3D Robotics

3689696333?profile=originalFull disclosure: I was one of the judges. Too many great entries -- it was hard to pick a winner. From Popular Science:

Zelator, by Alexey Medvedev of Omsk, Russia, which won first place in the Airbus Main Prize.

The contest, which got underway this spring, ultimately netted 425 submissions.

The drones had a length list of requirements, including a weight below 55 pounds, the ability to take off and land vertically, and a pusher propeller.

There were nine winning designs (three places in each of three categories), and in total they were awarded over $100,000.

The Zelator entry can be viewed here. It features a sleek cargo compartment, a powerful engine for forward thrust in flight, and four smaller rotors to provide vertical lift.

The SkyPac drone designed by Finn Yonkers of North Kingstown, Rhode Island won the cargo category. SkyPac features a versatile tubular body that can fit many different loads for many missions, as designed, including dropping life preservers for sea rescue. Finally, Frédéric Le Sciellour of Pont De L’Arn, France won the community category with his slick Thunderbird design, a very horizontal craft with a hidden storage compartment in the main body.

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  • Possibly the most energy efficient way of doing this is V-22 type tilt-rotors, anything else reduces gravimetric energy density of the system. The DHL delivery drone is maybe the best current alternative at the moment ?

     The Zelator could possibly work without a tail provided it was aerodynamically setup as a plank, but not with it's current wing layout.

  • Yep.  The design brief boxed people into a corner.  There's only so many ways you can arrange those components into something that will work.  So the workable solutions were pretty boring, when they really wanted something interesting looking.  I think the system was gamed to result in the most attractive rendering to be the winner, but they "bought" the actual design that will be produced by giving it a 3rd place finish.

    So, the headlines will show the Zelator.  But they will build the Minerva.

    And then real drone delivery will happen by via drone helicopters, since they are actually the proper system for this role.  :)

  • Developer

    This is my final take on all this.

    Most importantly the rules of the competition pretty much dictated the design result for a functional solution.

    Just look at Hellcat's entry. He is a professional and did the actual math, and ended up with a design that looks like your typical functional drone today, but with some creative innovation added to the mix like the 'golf ball' dimples added to the motor housing. So no surprise there. We know what works, using either math or practical experience or ideally a combination of both. Being restricted to a fixed pusher and lift propellers, all functional and practical designs will end up looking similar to this.

    What they failed to disclose in my opinion. Was that it seems they weren't really looking for a functional design, but something that would look nice in a news article about crowd sourced drone design. To show them being on the forefront of the latest trending technology and all that.

    The combination of obvious technical challenges, but ascetically pleasing design and very nice renders in the winning entry strongly suggests this to be the case. There is also some activity on the entry page to make the entry 'valid' at the last minute, that points in the same direction.

  • One of the real shames of it, is it didn't have to be this way.  There were some pretty good entries.  For example, the 3rd place finisher Minerva appears to actually be a plausible aircraft. I rather like it.  As an engineer, I can see the guy actually has a clue about what he's doing.  And reading the discussion, you can see this is the case.

    So why didn't it win?  Simply the lack of pretty renderings?  It is still lacking details on how it would be constructed.  But at least the CG appears to be in the right place which is a start.

    The Volans is similar to the Zelator, but has a less challenging CG situation.  Will still take some rearrangement to balance.  And it has elevator!

  • Hey Hellcat

    Looks like you put a fair bit of work into it. Shame your design work didn't get you through...looks like only the pretty ones did, sadly not the ones that actually work. :-)

  • I too am one of the suckers who partciapted in the competition :)


    That said, it was a rewarding experince though. Having spent a portion of my career designing wings for commercial airliners, I had to search hard on how to meet the challenge requirements. The biggest problem was structural weight. After selecting the highest energy density batteries, I only had a small margin for structural weight. Having said that, I proposed an EPP foam frame. Yep thats right foam!! Fiberglass and carbon were just too heavy. Maybe carbon nano tube skins would do it, I just don't have access to that right now :)

    If anyone is interested, I have a full blown analysis available as an Excel sheet you can download (under link above). It complements Airbus's analysis although with a bit more detail. Its not perfect by any means but it should help.



