Hybrid Drones with Dual Flight Modes
The development of unconventional unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or hybrid drones has attracted great interest from both academia and industry. Hybrid UAVs with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) abilities and fixed-wing cruise operating modes have potential applications in military and civilian operations, especially where there are severe constraints in their operating environment.
The NUS UAV Research Group has recently developed an innovative and fully autonomous hybrid UAV platform with both VTOL and cruise operating functions. An earlier design of this NUS hybrid drone won the championship at the 2013 Singapore Amazing Flying Machine Competition, organised by DSO National Laboratories.
The NUS hybrid drone’s design adopts a reconfigurable wing and a tail-sitter structure, which combines the advantages of a fixed-wing plane and a rotor helicopter effectively. This allows it to transit from vertical take-off to hovering, before flying in cruise mode for efficient long duration flight. The propulsion comes from a self-fabricated contra-rotating motor fixed on a gimbal mechanism, which can change the direction of the motor for the required thrust. This thrust-vectored propulsion system primarily provides control in the VTOL mode but also enhances flight capabilities in the cruise mode.
This hybrid drone is equipped with GPS and airspeed sensors. It also has an on-board avionic system with advanced flight control algorithms to perform fully autonomous VTOL and cruising flights, in addition to transiting effectively between VTOL and cruising flight modes.
Applications and Advantages
The ability to perform VTOL is vital where there is insufficient take-off or landing space available for standard airplane-type UAVs. Hovering capabilities allow close-up static surveillance, while cruise mode is useful for long distance missions. A hybrid drone with both cruising flight and VTOL capabilities is an ideal platform for such tasks, which are typically used in outdoor surveillance.
NUS is looking for research or commercialisation partners to help bring this technology to market.
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