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).

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