In February 2018 two companies from Zurich – Daedalean, the developer of an AI autopilot for autonomous flight, and UAVenture, which produces advanced flight control software and related systems for UAVs – announced a partnership: Daedalean would add computer vision and vision-based functions to UAVenture’s autopilot. The collaborative product was named Magpie.
For Daedalean it would provide engineering validation for its concept; Magpie is an entry-level system in a product line ultimately aiming to guide and control classical rotor and fixed-wing aircraft, and the eVTOLs of the near future with a certified AI autopilot. It is the ideal demonstrator of the safety-certifiable neural networks that process visual data, enabling the features that nowadays require the human pilot’s eyes and visual cortex.
And for UAVenture it would promise an unrivaled enhancement of its already very advanced AirRails, the flight controller that autonomously manages every aspect of a UAV mission. AirRails relies on laser- and radar-based distance sensors for accurate landing or terrain following – the addition of vision sensors would make it the winning solution for drones in any flight conditions. And now, after 18 months of intensive development, exhaustive flight testing with gradual downsizing of hardware, selective picking of the hardware suppliers and gathering terabytes of data, the two companies are in the pole position to launch Magpie to the market.
The two main features of the announced product are:
● Real-time vision-based detection of suitable emergency landing locations
● Vision-based navigation and attitude estimation in GPS denied/degraded scenarios.
The system consists of a single camera and mission computer, weighs less than 500g, and consumes less than 15W under nominal conditions. It comes fully integrated with the AirRails flight control computer, allowing end-users to deploy Magpie out-of-the-box without complex integration and APIs.
“Safety first! Continuous advisory of landing spots during the flight that AirRails gets from Magpie is what makes any UAV mission finally safe for BVLOS in any environment,” – says Simon Wilks, co-founder &
CEO of UAVenture.
“And the ability to sustain flight when the GPS signal is lost, jammed or spoofed, makes the Magpie-AirRails joint functionality unique on the market. I believe our customers will be eager to get the new system.”
“Magpie is going to be our first widely used product demonstrating the feasibility of autonomous flight control based on neural networks. This launch is an important milestone for Daedalean on its way to a certified
autopilot for personal electric aircraft,” – adds Luuk van Dijk, founder & CEO of Daedalean.
The first stage of the UNICEF supported project in Vanuatu to supply vaccines for children in remote areas was successful. Wingcopter received one of the worlds first commercial drone delivery contracts. We’re excited to be able to support this effort with AirRails’ advanced safety features for BVLOS deliveries.
Jetoptera has successfully demonstrated hovering of an aircraft equipped with our Fluidic Propulsion System™ (FPS). The tethered tests of vertical takeoff and hovering were done using our 50 kg (110 lbs) platform. The tethering system is a precautionary approach commonly employed in VTOL development. Data recorded so far show excellent behavior of FPS in VTOL position with production of stable, repeatable and reliable thrust, now with vectoring capabilities. With these tests Jetoptera has demonstrated a novel and simple swiveling joint system designed for enhancing maneuverability of the aircraft in transitions and in hovering. The vectoring of the FPS demonstrated good yaw authority for the test platform, in addition to performing the main function of propulsion for both vertical and wing borne flight. A same size FPS has been effectively demonstrated on a flight test bed over the summer in wing-borne configuration. In the current campaign Jetoptera is collaborating with our partners ComQuest Ventures (adapting their Typhon simulator) and UAVenture (adapting their AirRails software).
DHL – Rapid response from the air: medicines successfully delivered using a parcel drone in East Africa
We’re excited about our long-time customer’s latest achievement!
Three experts in their respective fields are making it happen: The German drone manufacturer Wingcopter, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and DHL. Over a six-month period, they successfully tested the delivery of medicines using a drone to an island in Lake Victoria. During the trials, the autonomous DHL Parcelcopter 4.0 completed the 60 km flight from the mainland to the island in 40 minutes on average. A total of 2,200 km were flown and roughly 2,000 flight minutes recorded during the pilot project.
The drone thus opens up new opportunities to address the logistic challenges in the public health sector in many parts of Africa, especially supplying hospitals and pharmacies. Medical care for the roughly 400,000 residents of the Ukerewe island district of Lake Victoria, for instance, is severely limited. This is partly due to the poor infrastructure and difficult terrain.
