3D Printed VTOL Craft Can Land And Recharge Itself, And Team Up With Other Drones

For a long time fixed wing VTOL drones were tricky to work with, but with the availability of open source flight control and autopilot software this has changed. To make experimentation even easier, [Stephen Carlson] and other researchers from the RoboWork Lab at the University of Nevada created the MiniHawk, a 3D printed VTOL aircraft for use a test bed for various research projects.

Some of these project include creating a longer wingspan aircraft by combining multiple MiniHawks in mid-flight with magnetic wing-tip mounts, or “migratory behaviors“. The latter is a rather interesting idea, which involves letting the craft land in any suitable location, and recharging using wing mounted solar panels before continuing with the next leg of the mission. With this technique, the MiniHawk could operate on mission almost indefinitely without human intervention. This is a departure from some other solar planes we’ve seen, which attempt to recharge while flying, or even ditch batteries completely, which limits operation to sunny weather conditions.

The design is open source, with all the relevant information and files available on GitHub. This looks like a fun craft even if you don’t plan on doing research with it, and [Stephen] also created an FPV specific canopy cover.

22 thoughts on “3D Printed VTOL Craft Can Land And Recharge Itself, And Team Up With Other Drones

  1. Add a bit of machine vision to identify roofs. These things could land on top of most roofs and charge for days with minimal losses to people stealing or damaging them. Deploy thousands in an urban area. Now you’ve got autonomous mobile sensing units covering everywhere.

    1. Not sure a rooftop is a great idea – they tend to have stuff sticking out of them, be quite sloped, and relatively exposed to the wind – which with aerofoils is asking to be thrown about.

      I do think the concept is interesting though, not sure quite what practical sensible use such things could have, but its certainly a novel idea, the linkage between them is perhaps a bit too floppy and hauling around that rear tail motor seems silly – they should be able to hover and fly helicopter style off the tilting front rotor pairs just fine, and then traverse to forward fixed wing lifted flight and remain controllable with differential thrust and tilting.

      1. Probably none except the government establishing mass surveillance, since at least the laws of the European union, Canada the us and Mexico(and a lot more countries too) prohibit their civilian use entirely. Other than that they could for example be used to monitor pipelines continuously. Or for mapping when equipped with a gem module

    2. Given that I doubt you’re envisioning asking the roof owner’s permission… Might as well have it identify trains/trucks/busses heading in a desirable direction.

      The self charging is good, and could be done just the same – but hitching a ride is even more energy efficient!

      Having a consistent steel landing surface also empowers you to latch into it more firmly (magnetic landing gear?).

      1. Considering most cities are near bodies of water you could give them a foam bottom and put them in the water but they might first ashore before they got charged (and then you have you build circuitry around water)

    3. What I love about this is you could at that point let them basically be like birds. Just let them free and tell them to fly around. Maybe find some places they can go with free Wi-Fi every once in a while to pay photos of their journey to Twitter.

      Release them secretly and have no control over what happens next.

      Mind you, probably don’t do this because of danger issues but the concept is fun

    1. The casting is undoubtedly tougher and stiffer, but it might not actually be lighter – really depends on the internal printed geometry and material, but some filaments, especially the foaming ones are stupidly light weight and still strong enough to actually make an airframe with.

      I do however agree the fibre-resin combo would be better for more mass production – even if it ends up a little heavier its going to be much much more durable.

  2. who is ta least 50 years old can have a shock to see something that remind him the Gloryous Era of Japanese Mecha Cartoons where different car/tank/airplanes/etc join each other to form the final Robot Hero!

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