We have been watching and studying the world of UAVs for many years now and are always looking to push back the boundaries a little further. One such area gaining a lot of attention at the moment is that of using unmanned air vehicles to deliver goods.
But whilst the idea sounds fascinating, we believe that the technology is leading the conversation rather than the user need. Since multirotor craft are a simple to understand platform, many new initiatives constrain themselves to the capabilities and limitations of this technology. This steers the opportunity towards the only thing multirotors can do: rapid delivery of small items over short distances. Medical supplies, test samples and other high value items that are small and lightweight can be moved over difficult terrain or from previously inaccessible locations. That’s great and should be celebrated. However it’s hardly a grand challenge worthy of the top minds around the world. Most of the difficulties of getting such a system to work have already been largely overcome… criminals and smugglers have been doing it successfully for many years.
It is often cited that building traditional infrastructure costs in the region of $1M per mile of road in an undeveloped nation, and so a UAV delivery network could be a cost effective alternative.
The comparison is only fair though if it’s a like for like replacement. Something these initiatives most certainly are not.
No multirotor or hybrid flying wing / quadcopter can compete with this…
[Credit to http://grandmotherafrica.com/physics-african-production/ for this photograph]
What we believe people really need is an alternative to the pickup, an alternative to the overladen car or truck. To change the world, we need the average person to be able to move bulk cargo without a road, not just a few test tubes.
We need to focus on the issue then develop a suitable technology, not the other way round.
We believe a credible way to do this is with automated Paramotors. A vehicle with all the advantages of a fixed wing plane, but can be packed down into a rucksack or on the back of a horse. A vehicle that’s cheap to build and can be repaired by anyone with a needle and thread.
A typical Paramotor can carry a large adult pilot and perhaps a passenger as well, so it is reasonable to assume a pilotless unmanned version of the same system could carry between 75kg – 150kg of cargo. But it could scale even larger, it’s dependant on the size of the parachute wing.
We intend to start at the bottom with a small radio controlled version. If we can get this to fly remotely, we can make the system larger and larger, the principle should scale just like the size of the craft.
Building an Autopilot for a Paramotor
Here is the first challenge, making a paramotor fly itself. Not a trivial one.
A Paramotor is a complicated mathematical model, the whole craft is a pendulum, every thrust or turn starts to rock or sway the machine. Making a system that can handle these motions is hard…
But if we make small steps at a time, we might be able to make a dent in it.
We’ve teamed up with researchers at the University of Bath to help guide us and so far we’ve made some very promising progress.
The craft flies and we can autonomously keep it at a set altitude, more or less (there’s a few fiddly bugs to squash, but the principle is working).
The next task is to fly in a straight line between 2 GPS markers.
After that, turn around a corner.
Then we will have the workings of a credible autonomous craft.