The Airbus Group, promoting cutting edge technologies and scientific excellence, started the Cargo Drone challenge with the goal of contributing to global progress in the fields of environmental protection, mobility and safety. In the challenge, being hosted by Local Motors, a big community of engineers and designers competed on designing the next generation of autonomous multi-purpose drones.
The aim was to design a platform that would be reconfigurable and adaptable for the usage in certain fields, such as: agriculture monitoring, infrastructure inspection, cargo delivery or humanitarian missions.
The configuration of the given challenge was the first step in the overall development process. Every team had to conceptualize their ideas while applying the requirements and constrains given by Airbus. In order to evaluate the realization of the concept, certain aspects as aerodynamic simulations, calculations of ascending forces of motors and airfoils had to be submitted. Also, structural components had to be defined and explained.
The design requirements focused on simplicity and stressed the matter of avoiding moving parts, like tilting wings or motors. Also, the accessibility of the payload and modularity for ease of transportation had to be considered. Furthermore the drone should be designed for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), and efficient forward flight.
In order to attain simplicity and limit weight, we focused on the use of software to control the flight of the drone. We came to the consensus that the foundation of the aircraft would be a rigid body with four vertical propellers similar to a commercial drone.
The advantage of using this construction is that the aircraft is able to compensate for the dislocation of the Center of Gravity and the varying weight of the payload.
Combining this basic concept with the gliding abilities of a winged aircraft, the drone would be able to travel the required distance of 100 km with a speed of 140 km/h.
In order to minimize complex structures of moving parts, the vertical rotors were placed in the wings. These active discs maximize the wings air surface while reducing the overall size.
Building the rotors into the wings also has an advantage in terms of safety perspectives. The rotors are mostly covered and therefore protected from potential dangers during flight as well as assembly and transportation. Hence the risk for ground personnel during loading and unloading is reduced. At the same time the aircrafts stability is preserved.
During takeoff and landing the rotors lift the aircraft up and down, balancing it like a regular drone. When the drone has reached its travel altitude, it transitions into a forward movement propelled by two horizontal motors. During horizontal flight the vertical rotors keep running at a low speed to maintain the uplift of the wing but also to maneuver the aircraft. Unlike a normal plane, this aircraft does not need movable components like elevator or fin to steer the plane. All the flight operations are handled by the software controlled rotors.
For the use of transportation the drone can be disassembled into 4 separate parts. The front part contains all the essential electronics, communication systems, antennas, camera and payload bay. Then there are the wings with each two rotors and the tail with two more rotors.