Broward drone inventor foresees a future with safer drones

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On a rainy Saturday morning, Broward local and Chinese native Max Gaofei Yan presented a unique concept to an audience of attentive Miami Dade College School of Aviation students.

“Today I want to share with you, and would very much like your feedback, on our technology,” Yan said.

Max Yen's XT Flyer. Photo by Tomás Monzón.
Max Yan’s XT Flyer. Photo by Tomás Monzón.

He calls it the XT Flyer.

Dubbed “the first crash-proof aircraft ever”, the XT Flyer is an eggshell-shaped unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that’s built to land in any position and crash against any obstacle while continuing to fly. It contrasts currently popular drone designs, such as Phantom 3 and Ronin-M, by the placement of its rotors, which are located within the eggshell and help prevent injury to an operator or passersby that may come into contact with them (as did Enrique Iglesas in late May).

Yan is currently in China, where the manufacturing plant for his drone is located. He expects to have production units ready by January 2016. These will feature a camera and GPS technology onboard.

Yan and cofounder James Dees, a former bomb squad officer, formed Advanced Aerodynamics Inc. (AAI) and patented their XT Flyer design in 2009. A toy version of the design has already been produced and enjoyed much success through retail by companies like Mattel, Hasbro and EB Brands. This version is typically referred to as The Orb but may be retailed under different names.

Max Yen poses with one of the toy versions of his XT Flyer. Photo courtesy of Max Yen.
Max Yan poses with one of the toy versions of his XT Flyer. Photo courtesy of Max Yan.

Through royalties collected from sales of the toy version and through funds provided by private investors, Yan now wants to take his design to the next level and make it an industry standard.

“Current conventional drones need to be replaced by [a] safer design, otherwise the industry would have a major setback in the near future,” Yan said during his presentation. He added that he is “very confident” that the XT Flyer is the answer to those problems.

At Miami Dade College’s Aviation School, drone education got its start during the summer semester of 2015, with non-credit, continuing education classes in drone education held for the first time. The school is still in the process of securing a Section 333 exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which will allow the students to actually fly drones.

Professor Orlando Villaverde teaches one of the Saturday drone courses and was present for Yan’s presentation. He and Homestead Campus’ School of Continuing Education Director Susana Vela look forward to working with Yan in the future and are optimistic about his prospects.

SONY DSC
Broward local and Chinese native inventor Max Gaofei Yan poses with MDC Homestead Campus’ School of Continuing Education Director Susana Vela (center) and drone professor Dr. Orlando Villaverde (center).

“I think they’re on the right track to success,” Villaverde told the audience. “Being a toy builder and then going into the drone [industry] is an easy transition, I believe.”

Drone Safety Council founder Dr. Tim McGuinness, whose organization seeks to “inform, investigate and implement drone safety standards”, was less optimistic about Yan’s future success based on business patterns in recent technology history.

“All that happens is when somebody comes up with a new design and then goes to Kickstarter and see if they can fund it, is they’re doing exactly what happened in the 2000 dot com bubble. We’re in a drone bubble right now, where everybody thinks they can make a buck, and the reality is that the crash is about 18 months away and 90 percent will go out of business in a heartbeat.”

Dr. McGuinness had not seen Yan’s design at the time of his remarks.

For his part, Yan needs help promoting his business. He and his business partner Reuben Fernandez seek “young people” interested in drone aviation. They jokingly mock their old age and earnestly express their vision of a future where people other than grown men with families have an interest in flying drones.

For more info about Yan’s drones, check out www.xtflyer.com.

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