Photokina 2014 highlights

VertiKUL drone "delivers" on both hovering and forward flight

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August 18, 2014

The VertiKUL drone in hovering mode

The VertiKUL drone in hovering mode

Image Gallery (2 images)

When something is sent to you by airmail, it travels in a fast and relatively fuel-efficient fixed-wing aircraft, not a fuel-guzzling helicopter. Nonetheless, when we hear about the possibility of drones being used to deliver items within cities, multirotor-style aircraft are almost always what's proposed – while they're good at maneuvering in urban spaces, they're essentially just little unmanned helicopters. With that in mind, a group of three engineering students from Belgium's KU Leuven (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) have created a prototype delivery drone known as VertiKUL, which combines the best features of both types of aircraft.

Master’s students Cyriel Notteboom, Menno Hochstenbach and Maarten Verbandt designed and built VertiKUL as an assignment for their master's thesis.

The electric aircraft takes off and lands like a quadcopter, with its four propellers allowing it to rise and descend vertically. Small cargo items weighing up to 1 kg (2.2 lb) can be stowed in an open space inside the drone.

Upon reaching cruising altitude, it turns on its side, so that what was formerly its top becomes its nose – it's not unlike the Quadshot, which we covered previously. Guided by GPS, it can then head for its destination very quickly, using far less energy than a multi-rotor. Its current range is 30 km (18.6 miles).

Upon reaching cruising altitude, VertiKUL turns on its side, so that what was formerly its...

Once it gets to its destination and reverts to "hovering" mode, its onboard electronics identify the circular LED-illuminated landing platform, and automatically guide the aircraft down onto it.

For now though, along with waiting for legislation that would allow such delivery drones to actually be used, the students are working on improving VertiKUL's ability to adapt to changing weather conditions.

It can be seen in action in the video below.

Source: KU Leuven via IEEE Spectrum

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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12 Comments

How much does a 6 pack weight?

Mark A
18th August, 2014 @ 05:33 pm PDT

Isn't that why you have a dog, Mark? ;)

Noel K Frothingham
18th August, 2014 @ 10:06 pm PDT

Noel and Mark - Now if you could train a dog to carry one of those Heinekin little barrels like a Newfoundland does a brandy cask ...

Actually, this seems like a clever solution, no 'swivelling' wings or rotors to add complexity, just a flight computer - and it looks like it works!

Now if it will scale up, but it depends on weight V size I suppose, it could be a very versatile solution for many worries on limited access (forest clearings? or tight city plazas?) for a lot of uses.

The Skud
18th August, 2014 @ 11:11 pm PDT

Once in use, how long before the delivery drones get shot down by thieves hoping to help themselves to the contents, and the components of the aircraft?

Nik
19th August, 2014 @ 01:48 am PDT

There is going to be the need for an onboard camera - and thus increased payload - to record deliveries because as sure as eggs is eggs there are some who will claim that what they ordered did not arrive.

Mel Tisdale
19th August, 2014 @ 02:41 am PDT

This is a fab device. Obviously it's going to have to be quite a bit larger to carry any sort of payload.

Is this supposed to hover outside your front door waiting for you to realise it's there?

if this could be just scaled up to carry a man, then we would have a wonderful flying machine. Surely it would be possible to have a small Wankel engine, driving four propellers?

windykites1
19th August, 2014 @ 07:48 am PDT

This problem was was solved about 15 years ago by Hugh Schmittle of Freewing. He called his drone: Manta.

Don Duncan
19th August, 2014 @ 01:34 pm PDT

@ Nik

Five minutes in the USofA ten elsewhere.

Slowburn
19th August, 2014 @ 02:58 pm PDT

This architecture (term?) is a German idea that was made into at least 3 different experimental aircraft in the '50s. 1 of the problems with them was that the pilots couldn't see the ground while landing, not a problem for a drone. But a drone will still be blown sideways by strong winds while it is in vertical flight.

theotherwill
19th August, 2014 @ 04:11 pm PDT

It does not show the change from vertical to horizontal flight and vice versa. That is the issue the engineers are trying to solve not the vertical flight and the horizontal flight individually of any vehicle, which had been solved for over a 100 years.

gybognarjr
19th August, 2014 @ 09:22 pm PDT

Thumbs up for this one! :)

Edgar Castelo
20th August, 2014 @ 07:01 am PDT

The video seems to show a transition from horizontal to vertical at 1:55. That seems to the the important point of this device, and rather than a quick demonstration of that capability (like take off, do a quick circle, and land), most of the video is wasted. Still, excellent work.

Bruce H. Anderson
20th August, 2014 @ 12:07 pm PDT
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