Drones

Hybrid VTOL fixed-wing drone flies for 2+ hours

Hybrid VTOL fixed-wing drone f...
The Carbonix Volanti takes off like a multirotor and cruises like a fixed-wing aircraft
The Carbonix Volanti takes off like a multirotor and cruises like a fixed-wing aircraft
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Carbonix Volanti: flight times up to two hours on electric propulsion or seven hours using a petrol motor for the pusher prop
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Carbonix Volanti: flight times up to two hours on electric propulsion or seven hours using a petrol motor for the pusher prop
Carbonix Volanti: VTOL capability equals much greater launch flexibility
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Carbonix Volanti: VTOL capability equals much greater launch flexibility
Carbonix Volanti: fixed wing carbon composite industrial drone with multirotor VTOL capability
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Carbonix Volanti: fixed wing carbon composite industrial drone with multirotor VTOL capability
The Carbonix Volanti has a 2.7-m  (8.9-ft) wingspan
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The Carbonix Volanti has a 2.7-m  (8.9-ft) wingspan
Carbonix Volanti: multirotor pods allow the drone to take off vertically, then transition to forward fixed-wing flight
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Carbonix Volanti: multirotor pods allow the drone to take off vertically, then transition to forward fixed-wing flight
Carbonix Volanti: aiming to fill the gap between hobby grade and military grade UAV machinery
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Carbonix Volanti: aiming to fill the gap between hobby grade and military grade UAV machinery
Carbonix Volanti: suitable for precision mapping, surveying, emergency response, infrastructure assessment and agriculture 
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Carbonix Volanti: suitable for precision mapping, surveying, emergency response, infrastructure assessment and agriculture 
The Carbonix Volanti has maximum takeoff weight of 15 kg
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The Carbonix Volanti has maximum takeoff weight of 15 kg
The Carbonix Volanti takes off like a multirotor and cruises like a fixed-wing aircraft
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The Carbonix Volanti takes off like a multirotor and cruises like a fixed-wing aircraft
Carbonix Volanti: clips apart to fit into a reasonably portable box
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Carbonix Volanti: clips apart to fit into a reasonably portable box
Carbonix Volanti: a new direction for a team of marine carbon composite specialists
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Carbonix Volanti: a new direction for a team of marine carbon composite specialists
Carbonix Volanti at the 2017 Australian International Air Show.
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Carbonix Volanti at the 2017 Australian International Air Show.

The Volanti from Sydney-based Carbonix is a carbon composite drone with a 2.7-m (9-ft) wingspan that uses a multirotor system for VTOL, then transitions to horizontal flight as a push-prop fixed-wing once in the air. It flies for over two hours on electric power or seven with a gas pusher, and Carbonix hopes it will fill the industrial-grade niche in between hobby and military UAV gear.

The UAV business is currently a world of extremes. At one end, you've got hobby-grade consumer gear, which has improved dramatically in the last couple of years, but at the end of the day, there's no standard of reliability.

At the other end, you've got the military gear – tough, rugged, dependable to a life and death level under all sorts of conditions, but it carries the kind of price tag you can only really come at with government tax money.

There are no real standards for industrial-grade drones yet, but it's a continually growing market as all sorts of companies in all sorts of areas start to discover the power and potential of unmanned aerial systems.

One company that's working to fill that niche is Australia's Carbonix, which started out as an advanced composite manufacturer in the yachting world, and is now applying its knowledge of lightweight carbon composites to aerial systems.

Carbonix Volanti: fixed wing carbon composite industrial drone with multirotor VTOL capability
Carbonix Volanti: fixed wing carbon composite industrial drone with multirotor VTOL capability

At this year's Australian International Air Show, Carbonix displayed its new flagship UAV system, the Volanti. It's a large, fixed-wing, autopilot-driven hybrid drone that uses quadcopter-style rotors for VTOL, then transitions to horizontal flight using a pusher prop.

The combination allows an impressive flight time of two hours with a decent-sized 2-kg (4.4-lb) payload and fully electric drive, or as much as seven hours or a 6 kg (13.2-lb) payload when the pusher prop is driven by a gasoline engine.

The Volanti was developed out of a catapult-launched fixed-wing drone Carbonix developed for a Spanish defence contractor, D3 Applied Technologies, after Business Manager Cortney Thomson found that civilian clients were looking for something with more flexible launch options.

"When we reached out to commercial industries, they said 'well that's great, but we don't always have a long runway. We could be launching in forest areas or adverse terrain.'" Thomson says. "VTOL was really required. So in about 2014 we started looking at putting the VTOL pods on this airframe.

"The challenge is that powering the VTOL pods and getting it up in the air is really energy intensive. But because this airframe without the avionics in it is only 4 kg (8.8 lb), it's incredibly light, and because we build and layer it all by hand, you can have some components that are very strong, with multiple layers, and others can be very light, with very few layers. Every part is optimized for efficiency."

