Tech

How the dual-propeller V-Coptr Falcon plans to take on DJI's drone empire

Is superior flying performance enough?

DJI started out as one of many companies competing for dominance in the drone market, and after stomping out the competition with its superior devices — quadcopters that somehow keep getting smaller, more intelligent, and more powerful — it’s now The Name in drones.

How does any drone company, let alone ones like Yuneec and Parrot, which have 10 years of experience under their belts, compete with DJI, the Goliath of drones?

By chopping two rotors off and doubling the flight time of even DJI’s best consumer drone, the Mavic 2. And having guts, the company tells me.

Zach Goldstein / Input

The V-Coptr Falcon is not your typical quadcopter drone. Immediately, you notice there are only two rotors, which unfold from the body into a v-shape to resemble a falcon (hence the name).

The company behind the V-Coptrr Falcon is Zero Zero Robotics. Drone geeks know them as the maker of the Hover Camera Passport. I was the first journalist in the world to see the carbon fiber-enclosed “flying camera” before it later landed at Apple Stores.

In late 2016, DJI was still finding its footing. The Mavic Pro hadn't launched yet and the Hover Cam was one of the smallest, safest, and most intelligent drones. The Hover Camera wasn’t perfect, but the innovations inside, co-created by Stanford Ph.D’s Mengqiu “MQ” Wang and Tony Zhang, paved a way forward for the Chinese startup.

Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Getty Images

There were heavy rumors that Snap, Inc. had secretly acquired Zero Zero Robotics in 2017, but it's clear now that it never happened. Two sources familiar with the matter told Input the two companies were indeed in talks, but the deal fell apart. And so here Zero Zero Robotics is, in 2020, solo with a new drone.

Thomas Trutschel/Photothek/Getty Images

Inspired by the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey, the V-Coptr Falcon uses a patented dual rotor system to take off and cut through the sky. Coupled with Zero Zero Robotic's own secret gyroscopic technology, the drone can achieve extra-long flight time.

50

The amount of flight time (in minutes) the V-Coptr Falcon lasts on a single charge. DJI's top-of-the-line Mavic 2 drones only last up to 31 minutes in the air.

70+

It’s estimated DJI commands over 70 percent of global drone market share. Intel, Yuneec, Parrot, and GoPro round out the top five, but their share of the drone pie is puny in comparison, with single-digit market share percentages for each.

Source: Drone Industry Insights

SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

The V-Coptr folds up and unfolds with ease.

I checked out the V-Coptr Falcon at Zero Zero Robotics' CES booth and they didn't let me fly it inside of the mesh cage. I can't vouch for the 4K video footage from the 12-megapixel camera. But here's some footage from Zero Zero Robotics' YouTube channel. It looks good.

But then again, Zero Zero Robotics also has this footage on its website and the video quality looks overexposed. I'll wait until I can test the V-Coptr before I can say how the camera compares to DJI's, which are best-in-class.

The controller is a tank. It's a big bulky plastic controller with two control sticks and your usual buttons and triggers for landing and takeoff, as well as capturing footage from the camera. Compact it is not.

The controller also has a built-in clamp that flips out to hold your connected smartphone. You know, so you can see what your drone's camera is seeing and not crash into things.

7km

One spec in which DJI's Mavic 2 drones have the V-Coptr beat: video transmission range. The V-Coptr has a video transmission of 7km (4.3 miles) versus the Mavic 2's 8km (5 miles).

So how do you take on DJI? The drone almighty? The final boss? THE DRONE COMPANY?

It takes guts. We’ve been working very hard. The Falcon is not something that we cooked up overnight. This is two and a half years of work. If you want to compete against a leading player like DJI, who’s almost almighty — it’s not easy.”

MQ, CEO and co-founder of Zero Zero Robotics

"First, you need to fix all the shortcomings. For example, we didn't have the ability to do 7km transmission, but now we can. I think on all the tech aspects of competent aerial photography drones, the Falcon meets all the standards.

That's not enough. If I build a me-too product like many of the other drone players, the market will not respond to that. What's the point?"

"The Falcon is the world's first v-shaped bi-copter. It's very aerodynamic and efficient. It clocks 50 minutes of airtime. DJI products average about 23 to 24 minutes of airtime. This is the first drone that breaks 30, 35, 40, 45, and 50 minutes [of flight time]."

The V-Coptr Falcon wasn't the only bi-copter drone Zero Zero Robotics has ready to go. To showcase just how aerodynamic its bi-copter drone design is, the company made a smaller version that's 249 grams (same weight as the DJI Mavic Mini) and just under the legal limit to require registration with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“This is not a finished and final product. It’s just a concept product for now; it lasts up to 50 minutes as well. We want to show bi-copters are so much more efficient that we can get 50 minutes on this guy, too. Actually, at the press event where we launched [these drones], it flew for 56 minutes [laughs].”

MQ

$999

It seems like a lot of money at first, but a Mavic 2 Zoom costs $1,439 and a Mavic 2 Pro goes for $1,729.

Zero Zero Robotics

The full $999 kit gets you more than just the V-Coptr Falcon drone and controller. You get a spare pair of propellers, USB-C 3.0 charging cable, gimbal cover, and protective case.

Needless to say, I'm really excited to fly the V-Coptr Falcon when it comes out. It was originally slated for February, but due to COVID-19, its release is delayed. Hopefully, it lives up to being a competent DJI challenger.

Share