Buoyant Aero MK4 keeps station in a tail wind

Aerodynamic Buoyant Blimp Budges Into Low Cost Cargo Commerce

Before the Wright Brothers powered their way across the sands of Kitty Hawk or Otto Lilienthal soared from the hills of Germany, enveloping hot air in a balloon was the only way to fly. Concepts were refined as time went by, and culminated in the grand Zeppelins of the 1930’s. However since the tragic end of the Zeppelin era, lighter than air aircraft have often been viewed as a novelty in the aviation world.

Several companies have come forward in the last decade, pitching enormous lighter than air machines for hauling large amounts of cargo at reduced cost. These behemoths rely on a mixture of natural buoyancy and lifting body designs and are intended to augment ferries and short haul commercial aviation routes.

It was this landscape where Buoyant Aero founders [Ben] and [Joe] saw an underserved that they believe they can thrive in: Transporting 300-600 lbs between warehouses or airports. They aim to increase the safety, cargo capacity, and range of traditional quadcopter concepts, and halve the operating costs of a typical Cessna 182. They hope to help people such as those rural areas of Alaska where high transportation costs double the grocery bill.

Like larger designs, Buoyant Aero’s hybrid airship relies on aerodynamic lift to supply one third the needed lift. Such an arrangement eliminates the need for ballast when empty while retaining the handling and navigation characteristics needed for autonomous flight. The smaller scale prototype’s outstanding ability to maneuver sharply and hold station with a tailwind is displayed in the video below the break. You can also learn more about their project on their Hacker News launch. We look forward to seeing the larger prototypes as they are released!

Perhaps this project will inspire your own miniature airship, in which case you may want to check out the Blimpduino for some low buck ideas. We recently covered some other Hybrid Airships that are trying to scale things even further. And if you have your own blimpy ideas you’d like to pass along, please let us know via the Tip Line!

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Military Gliders Are Making A Comeback, This Time In Unmanned Form

Sun Tzu said, “The line between disorder and order lies in logistics.” This is as true in the modern world as it was 2500 years ago, and logistics have helped win and lose many wars and battles over the centuries. To this end, Logistical Gliders Inc. is developing one-time use, unmanned delivery gliders, for the US Military.

Reminiscent of the military gliders used in WW2, the gliders are designed to be dropped from a variety of aircraft, glide for up to 70 miles and deliver supplies to troops in the field. Specifically intended to be cheap enough to be abandoned after use, the gliders are constructed from plywood, a few aluminum parts for reinforcement and injection molded wing panels. There are two versions of the glider, both with huge payloads. The LG-1K, with a payload capacity of 700 lbs/320 kg and the larger LG-2K, with a payload capacity of 1,600 lbs/725 kg. Wings are folded parallel to the fuselage during transport and then open after release with the help of gas springs. The glider can either do a belly landing in an open area or deploy a parachute from the tail at low altitude to land on the crushable nose.

Gliders like these could be used to deliver supplies after natural disasters, or to remote locations where road travel is difficult or impossible while reducing the flight time required for conventional aircraft. Powered UAVs could even be used to carry/tow a glider to the required release point and then return much lighter and smaller, reducing the required fuel or batteries.

Drones are already used to deliver medical supplies in Rwanda and Ghana, and it’s possible to build your own autonomous unmanned glider. Check out the video after the break to see the big boys in action. Continue reading “Military Gliders Are Making A Comeback, This Time In Unmanned Form”

DHL Wingcopter Medicine Drone

Parcelcopter Drone Project Delivers In Rough Terrain

It’s a known fact that the last mile is also the longest mile in the parcel delivery service. The further removed from a hub city a delivery location is, the more required stops in between. Every part of the process slows to a glacial pace when the drop-off spot is inaccessible by land or air. Now apply this in the case of a medical emergency, and timing is everything.

Enter the joint project between [DHL and Wingcopter] dubbed Parcelcopter 4.0. The half plane, half helicopter drone design was recently tested over a six month period by making medical supply drops to Ukerewe island located in the middle of Lake Victoria. The remote island is home to roughly 400,000 people and many areas around the isle remain out of reach to traditional delivery vehicles. The island’s closest southern port is separated from mainland Tanzania by a four hour trip by barge and over six hours by road which makes drone delivery a potentially life saving option.

The Wingcopter drone itself is capable of vertical take off and landing (see 1:53 in the video below) while holding up to 9 lbs inside the thermally insulated cargo hold on the underside of the craft. It is controlled via 3G and/or 4G LTE, and according to the manufacturer website is capable of flying up to 60 miles on a single charge. Tests showed the drone made the nearly 40 mile trip across Lake Victoria in an average of 40 minutes.

It is interesting to see a real world commercial application seemingly ready to meet the needs of a vastly under served community. There are certainly many tests left to go before drone delivery goes into wider use, but thanks to this project the Parcelcopter 4.0 is 1400 air miles closer to that future.

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Autonomous Delivery: Your Impulse Buys Will Still Be Safe

I heard a “Year in Review” program the other day on NPR with a BBC World Service panel discussion of what’s ahead for 2017. One prediction was that UAV delivery of packages would be commonplace this year, and as proof the commentator reported that Amazon had already had a successful test in the UK. But he expressed skepticism that it would ever be possible in the USA, where he said that “the first drone that goes over somebody’s property will be shot down and the goods will be taken.”

He seemed quite sincere about his comment, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he was only joking to make a point, not actually grotesquely ignorant about the limitations of firearms or being snarky about gun owners in the US. Either way, he brings up a good point: when autonomous parcel delivery is commonplace, who will make sure goods get to the intended recipient?

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Google[x]’s Project Wing

wing

Autonomous delivery is the way of the future. Soon, flocks of flying hover crafts will glide through the air like acrobatic birds of flight bringing home items to those who need them. Whether those objects be food, or electronics, or clothes, pretty much anything under the weight limit of these devices can be sent to people anywhere nearby.

Now, Google has stepped into the ring saying that they are interested in delivering products to individuals in the next few years through an innovation they are calling Project Wing. It aspires to reduce the friction of moving things around. Google released a video introducing the idea which shows a man calling up a service asking for some food for his dog. Instantly, a small delivery vehicle took off from the ground and flew to the intended destination dropping off a package containing delicious doggy treats.

Google clearly states in the video that this type of system is still years away from a readily available consumer product, but it is the first prototype that the company wants to stand behind. Google has marketed the design pretty well so far, and the musical use of [Norman Greenbaum]’s classic 1969 rock song ‘Spirit in the Sky’ was an obvious, yet totally awesome addition to the video. We are curious how services similar to this will affect postal delivery jobs in the future, and also what the legal ramifications will be, but all that information will surely be discussed very soon. In the meantime though, Google has released an interest form that will take the names and emails of those who would like to partner with them in an effort to bring autonomous product delivery to the world.

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