Meet CargoCopter: our latest generation of high-speed, long-range drones

At KU Leuven we have been developing a new generation of drones to double the speed and range of conventional multi-rotor drones.
For quite some years already, multi-rotor drones are the preferred type of drone for typically applications such as filming or inspection, in which the drone flies at low speeds and usually stays rather close to its pilot. On the one hand, the design of these drones is not very well suited for covering long distances at high speeds, which are beneficial in multiple applications such as parcel deliveries or emergency services. On the other hand, fast and efficient fixed-wing drones require a person or catapult to take off and a runway, parachute or net to land which limits their possibilities in fully automated missions.

Our team has been focusing on improving the speed and range of multi-rotor drones. We therefore combined the benefits of fixed-wing drones with those of multi-rotor drones resulting in a hybrid solution which performs a transition from hover flight into an efficient cruise flight. The only moving parts of the drone are the four propellers which are used to provide lift, thrust and control. This results in a robust, lightweight and low-maintenance solution.  Back in 2014, our first prototypes took off.  These designs made a transition from hover to cruise flight of 90°, with a large wing producing 100% of its required lift in cruise flight. Flying in windy conditions, however, was challenging due to this large wing. Therefore, we decided to improve the wind resistance by reducing the wing size and compensate the loss in lift by improving the aerodynamics and only make a partial transition such that the propellers still produce part of the lift in cruise flight. The result is a very wind tolerant, efficient and fast new generation of drones… The CargoCopter.

Our designs have been evolving fast: a parametric selection algorithm optimizes every new CargoCopter design for its mission-specific requirements. The designs are specifically engineered to be suited for lightweight 3D printing. Thanks to this agile methodology, we were able to design, manufacture and test-fly dozens of prototypes with gradual improvements leading up to doubling speed and range compared to standard multi-rotor drones.

The CargoCopters designs are meant to transport payloads up to 5kg, achieve speeds up to 150km/h and cover distances up to 60km.

Views: 1913

Comment by Olivier on May 30, 2017 at 10:30am

Awesome work! And great video, thanks for sharing!

Do you use Ardupilot or another flight stack? (Saw Mission planner running in the video). If so would be nice to acknowledge on your website  :)

Comment by Bart Theys on May 30, 2017 at 11:04am

We are using ArduCopter, running on a Pixhawk with some customized code for the transition. We mainly focused on the design and were very happy that we didn't have to start from scratch for the flight controller. However, our adaptations for the transition flight still need further development... 

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on May 30, 2017 at 12:13pm

Nice work Bart.  Glad to hear you're having good success with Ardupilot too.

Is the one you demonstrate capable of 5kg payloads?  

Comment by Bart Theys on May 30, 2017 at 12:51pm

Hi Rob, I recently read some very success story about you too (congratz!). The large one on the picture and the video has a payload space of > 6 liters but the propulsion system currently installed is not meant for a 5kg payload. 5kg is possible with another propulsion system but we are not going to install this as long as we don't have an application in which 5kg is really required. 90% of the home-delivered parcels for example is < 2kg.  

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on May 30, 2017 at 12:55pm

Ok, I wondered, as I know how difficult it is to lift 5kg.  Still, 2kg at that speed and range is a nice spec for a lot of applications.

I actually think that racing quads should evolve to look a lot like this...  It's just the natural shape when dealing with mostly high speed flight from a quadcopter.

Comment by Hugues on May 30, 2017 at 2:03pm

congrats guys! I assume you are using Septentrio RTK to land back in your starting "box"? or are you also using visual intelligence and/or IR lock ?

Comment by Brandin Sloms on May 30, 2017 at 3:31pm

Very nice design! I can tell you have put a lot of work into this.

What is the actual range and speed with a 2kg payload in the cargo bay? 

Also do you have a video showing the  landing/takeoff with a 2kg payload, and maybe a little bit of wind? It looks like it might be a little top heavy, but seeing is believing!

Comment by Darrell Burkey on May 30, 2017 at 4:48pm

Wow, that is really impressive. Why don't you bring one over to Australia and join the fun at the Outback Challenge?

Comment by Stijn Debecker on May 31, 2017 at 1:19am

@Hugues, We are only using Septentrio RTK for the moment but we are also working on a visual sensor.

@Darrell, If it fits in our schedule we are definitely joining the Outback Challenge :-). 

Comment by Chris Cloutier on May 31, 2017 at 12:24pm

Brilliant design, I love the hybrid concept that bridges the gap. How are the flight characteristics with varying payloads?  Because your payload bay seems far forward of the CG, I'd imagine you may experience issues with different weight payloads. Congrats on your team's accomplishments! 


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