It takes six hours to cover the overland route of 240 km. That makes it nearly impossible to provide emergency medication or to quickly refill cool chain commodities that are out of stock.
A key feature is that the DHL Parcelcopter 4.0 barely needs any infrastructure as it takes off and lands vertically. After delivering its cargo, it can easily be loaded with blood and laboratory samples to take back to the mainland. In future, the Parcelcopter could therefore not only improve logistics in the public health sector: it has the potential to help prevent crises worldwide, for example allowing an early response to slow the spread of viral diseases like Ebola.
Jetoptera and GE Aviation have agreed to jointly demonstrate a 500-pound-force (lbf) class Fluidic Propulsion System TM leveraging a gas generator based on GE Aviation’s H-Series turboprop engine. This is the first step towards a fully customized gas generator which will lead to a Jetoptera 500 VTOL full flight demonstrator.
Jetoptera’s revolutionary Fluidic Propulsion System is a remarkably simple approach to producing thrust for powerful, VTOL-capable aircraft. A gas generator produces the pressurized fluid which is distributed to specially designed thrusters, the most direct way of producing thrust. The technology augments thrust via massive entrainment of ambient air. Thrusters can be shaped and distributed around an airframe in ways to maximize lift augmentation and distribute propulsion at the same time. Thrusters can also be easily swiveled, allowing for VTOL operations. The result is a high speed, compact system that can naturally hover.
“This is a unique opportunity for GE to participate in the burgeoning development of the urban air mobility, while still infusing new technologies on our H-Series workhorse,” said Michele D`Ercole, President and Managing Executive of GE Aviation Czech, Business and General Aviation Turboprops.
“We are excited to join forces with GE Aviation, the world’s leading producer of aircraft engines, to develop optimized versions of gas generators for our Fluidic Propulsion System,” said Denis Dancanet, Jetoptera CEO. “They will be used to power mid-size to larger aircraft in our product lineup.”
“After recently demonstrating the wing-borne fluidic propulsion capabilities on a 100 lbf class platform this summer, the next demonstration of a 500 lbf class platform will validate our roadmap to introducing unmanned and manned aircraft of quite unique capabilities,” said Andrei Evulet, Jetoptera CTO.
The H-Series gas generator brings simple architecture, thermodynamic efficiency and reliability to Jetoptera’s innovative VTOL demonstrator. Ranging from 550 to 850 standard horsepower (410 – 633 kW), H-Series turboprops incorporate GE’s 3-D aerodynamic design techniques and advanced materials to create a powerful, fuel-efficient, durable engine.
GE Aviation is investing more than $400 million in its turboprop program in Europe, including its Turboprop headquarters in Prague, where the H-Series is manufactured, and the all-new Catalyst engine is being developed and tested.
With an average of 240.6km/h!
Want to land with centimeter accuracy at your landing zone? Need to land precisely on a charging pad for autonomous charging?
AirRails now fully supports an ultra-wideband positioning system for highly accurate and fully autonomous landings regardless of weather, visibility or GPS conditions. Watch the demo video to see how the positioning system allows AirRails to guide the Wingcopter in for a spot landing on a charging station at the end of a survey mission.
Contact us to find out more about how AirRails can bring precision landing to your product.
ComQuest Ventures and UAVenture Partner to Bring Integrated Solutions for Hybrid VTOL UAS Developers
UAVenture and ComQuest Ventures (CQV) are partnering to offer integrated UAS development, flight control and simulation solutions for UAV developers in the rapidly expanding market of hybrid VTOL UAS.
Developing hybrid VTOL UAS airframes and flight control systems poses unique engineering challenges. Airframes must be highly optimized to benefit from their VTOL capabilities, and often require customized flight control software which must be carefully tested for adequate stability and control. UAVenture and CQV are combining their expertise and technologies to provide UAV makers and suppliers solutions that simplify this process and provides an agile approach to the creation and use of VTOL systems.
UAVenture’s AirRails product is a modern flight control system tailored for hybrid VTOL aircraft. CQV offers Typhon UDX, the first integrated UAV design and simulation software that enables UAV developers to adopt an agile process in the design of any VTOL airframe configuration including quadplanes (SLT), tiltrotors and tailsitters. The AirRails interface within Typhon UDX allows developers to simulate and design their airframes in conjunction with the actual flight control code and the AirRails Ground Control Station (GCS).
