Jul 20, 2017 | By Benedict

Japanese duo Yuki Ogasawara and Ryo Kumeda, aka team ROK, have used generative design and 3D printing to build X VEIN, a drone made for disaster conditions and search-and-rescue missions. The drone has a lattice structure that resembles dragonfly wings.

One of the most practical uses for drones is the delivery of emergency aid in disaster zones. And for two Japanese engineers, the incentive to build a disaster response drone was greater than most.

Yuki Ogasawara and Ryo Kumeda, who call themselves team ROK, were 15 years old when the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami hit in 2011. Seeing the mass destruction caused, the two friends vowed to do anything they could to help those affected, and to make life easier for those who might someday live through a similar event.

At the time, drones were just starting to make headlines, and Ogasawara and Kumeda thought that they could develop their own UAV that would be optimized for disaster situations. In 2012, they started developing their own multicopter drone—an undertaking that would eventually lead to the X VEIN.

After winning the multicopter division of the National Student Indoor Flying Robot Contest in 2015, team ROK was inspired to attend the 2016 Maker Faire Tokyo, to which it brought the X VEIN, a 3D printed drone with a reinforced frame and propeller guards to prevent crash damage. The drone was built to have extra long flight times.

Key to team ROK’s design of its X VEIN drone was generative design software, which provided schematics and structural analysis and allowed the duo to create the lightest, strongest, most effective design possible.

“There are many reasons existing drones are not used in disaster-hit areas, including their lack of safety features, their size and weight, and the low potential for customization,” Ogasawara said.

But with generative design software, team ROK was able to overcome all of these difficulties. The X VEIN drone is ultra-light, and can therefore stay in the air for extended periods of time.

“For a drone to hover in midair, the lift it generates must exactly match its own weight,” explained Ogasawara. “Variations of even 5 percent of overall weight change how operators must control the drone. It is crucial we make our drone as light as possible.”

Using Autodesk’s Within software, Ogasawara and Kumeda were able to incorporate a lattice design into the drone’s body, adjusting the density of the lattice to reach the ideal weight and strength for the flying vehicle.

The lattice structure of the drone was 3D printed using iJet, a Japanese 3D printing bureau, and the 3D printability of the design means that replacement parts could be fabricated quickly on-site. But getting a suitable digital model to print took some effort.

“The design had a lot of free-form curves, which are hard to translate from sketches to a 3D model,” Ogasawara said. “Through [Japanese tablet company] Wacom, we were given access to a Cintiq pen display tablet. Using it to build up a model in Autodesk Fusion 360 with input based on our sketches made it possible to follow our design while smoothly re-creating it in 3D space.”

Currently an employee at a communications infrastructure firm, Kumeda took charge of the X VEIN’s electronics, making key choices relating to the drones motor, battery, and other parts.

“I started the parts selection process once the preliminary sketches were complete and the size of the unit was determined,” Kumeda said. “Once the motors and propellers were decided upon, we then thought about operational capacity and the size of the battery required.”

With its current setup, the 3D printed X VEIN drone has an operational range of about 500 meters (unobstructed), though current laws in Japan require operators to stay within sight of their drones, which effectively reduces that distance by some degree.

The camera on the X VEIN, which could be used to collect urgent visual information on disaster sites, is mounted on a gimbal for stability, and its images can be viewed in real time via smartphone.

Future iterations of the drone could even utilize thermographic and infrared-imaging equipment to locate survivors.

Team ROK is currently developing an improved version of the X VEIN, but hopes that other drone developers will make their own versions too: the entire project is open source, so that as many people as possible can benefit from the duo’s work.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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