  • Developer

    Maybe though, the judges were looking for Style. Airbus must be bursting with aerodynamicists and structural engineers, so perhaps they were looking for people that could make things the things their engineers make look good. Image is everything on the one hand, but I guess form = function on the other!

  • +1 Rob

    If good looks could only fly!

    It was just a cheapskate marketing study.

    Maybe he was going to use morphing wing elevators and helium filled batteries for extra lift to get the COG right? ;-)

  • I participated in this design challenge. I came up with something that I hoped would address the requirements they had asked for. It was nothing I would have ever pursued on my own, so I figured why not. It was a great experience, and there were a lot of talented designers. After the results were announced a large amount of participants were upset. I think if I had just been communicated to everyone that aesthetics and presentation were extremely important, if not more important then everything would have been just fine. Anyways, I was happy with my entry and had high hopes for it...

    My entry: https://cocreate.localmotors.com/Pivotwing/cargo-plus/
  • Yeah, some of us know a thing or two about building advanced aircraft systems that actually work.

    I mean, come on, the thing doesn't have elevator!  If there is some secret answer to that problem, the inventors of this contest should have known they were going to face criticism by revealing only half the information.  What did they expect was going to happen?

    I see only two possibilities:  Ooops, everybody involved really didn't notice, which throws into question everything else. Or, they are using the lift motors for control which is just really stupid.

    CarlosV of Airbus actually even commented:

    - Some longitudinal control at high speed is missing; you'll need some kind of actuators on that inverted V tail, unless you prefer using somehow (and not very efficiently) your rearmost lift propellers.

    So where is the answer?  If if he does stick elevator surfaces on there, does he even have enough projected horizontal area?  Those bottom fins appear to be beyond 45° from horizontal, closer to 60°.

    The designer even sketched in a single Volz servo for the rudder, but none for elevators.  So was the elevator just a late addition that wasn't detailed?

    Tellingly, ALL of the "optional" delivery items for calculating the flight control surface data is missing.

    Are the Volz servos in the wing for aileron control actually going to fit in that thing wing?  They don't appear in the rendering.

    Did the guy even model the thrust motor in the design?  The T-motor U12 is 4.2" in diameter.  He's proposing a 21" propeller.  That's a 5:1 ratio.  Does the rear of the fuselage actually appear to house a motor that is 1/5th the diameter of that prop?  Doesn't look like it to me.  Again, looks like a pretty sketch, with zero actual engineering.

    What about the CG? It's listed at 1.179m, behind the nose presumably.  That places the CG WELL behind the wing, which we all know is not going to work.  It's even behind the CL of the lift motors.  It actually is almost directly under the rear set of motors.  So this is another "forklift quadcopter" design.

    Or was the CG number just pulled out of thin air (like the rest of the design).

    Well... it's actually seems quite reasonable location, if you consider most of the heavy parts, the lift motors, and the cargo, are all near the center of the wing (as they should be), however the battery is a little rearward, and the thrust motor is 0.9kg, all the way at the back, with no offsetting counterweight up front?

    Well, he does have the avionics up front.  And he lists the weight of the avionics at 3.4kg... but holy cow, where did THAT number come from?  That's insane. Again, it just appears to be a number pulled from thin air.  I mean, an entire NUC i7 system is only about 1 kg!

    The thrust propeller is listed as a 21x33.  Where does that come from?  I've never seen a propeller anything like that.  Is this real?  Or did he just make up the numbers?  Is this evidence that, again, he chose the U12 T-motor out of thin air?  Should have chosen a different motor altogether.  More evidence that zero engineering work went into this.

    I'm sorry, but yeah, I have to conclude the Airbus engineers on this project are a bunch of idiots.  OR there was zero consideration of engineering placed on this contest, and they cared more about pretty pictures, with the whole thing being more about marketing than anything.

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