Both companies are also offering a standalone simulator software for UAV end-users. This allows UAV manufacturers and suppliers to provide their customers with a full flight simulation package which realistically captures the performance, looks, and operation of their systems.
CQV and UAVenture are able to work closely with their clients to customize their technologies based on specific requirements, and to offer their combined expertise in VTOL flight control systems and airframes to interested parties.
Team members from Wingcopter and UAVenture traveled to a remote location in the north of South Africa to complete training and run mapping trials with the Wingcopter Mapping Package for Smops SA as they prepare to launch their mapping services across Africa.
The Wingcopter Mapping Package consists of a Wingcopter 178 Heavy Lift with a full-frame camera, such as the 42MP Sony a7R II, providing a GSD of 1.3cm and a high accuracy PPK system from Klau Geomatics. In a single flight the Wingcopter 178 Heavy Lift is capable of covering more than 500 hectares with a battery reserve of 30%. It is powered by UAVenture’s AirRails Hybrid VTOL flight control and Ground Control System which provides it with powerful terrain following mapping capabilities.
While previously employed as RPAS pilots by a Mozambican company, Robyn and Jacque, the co-owners of Smops SA, carried out extreme mapping jobs in very remote and poorly accessible locations with a conventional flying wing mapping system.
Robyn explained that “Fixed-wing drones perform adequately in completing large mapping missions, takeoffs and landings have proven to be hazardous due to the fact that small clearings or rocky areas are the only option available. The results were often catastrophic and the lifetime of these drones were limited, requiring frequent and expensive repairs”. As a result they began looking towards vertical takeoff solutions that still brought extended flight times with moderate cruise speeds.
With the acquisition of the Wingcopter 178 Heavy Lift, Robyn and Jacque are now able to achieve automated vertical takeoffs and landings with as little as 5 – 10 meters clearance and safely transition to forwards flight. Stress free and with zero damage.
Due to the multi-kilo payload capacity of the Wingcopter they are able to carry a larger high quality camera (Sony a7R II) and acquire very high-resolution images with centimeter precision using an onboard PPK system. Their future-proof Wingcopter 178 Heavy Lift allows Robyn and Jacque to start surveying today with the option to upgrade to a 4kg LiDAR system when required.
The AirRails Ground Control Station complements Wingcopter’s AirRails autopilot, by providing a tightly integrated and highly intuitive process for creating sophisticated terrain adjusted surveys in a few simple steps. In addition to time and distance based camera triggering there is an option to automatically pause triggering during turns which excludes all unnecessary photos. This reduces both the processing preparation effort as well as the final processing time.
Once uploaded to the Wingcopter, starting the mission is as easy as the press of a button. Transitions from multicopter mode for vertical takeoff to fixed wing flight and back are fully autonomous, as is the rest of the mission, and the Wingcopter’s progress can be followed in real-time in 3D on the Ground Control Station tablet. Camera trigger counts and ground coverage estimates from each photo taken are shown on the map in real-time.
During the training period, Robyn and Jacque were able to complete the mapping mission and obtained high quality imagery, resulting in an impressive orthomosaic of the expansive rural property. Wingcopter and AirRails are ready to deliver a Hybrid VTOL solution to solve your challenging mapping needs.
Smops SA is a newly registered company run by two South African women who will commence commercial operations as soon as their RPAS Operators Certificate has been approved. For more information see their company profile, or contact them at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A brief demo showing a basic mapping mission with AirRails and the Wingcopter in action:
Landing precisely where you want it to land is important in confined spaces or when you require a landing platform (for example to provide stable ground or to connect to an automated charging pad, etc.). The following video shows the very first precision landing test with AirRails on a “landing pad” setup using an ultra wide band (UWB) positioning system.
UWB performs well outdoors and is not affected by weather conditions. The setup in the video is a 2 by 2 meter landing platform featuring 1 anchor on each corner to triangulate the device (tag) attached to the drone. The drone is able to consistently navigate to the same spot within 10cm. Support for AirRails powered VTOLs and AirRails GCS coming soon! Please contact us for more information.