Carbonix Volanti: suitable for precision mapping, surveying, emergency response, infrastructure assessment and agriculture 
Carbonix Volanti: suitable for precision mapping, surveying, emergency response, infrastructure assessment and agriculture 

"It's a big bird," continues Thomson. "The airframe ready to fly has a wingspan of 2.74 m (8.9 ft) and is 1.95 m (6.4 ft) in length. But within five minutes it breaks down to fit in a 163 x 100 x 45 cm (64 x 39.4 x 17.7 in) carry case that's easy enough for one person to move around. And its size allows it to operate reliably in winds up to 60 km/h (37 mph).

"It's fully autonomous. You plan out a mission with mission planning software, you have a ground control system which is just a new laptop, it doesn't have to be anything more than that. And there is a remote control if you want to switch to manual mode. But you need these things to be precise.

"There are other multirotors out there with both VTOL and cruise, you blink and there's another YouTube video of someone who's done some testing. But as far as we're aware, there's nothing else that's been properly tested and launched. I haven't been able to find anything in my research – mind you it's usually desktop research – that you can go out and buy today, unless you're talking about military grade.

"We're trying to fit this middle commercial range between consumer and military. We don't want hobby level batteries. We don't want hobby-level ESCs (Electronic Speed Controllers). We want the good stuff, and that's where the real gap is. Componentry is either hobby grade, or it's unique IP for military drones.

"I'd say 50 percent of it right now is off-the-shelf, and 50 percent is bespoke. So our flight control system, mission planning software, is designed by Bask Aerospace specifically for us. But we use open-source Pixhawk 2 for the autopilot, because that can handle the transition between VTOL and forward flight, which is complex.

"So while right now it's 50 percent off-the-shelf and 50 percent bespoke, we want to get to a point where it's all bespoke. That commercial-grade avionics and electronics just doesn't exist right now. And it might. In six months' time, somebody with a lot of knowledge about that sort of thing could come out of the woodwork, and we'd be delighted to see that."

Carbonix Volanti: a new direction for a team of marine carbon composite specialists
Carbonix Volanti: a new direction for a team of marine carbon composite specialists

A Volanti UAV system isn't cheap, coming in somewhere around the AU$150,000 (~US$114,000) ballpark before customization. But that's for a fully tested, integrated, long endurance UAV system with a hand-built advanced composite airframe and a flexible VTOL launch system. A machine suitable for accurate surveying and mapping, mining and infrastructure assessment, agriculture and emergency response covering large areas over long mission times.

The applications are out there, and the commercial world can see the benefits of industrial-grade UAV tools. It'll be interesting to see what sort of machinery and standards develop in this space over the next few years.

Source: Carbonix

6 comments
MD
Interesting.. The problem with this "level" ("professional") of UAV is that, while operational costs any flight envelope are impressive (unmatched by full size aircraft), the initial outlay is more in the realm of a simple manned aircraft (everyone wants to sell an "autonomous system" for $100k, it is a lot cheaper to hire a commercial crew to take your aerial imagery, AND no country allows "Autonomous" unsupervised systems)). At the same time its operation is generally limited to Visual line of sight, meaning that the long loiter time, isn't really that useful (A kite or tethered blimp can provide imagery within the legal definition of VLOS). Interested in "where to from here", with small-"medium" (still technically small) sized UAV's. "UAV as a service" is probably likely to be more lucrative (than selling models to corporations for occasional use) for devices which are more costly and complicated to operate than a Phantom. PS. If you want "Professional level, why use PIXHAWK, when MICROPilot is an established player with redundant controllers, OR stack triple redundant PIXHAWKS into a voting system (etc) for "professional level reliability. (NB, for professional reliability, you still need redundant ACTUATORS, which not a lot of UAV's are capable of/designed for (even a hexacopter isn't redundant, and an octocopter is onle "reduddant at severely limited performance levels)..
StuartLightley
Looks familiar!
Douglas Bennett Rogers
It looks like this is close to being a sailplane. With the right navigation system, it could find thermals and reach high altitude for days long flights.
FintanCorrigan
Looks like a terrific VTOL drone. It's a pretty competitive market for this type of drone but they are plenty of uses from geological surveying, mining and for large farms.
Stephen Colbourne
I dont see the need for all the motors facing vertically as well as horizontally. The craft could be launched vertically and as long as the payload does not need to be kept horizontal there is no problem (otherwise some kind of swinging cradle is required). When at height the craft can slowly pivot to horizontal flight.
DuranDeVilliers
What's interesting is that this VTOL concept along with most of the IP involved (VTOL, motor pods, longer nose section, wing latches, and a TON of other development and even actual parts like motors) is owned and created by ALTI UAS (www.altiuas.com) the original company who developed this aircraft, and contracted Carbonix to manufacture the airframe based on a 'Cometa' airframe which is owned by D3 Applied Technologies on Spain, who contracted Carbonix to build it. The Transition, or as Carbonix calls it, the 'volanti' is based on 14+ months of development with ALTI, who had provided all the IP and also the original VTOL concept on this airframe. ALTI UAS will be issuing a press release with all this informaiton and more. What Carbonix has done/is doing is criminal, period.