Drones

VertiKUL drone "delivers" on both hovering and forward flight

The VertiKUL drone in hovering mode
The VertiKUL drone in hovering mode
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The VertiKUL drone in hovering mode
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The VertiKUL drone in hovering mode
Upon reaching cruising altitude, VertiKUL turns on its side, so that what was formerly its top becomes its nose
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Upon reaching cruising altitude, VertiKUL turns on its side, so that what was formerly its top becomes its nose

When something is sent to you by airmail, it travels in a fast and relatively fuel-efficient fixed-wing aircraft, not a fuel-guzzling helicopter. Nonetheless, when we hear about the possibility of drones being used to deliver items within cities, multirotor-style aircraft are almost always what's proposed – while they're good at maneuvering in urban spaces, they're essentially just little unmanned helicopters. With that in mind, a group of three engineering students from Belgium's KU Leuven (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) have created a prototype delivery drone known as VertiKUL, which combines the best features of both types of aircraft.

Master’s students Cyriel Notteboom, Menno Hochstenbach and Maarten Verbandt designed and built VertiKUL as an assignment for their master's thesis.

The electric aircraft takes off and lands like a quadcopter, with its four propellers allowing it to rise and descend vertically. Small cargo items weighing up to 1 kg (2.2 lb) can be stowed in an open space inside the drone.

Upon reaching cruising altitude, it turns on its side, so that what was formerly its top becomes its nose – it's not unlike the Quadshot, which we covered previously. Guided by GPS, it can then head for its destination very quickly, using far less energy than a multi-rotor. Its current range is 30 km (18.6 miles).

Upon reaching cruising altitude, VertiKUL turns on its side, so that what was formerly its top becomes its nose
Upon reaching cruising altitude, VertiKUL turns on its side, so that what was formerly its top becomes its nose

Once it gets to its destination and reverts to "hovering" mode, its onboard electronics identify the circular LED-illuminated landing platform, and automatically guide the aircraft down onto it.

For now though, along with waiting for legislation that would allow such delivery drones to actually be used, the students are working on improving VertiKUL's ability to adapt to changing weather conditions.

It can be seen in action in the video below.

Source: KU Leuven via IEEE Spectrum

VertiKUL - Transitioning VTOL UAV for automated aerial transport

12 comments
Mark A
How much does a 6 pack weight?
Noel K Frothingham
Isn't that why you have a dog, Mark? ;)
The Skud
Noel and Mark - Now if you could train a dog to carry one of those Heinekin little barrels like a Newfoundland does a brandy cask ... Actually, this seems like a clever solution, no 'swivelling' wings or rotors to add complexity, just a flight computer - and it looks like it works! Now if it will scale up, but it depends on weight V size I suppose, it could be a very versatile solution for many worries on limited access (forest clearings? or tight city plazas?) for a lot of uses.
Nik
Once in use, how long before the delivery drones get shot down by thieves hoping to help themselves to the contents, and the components of the aircraft?
Mel Tisdale
There is going to be the need for an onboard camera - and thus increased payload - to record deliveries because as sure as eggs is eggs there are some who will claim that what they ordered did not arrive.
windykites
This is a fab device. Obviously it's going to have to be quite a bit larger to carry any sort of payload. Is this supposed to hover outside your front door waiting for you to realise it's there? if this could be just scaled up to carry a man, then we would have a wonderful flying machine. Surely it would be possible to have a small Wankel engine, driving four propellers?
Don Duncan
This problem was was solved about 15 years ago by Hugh Schmittle of Freewing. He called his drone: Manta.
Slowburn
@ Nik Five minutes in the USofA ten elsewhere.
the.other.will
This architecture (term?) is a German idea that was made into at least 3 different experimental aircraft in the '50s. 1 of the problems with them was that the pilots couldn't see the ground while landing, not a problem for a drone. But a drone will still be blown sideways by strong winds while it is in vertical flight.
gybognarjr
It does not show the change from vertical to horizontal flight and vice versa. That is the issue the engineers are trying to solve not the vertical flight and the horizontal flight individually of any vehicle, which had been solved for over a 100 years.