Impressive work by the University of Warwick, who are designing a Pixhawk-powered drone from search and rescue. Above, a test device for Pixhawk. Below, a mold for the carbon-fiber mold.
From the article:
The design now has a 2.2-meter (7.2-foot) wingspan, multiple imaging cameras, and an antenna tracking system at the base station to maintain contact. It also features two control systems designed in Autodesk EAGLE: a traditional manual transmitter for takeoff and landing and an autopilot system controlled by modified open-source software.
Warwick Associate Professor of Engineering Simon Leigh, who specializes in additive manufacturing, guided Barlow’s team during the project. He knew they would 3D-print reusable molds of the UAV body parts and then use them to resin-infuse strong-yet-light carbon fiber to create the finished product. Leigh says it took about one month of continuous 3D printing to finish the molds. After that, infusing the carbon fiber proved a challenge, as well.
“We used liquid-resin infusion, which is under the vacuum,” Barlow says. “You apply a vacuum to your carbon fiber on the mold, and then you inject resin into it under the vacuum. That’s generally done on a much bigger scale, with much easier geometric parts than we were using, so we had to invent a lot of really cool tools to do it.”
Barlow couldn’t elaborate on those inventions due to the terms with industry partner GKN Aerospace, which may commercialize some of them down the line. To exercise that kind of innovative thinking while working with an expert company was a great experience and opportunity for the students, Leigh says. And they continue to employ creative thinking toward making parts of the UAV multifunctional to maximize its weight
For example, the UAV’s main function will be to search for casualties on a mountain, land next to them by parachute, and deliver supplies. But the parachutes could be made of emergency space blankets for the people to use, and other equipment could also be built into the aircraft. Customized software could even tailor the payload for the needs of each emergency.
“It would suggest the load out you would need and how to balance it to get the right center of gravity,” Leigh says. “So we cataloged the supplies we want to put in it and worked out where they might sit in the airframe.” The group has also explored using Autodesk Netfabb additive-manufacturing software to optimize aspects of the UAV design to be 3D-print friendly and reduce weight.
Barlow’s goal for the UAV was a carrying capacity of about 5 kilograms (11 pounds) and an 80-kilometer (49.7-mile) range, but that’s much farther than current UK regulations allow for this type of drone. The many layers of regulation applied to UAVs from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the wireless communications regulations from Ofcom are “bit of a minefield to navigate,” Leigh says.