When you see this quadcopter drone flying at you, don't run or shoot it down -- it's coming to help. A lot of drones serve as spies, assassins, or toys. But if all goes well, rescue workers and emergency response crews could soon deploy the Incredible HLQ (pronounced "hulk") drone that actually helps humanity by zipping up to 50 pounds of provisions per trip, by itself.
The HLQ (which stands for heavy lift quadcopter) spans 6 feet with rotors and was developed by a team of student mechanical engineers from San Jose State University in California. Nick Conover, Chris Fulmer, Carlos Guerrero, and Gabriel Tellez designed the HLQ project for their undergrad senior project. And now they're asking for help on Kickstarter to build a full prototype.
HLQ is not the world's first unmanned cargo carrier. There's the K-Max, a full-scale unmanned helicopter, and Matternet's infrastructure paradigm, which aspires to launch do-gooder drones in rural areas. But the latter focus on small payloads like medicines or lab samples, and max out at 4 pounds. And the K-Max costs millions of dollars. HLQ can lift heavy cargo and would cost a fraction of that.
Onboard the 50-pound HLQ, an open source Arduino board called Ardupilot that is pre-programmed for unmanned aerial vehicle control runs the show. The team augmented that with a one gigahertz processor give HLQ computer vision, and enable the quadcopter to fly autonomously. The students will fabricate the arms of HLQ, which double as drive train, from aluminum to dissipate heat from the motors and have designed them to be swappable if they get damaged or need upgrades to carbon fiber.
The biggest science challenge for team HLQ was how to find rotors that could provide lift needed for a heavy payload. Helicopter hobbyists generally don't need airfoil and drag coefficients. So the engineers built an arm with a motor to test various rotors. In the prototype, they'll power these 16 blades with two 12.5 horsepower gas model airplane engines. At full speed the tips whiz at the speed of a low velocity bullet, so they caged the test arm. You can check out the rig in this video at 1:29 --
If all goes as planned, emergency responders could feed HLQ GPS coordinates to pickup and drop off supplies like water, food, and shelter. In a massive catastrophe like Sandy or Fukushima where access was nearly impossible, fleets of HLQs could converge on stockpiles and get to work. The engineers estimate one gallon gives the HLQ a 30 minute flight time. They won't know speeds until the full prototype is built.
The HLQ will use ultrasonic sensors on initial descent to find boxes for delivery. When within 20 to 30 feet, HLQ switches to a camera with computer vision to hone in on a large distinct pattern on the top of boxes to calculate distance more accurately. The quadcopter will dock with boxes via a simple module repurposed from quick-release garden hose connections.
Nick Conover, team lead, said the HLQ prototype will cost roughly $10,000. The relatively low price tag could extend the capabilities of small search and rescue teams that can't afford their own helicopter and staff to include aerial intervention before evac.
Conover's team has leveraged donated parts, their school's mechatronic lab, and a nearby TechShop filled with wonderful toys (ahem), I mean tools, like laser and plasma cutters, welders, and CNC machines. Still, the full build doesn't quite fit in a student budget next to ramen. So HLQ took to Kickstarter in hopes of building the beast by the time they graduate later this year. With 11 days remaining, they're still four Benjamins short of their quite reasonable $7,500 goal.
Team HLQ will probably still graduate even if they don't build HLQ. But as any maker knows, nothing is more frustrating than the idea that got away.
But there's hope. Conover told PopSci that their design has captured the attention of some companies and philanthropies. One of those, Sky Angels International Rescue, a UK-based foundation that launched this year with a focus on air-delivered assistance, is a backer and has even promised to top off any funding shortfall on Kickstarter.
There's another less philanthropic, but no less human hope for the Incredible HLQ -- one Kickstarter backer wants pizzerias to fire delivery boys and employ the quadcopter in the noble task of late night pizza deployments. And while the Incredible HLQ might not lift humans yet, maybe it can rescue puppies and kittens.
Anybody have the numbers to do a back of the napkin on fuel usage of this per pound versus a chinook or some other transport copter (I guess you'd have to take into account that a full size manned copter would have to make all the stops on the route to distribute, whereas the smaller copters could split up...) but in any case. How does the savings of no pilot, additional weight stack up against having many small engines rather than one big one for the same load?
OK hms, this looks like a fun little exercise.
1 gallon fuel
50 lbs cargo
.5 hr flight time (est)
---------------------- 25 lb-hours/gallon
3720 gallons fuel (military.com)
28,000 lbs cargo (wikipedia)
149 mph cruise speed (wikipedia)
450 mile range (wkipedia)
3 hour flight time (appx calculated using cruise speed & range)
---------------------- 22.58 lb-hours/gallon
So according to our rough calculations, the HLQ quadcopter is slightly more efficient at keeping cargo in the air.
However, without knowing the speed or range of the HLQ, we cannot compare efficiency of distance traveled (lb-mile/gallon). My suspicion is that since the Chinook can probably go a whole lot faster than a quadcopter, it would be more efficient at carrying cargo any distance.
And you would need more than 3000 HLQ quadcopters to carry the same cargo as one Chinook, and they would have to work in relays to get the same flight time, and they still could not travel as far (probably).
But for small missions where a full-sized helicopter would be overkill, a few quadcopters could fill a niche.
Looks cool guys, the only thing it needs now is a cool gun mount! :)
50 lbs would be enough for a gun and some ammo. It could fly into the local mafia boss's favorite park and shoot him.
Turn the music down or off so we can hear what the &%76*%
Sonds great for small scale rescue operations. Large scale things would probably be better served by bigger 'coptors.
Think of fast package delivery also. UPS / FedEx on steroids. Gives a whole new meaning to "air mail".
The cargo will be handy, as the propellers are as dangerous as they look. Autonomous, or not, the design of open air propellers in general could use a kickstart if we are to continue (possibly without Texas) with domestic use.
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I wonder if it would gain effenciency by ducting the props. Even if it didn't gain, would it loose effeciency? That might be benificial for safety.
great math, and I think you were smart in choosing the CH-47, as (I think) it is one of the more effecient cargo movers as far as helocopters go.
Looks great guys, good luck with your project!!!
increase blade radius. single motor with blade guard surround. be cause you know someone will walk into them. Tear drop shape cargo area for wash. Upper level of area fuel storage. lower for cargo. pitch blade assembly for movement. two cameras front and back with 180degree rotation. The tear drop shape will also give it even stability. It will essentially look like an upside hot air balloon. But what do I know.
Science is out smarting itself.
don't over think
With ducted rotors, stubby wings, and aerodynamic body, this thing could probably go quite fast. There is a trade-off of duct weight versus rotor efficiency.
The minimum size of safe landing area for a Chinook would be huge compared to where one of these could go. That's the whole point. And quad rotor craft are infinitely more stable/easier to fly than a single rotor, which would also require a tail rotor, which makes it larger and much more dangerous to approach. But ducting the quad rotors would definitely be needed for safety's sake. People don't realize how dangerous rotor craft are, and someone curious will always want to walk up to it. It happens in parks while flying RC. It would surely happen in a place where someone's sole thought is to be rescued. In fact, they might try to ride on it to escape. Much like a drowning victim climbing atop the rescue swimmer. All these issues would need to be addressed.