Just in Time for Christmas, AeroVironment Unveils Its New Drone

By Markets Fool.com

AeroVironment (NASDAQ: AVAV) has a new drone -- and this one doesn't blow anything up.

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Image source: Aerovironment.

For years, AeroVironment has been one of the Pentagon's leading suppliers of military drones. Its products range from the Switchblade exploding drone to the insanely popular Raven surveillance UAV. According to the U.S. Army, AeroVironment's Raven small unmanned aerial system has become its "primary" drone system, described as "lightweight, man-portable, and operated and maintained by a single soldier."

Now the company that made small drones ubiquitous in the military aims to make them just as omnipresent in private industry. Earlier this week, AeroVironment unveiled its latest drone in a "live" eventon Facebook. AeroVironment calls the drone "Quantix." Here's what we knowabout it.

Introducing Quantix

Quantix will be a small, lightweight drone about the size of a Raven -- five pounds in weight and with a wingspan of 3.2 feet. But unlike the Raven, which is launched airplane-like, horizontally, Quantix will initially use four propellers to take off vertically like a consumer-brand quadcopter. Upon reaching cruising altitude of about 400 feet, Quantix will flip over and fly horizontally like an airplane at speeds up to 45 mph. (Landing will also be conducted vertically.)

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Battery-powered, Quantix will have enough juice to remain airborne for 45 minutes at a time, permitting it to fly 40 miles in a straight line (to check for leaks in an oil pipeline, for example), or survey about 400 acres of ground (when monitoring agricultural crops) in a single flight.

I mention these flight missions because this is primarily what Quantix is designed for. Carrying dual 18 megapixel video cameras, Quantix will be capable of taking high-resolution color and multispectral video of the ground from 400 feet up. Its advanced software, developed in-house, will then permit users to analyze video data and compare it to past missions flown over the same patch of ground, comparing and contrasting changes observed over time. This makes the drone suitable for monitoring degradation in the condition of a pipeline over time, for example, or crop growth in a field.

What it means for investors

In a press releaseaccompanying the unveiling, AeroVironment touted its experience supplying drones to the military -- something it says it's been doing for 25 years now-- as giving an edge to commercial customers who buy its product. Experience tailoring its products to the needs of small-unit commanders has resulted in an easy-to-use commercial drone that can be launched and landed with the touch of a button, guided along a flight path by tracing a route on a tablet map, and even aborted in-flight with a "return home" or "emergency land" command.

This ease of use suggests Quantix will prove popular among companies that are just beginning to explore the uses of commercial drones in business. And AeroVironment's introduction of Quantix -- just months after the Federal Aviation Administration issued new rules opening the door to commercial drone use in the U.S. -- couldn't be better timed.

I think Quantix could be just the thing to take AeroVironment's Unmanned Aircraft Systems division -- where the company has eked out just 6%annualized revenue growth over the past three years -- and lift this business to the next level.

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Rich Smithdoes not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him onMotley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handleTMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 314 out of more than 75,000 rated members.

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