones out there that don’t use propellers?
I mean, propellers are noisy and dangerous if you get too close to them. Switching to drones that have no need for them seems the obvious move… It’s not that easy…
Propellers are crucial to a drone’s flight, which is why I think it’s important to go over how they work before getting in detail into drones that don’t require propellers.
Drone propellers work by spinning from the force applied by the motor. The higher air pressure on the bottom of the propellers creates lift for the entire drone. Their rotation also keeps the drone stable and propels it to move forwards. These features are made possible by their unique design.
To date all ways to recreate this process have been inefficient and not that promising. Sure, as you’ll see in this article there are drones that hover just fine without propellers but they can’t properly maneuver in the air.
I’ve made a whole article discussing exactly how drone propellers work, you can check it out here.
There are two types of drones that don’t need propellers that I’ve found during my research. Impeller drones and bladeless drones.
The picture you’re seeing above is an impeller drone. Or at least, it’s how it’s going to look when it’s finally ready for production.
The original idea came from London’s royal art college student Marcus King. The motivation behind this design was to create a safer and quieter drone. As you already know, propellers with their high spinning speeds actually pose a real danger to pilots and passerbys alike.
Impeller drones work exactly like leaf blowers with a minor difference. Instead of air being pulled from the back and pushed out front, impeller drones pull air from their sides and push it downwards, giving them the necessary force for lift.
Make no mistake the drone still uses blades. They’re just protected within the plastic casing that you can see above. This prevents the blades from getting ruined in the inevitable drone crashes and also prevents them from injuring anyone in case someone gets too close to the drone.
That being said, it only solves one problem. Instead of being quieter, impeller drones are actually really loud (like leaf blowers) since it pushes the air forcibly downwards through its small duct.
Another type of drones that’s supposed to fly without needing propellers is bladeless drones. Much like the impeller drones, bladeless drones are still only a concept and there is currently no working bladeless drone in the market.
They look extremely futuristic though. Check out how a bladeless drone is supposed to look like in this video I found:
The actual design may different when these come out (if they ever come out).
It was designed by Edgar Herrera and won the red dot design award back in 2017, almost 5 years ago with no production in sight… It’s safe to assume this is a concept that is yet to see the light of day.
It actually looks like Dyson fans so it got the name “Dyson drone” (the drone community can be creative at times).
Since it’s only a concept, any description on how it works or supposed to work is just speculation at this point.
These are basically the two concepts for propeller-less drones that I’ve found. As you can see they’re only concepts, I don’t actually expect a drone that doesn’t rely on propellers to hit the market for at least another 5 years. And when it does, I’m almost certain it will come for DJI.
There is an actual working propeller-less that I could find on the internet. The design is crude but it floats just fine:
A common question that comes up from time to time in the dorne community. If you’ve ever flown drones for long enough you’ll surely have experienced cases where one propeller flings off the drone, most times it happens because it was loose and not properly fixed in place.
In many cases, a quadcopter drone can fly on only 3 propellers. Saying “fly” is pushing it a little though, as most drones will only be operational enough to do what is called an emergency landing in case one propeller flings off. It depends on the software of the drone and how it’s made.
That being said, Quadcopters are vulnerable when a propeller fails, because if you lose power on one motor, you can’t correct it. If you have a penta-, hexa-, or octocopter, you can correct it. Also, there’s often less load on each propeller in these cases, so the chances of braking are little in the first place.
So yes, you can still fly your quadcopter if one propeller comes off, depending on your setup. But I wouldn’t rely heavily on it.
So we know that there are drones that can fly on two propellers, although not optimally.
But in the case of one propeller, is it possible? Well, one weird looking drone that was developed at the Institute for Dynamics Systems and Control at ETH Zurich can actually do that.
As you can see in this video, it’s flight it’s shaky and frankly you can’t expect to work with this drone. But it does show the amount of research and innovation being put into the drone field. I’m kind of excited to see how drones will develop over the next 5 years!
As you can tell, the drone propeller-less drone concepts are… well, just concepts. To date, the drones that fly without propellers do so crudely and they’re usually only good enough for floating and barely holding their balance.
Still, I think we’ll definitely witness drones that fly without propellers in the coming years.