Jul 25, 2016 | By Benedict

Airbus and Local Motors have announced the winners of the “Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge,” a competition launched in April which encouraged budding UAV designers to create a new drone which could carry a  3-5 kg payload. The winners will share over $100,000 in prize money.

When aerospace giant Airbus and 3D printed vehicle specialist Local Motors joined forces in April to launch the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge, the two companies hoped to source some innovative ideas from bright young minds while also inspiring budding designers to embark on a serious engineering project. Now, four months and 425 entries later, the companies have chosen the five winners of the competition, which has been divided into three areas: the Airbus Main Prize, judged by an Airbus Jury; the Cargo Main Prize, judged by industry experts; and the Community Prize, judged by Local Motors community members.

Entrants to the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge were encouraged to design a new drone which met the following criteria:

  • Designed for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) and efficient forward flight
  • Hybrid design between multi-rotor and fixed-wing aircraft
  • Two flight modes: hover and flight
  • Modular payload system
  • Weighs less than 25kg
  • Single, fixed cargo bay suitable for payloads of 3-5 kg
  • Easily accessible and interchangeable cargo bay which is impossible to jettison in flight
  • Cruise speed of at least 80 km/h, max 194 km/h

Despite its expertise in the aerospace sector, Airbus is continually on the lookout for fresh new design ideas, and earlier this year decided to run the drone competition to pool new concepts from the wider international community of UAV enthusiasts. By specifying strict criteria for the cargo drone design, the company was able to gather varied designs for a very particular purpose—a process which enabled the aerospace giant to gather ideas at a much faster rate than usual. Because of the speed at which the drone market is growing, sourcing these ideas at a rapid rate is becoming more and more essential.

“This is exactly what I hoped for when we kicked off our cooperation with Local Motors early this year,” said Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders. “It is a totally different way of capturing innovation and ideas and represents our next generation. I am truly impressed by the results and congratulate our winners. The ideas show an outstanding mix of passion, imagination, innovation and ingenuity. I am optimistic that some of these ideas could find their way into future industrial programmes at Airbus and represent a new, bold step forward in the era of unmanned flight.”

Although there were nine podium places up for grabs across the three categories, just five winners were chosen due to their excellence across multiple categories. The final results, therefore, are as follows:

Airbus Main Prize

1st: Alexey Medvedev from Omsk, Russia for ZELATOR

2nd: Harvest Zhang from Mountain View, California (United States) for Volans

3rd: Dominik Felix Finger from Aachen, Germany for Minerva

Cargo Prize

1st: Finn Yonkers from North Kingstown, Rhode Island for SkyPac

2nd: Harvest Zhang from Mountain View, California (United States) for Volans

3rd: Alexey Medvedev for ZELATOR

Community Prize

1st: Frédéric Le Sciellour from Pont De L’Arn, France for Thunderbird

2nd: Finn Yonkers from North Kingstown, Rhode Island for SkyPac

3rd: Harvest Zhang from Mountain View, California (United States) for Volans

ZELATOR, designed by Alexey Medvedev (Omsk, Russia)

Alexey Medvedev’s ZELATOR, a carbon fiber aircraft with five engines, scooped first place in the Airbus Main Prize and third place in the Cargo Prize. The drone features a 3D printed plastic fuselage and an emergency parachute system. Despite its impressive appearance, ZELATOR (and the competition itself) has drawn some criticism from other entrants and followers of the contest. A handful of Local Motors community members have commented on the aircraft’s apparent lack of feasibility, lack of technical explanation, and failure to meet certain entry criteria. Airbus representatives defended their choice, however, citing the technical expertise of the jury.

Volans, designed by Harvest Zhang (Mountain View, California)

Harvest Zhang’s Volans design was runner-up for both the Airbus Main Prize and Cargo Prize, scooping third place in the Community Prize section. The drone is capable of cruising at 40 m/s, and can complete a 100 km mission in just 44 minutes. Its capabilities when fighting a strong headwind contributed to its success across all three categories, and its 450 x 350 x 200 mm payload bay makes it suitable for a range of cargo operations.

Minerva, designed by Dominik Felix Finger (Aachen, Germany)

Named after the Ancient Roman goddess of medicine and wisdom, Dominik Felix Finger’s Minerva drone picked up third place in the Airbus Main Prize category. The spanloader-concept UAV uses a twin boom layout and features a small fuselage and high aspect ratio wings. Lifting rotors on the booms arrest their propellors in the direct of flight when in cruise mode, minimizing drag impact. During the design process, Finger’s biggest challenge was staying under the 25 kg limit.

SkyPac, designed by Finn Yonkers (North Kingstown, Rhode Island)

Finn Yonker’s SkyPac drone was the winner of the Cargo Prize and runner-up for the Community Prize. With a design focused on “simplicity, safety, and ease of use,” SkyPac is optimized for three different applications: urgent medical deliveries, for delivering supplies such as blood and vaccines to remote areas; sea air rescue missions and disaster relief in flooded areas; and commercial deliveries.

Thunderbird, designed by Frederic Le Sciellour (Pont de l’Arn, France)

The people’s choice: Frederic Le Sciellour’s Thunderbird drone design massively impressed the Local Motors community with its automatically loading payload system and dual unloading hatches. More than just a drone design, however, Le Sciellour also came up with the idea for a 12-drone “hub,” at which a dozen Thunderbirds would be stored, ready for quick deployment. According to its designer, the drone would be ideal for sending emergency first aid during earthquakes and similar situations.

“Most of the winning projects were designed as a high wing configuration,” commented Jana Rosenmann, Head of UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) at Airbus Group. “A high aspect ratio wing when combined with efficient fuselage design, a right structural weight, and good aerodynamics with reduced drag clearly helps to meet the required flight performance. Another very important aspect was the payload integration. It had to be realistic, robust and easy to manage. The 5 final winners have been selected for having fulfilled all the criteria of the three independent categories of juries in the best possible way.”

As promised at the competition’s outset, Airbus will now attempt to build demonstrator versions of its chosen winners, a process that will entail collaboration with the Local Motors community, as well as potential customers and end-users.



Posted in 3D Design



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