Drones

Kawasaki's supercharged cargo copter tests robotic ground crew

Kawasaki's supercharged cargo ...
Kawasaki's K-Racer autonomous helicopter carries a cargo robot
Kawasaki's K-Racer autonomous helicopter carries a cargo robot
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Kawasaki's K-Racer autonomous helicopter carries a cargo robot
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Kawasaki's K-Racer autonomous helicopter carries a cargo robot
The cargo robot and K-Racer will eventually form part of a totally automated logistics system
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The cargo robot and K-Racer will eventually form part of a totally automated logistics system
Kawasaki technicians provided for scale
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Kawasaki technicians provided for scale
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Kawasaki has shoehorned the supercharged 1,000cc engine from its wild H2R hyperbike into a heavy-lift autonomous cargo helicopter, and has now demonstrated a robotic system for loading and unloading it without exposing humans to those big blades.

The K-Racer X1 is a beast of a drone, roughly the size of a small car. It rises vertically on a helicopter-style top rotor, but where there's normally a tail rotor to balance out torque, this machine uses two forward-facing props mounted at the end of stubby wings. These props double as forward propulsion, with the wings providing some lift.

Kawasaki is yet to specify how fast this thing will fly, but we doubt it'll be too quick; assuming that top rotor keeps spinning in cruise flight, top speed will be limited by retreating blade stall, which causes asymmetric lift.

In the H2R, that motor produces an impressive 300-odd peak horsepower, so in a sense it's surprising that this drone is only rated for payloads up to 100 kg (220 lb). Running on gasoline, we'd expect this machine to have an epic range capability compared to its electric counterparts – you'd better knock endurance out of the park if you're going to stick with fossil fuels – but no range has been specified as yet.

The cargo robot and K-Racer will eventually form part of a totally automated logistics system
The cargo robot and K-Racer will eventually form part of a totally automated logistics system

In video released earlier this month, Kawasaki shows the K-Racer prototype in flight, and tests out an automated delivery robot that handles the first and last bits of a drop on wheels. These are relatively small and rudimentary at the moment, being loaded by hand, then rolling up a ramp to sit in a cage beneath the drone. Kawasaki is working on larger rolling modules that can integrate with other robotic systems in factories and delivery centers so the entire process will eventually be totally autonomously.

Automation is a critical challenge for Japan, which is facing a declining population that's aging faster than anywhere on the planet. An estimated 38 percent of the country was over 60 years old in 2014, and this percentage is set to increase in the coming decades. Robots will need to step in and take over a lot of busywork, and a fully autonomous system that can handle short-to-medium-range logistics operations like the K-Racer could have an important future ahead of it.

Of course, before the skies are filled with these machines, aviation authorities will need to green-light autonomous flights, and next-gen automated airspace management will need to keep things from bumping into one another.

Check out the video below.

川崎重工:K-RACER×配送ロボット連携飛行試験

Source: Kawasaki

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3 comments
3 comments
dan
cool, finally one VTOL with efficient, big rotor and sufficient power!
sally
Like the concept a lot, but needs a lot of development I think a lot of effort for motorised wheeled small pallets seems mad to me. But once you get beyond the Japanese desire for novel cleverness over actual practicality this has massive potential I think. It just looks right even if it’s power source will likely change over time.
MQ
Energy agnostic systems are key... Everything can be in pkace for a complete ststem. Cargo pallets as in Amazon warehouses ans other logistics hubs are a done deal.

There are so many ways to make this work simply in controlled environments, operating at and from unprepared sites can be problematic (naturally). Offloading cargo in any clear area is relatively trivial - reloading can be solved... (not to mention stopping a rotor isn't such a big deal if safety is an issue. - anyone "versed in the art" can design a rail system for guiding the "autonimous" pallets precisely to location.)