Belgian Drone Mixes Plane and Quadcopter Technology

What do you get when you marry a plane and a quadcopter? The answer lies in the hands of production engineering researchers Bart Theys and Stijn Debecker.

According to the Belgian researchers from University of Leuven, they have produced a delivery drone that can rival Google’s Project Wing and Amazon Prime Air. And they name it VertiKUL 2 (after the university’s first prototype VertiKUL designed in 2014 by master’s students Maarten Verbandt, Cyriel Notteboom, and Menno Hochstenbach).

VertiKUL 2 adopts the best features of a quadcopter (ability to take off and land vertically) and normal aircraft (ability to fly long distances at high speed).

We made a combination that uses the flight efficiency of an airplane and combines this with the vertical take-off and landing of a quadcopter or a helicopter,” said lead researcher Bart Theys.

“So we added wings and aerodynamically shaped profile to a quadcopter to make it fly fast and far.”

With the help of four small propellers, VertiKUL 2 takes off and lands vertically. When it reaches cruising altitude, the automatic flight controller tilts the craft forward so that its top effectively becomes its nose. With real-time kinematic Global Positioning System (GPS), it can land with very precise position of ten centimeters and reach its destination quickly, using less energy in the process. Once it reaches its destination, VertiKUL 2 reverts to hovering mode.

VertiKUL 2 specifications:

  • 5kg total mass
  • 60 to 70km/h cruise flight
  • Approx. 25km of range
  • Pixhawk flight controller with adapted ArduCopter 3.2.1 firmware
  • 1kg of payload possible (20 X 15 X 10cm)

“When we take off it flies like a multicopter and all the lift is generated by the four propellers,” explained Theys. “After take-off we make a transition and we tilt the whole vehicle 45 degrees and after this the wings provide a lot of lift and the propellers do not consume so much energy anymore. When we want to land we just make a transition back to hover and all the lift is provided by the propellers and we can land vertically on a very small spot.”

While the outdoor tests for VertiKUL have been impressive–travel up to 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) and carry a cargo payload up to one kilogram (2.2 lb)–it struggled in windy conditions which led to the creation of VertiKUL 2.

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