Air Sensors, 3D-printed UAVs Have Cool Factor

Unmanned aircraft vehicle operators and formula one racecar driving teams have something in common: each can benefit immensely from air data system measurement probes.
By Luke Geiver | June 04, 2015

Unmanned aircraft vehicle operators and formula one racecar driving teams have something in common: each can benefit immensely from air data system measurement probes. In the F-1 world, the probes help the drivers optimize driving speeds in various environmental conditions by providing information on wind speed and direction in relation to the path of the speeding car. The optimal driving speed can be determined depending on the wind speed and direction. In the UAV world, air data probes are used to optimize flight, just ask the Aeroprobe team from Christiansburg, Virginia.

In talking with CEO Nanci Hardwick about the company’s product offerings and work in both the F-1 and UAV industries, it became clear why UAV operators are talking with or already working with the company. Once integrated into a platform design, the air data probes created by her team can provide information to a UAV operator that allows him or her to adjust the angle of attack of the platform. Adjusting the angle of attack—the angle between the platform’s reference line and the oncoming flow of air—can be the variable that increases or decreases the amount of fuel or power necessary to move the UAV. The combination of the probe-acquired data and a proprietary algorithm designed by Hardwick’s team can give the operator the optimal flight approach that will make the flight more stable, accurate-to-autonomous flight paths and capable of longer-than-normal endurance.

The data-capture probe and micro-computer that goes with it are compatible with the largest of the large UAVs. They are also well-suited to almost everything smaller. According to Hardwick, multi-rotor designers and operators are even trying to find a way to utilize Aeroprobe’s technology offering.

Look for a more detailed story on Aeroprobe in the future, but it is worth remembering until then that the idea that new technology will push the UAS industry into autonomous, safer, more efficient flights is a reality. Anyone who has the opportunity to talk with Hardwick would think the same thing I was thinking during our conversation: this is a great example of how new technology will transform the industry.

To add to that real idea, look at Southhampton University, the U.K.-based UAS research institution that was just tabbed to join the FAA’s Center of Excellence team. The COE team has been tasked with tackling some of the UAS world’s most prominent issues like sense-and-avoid and integration into the National Air Space. Southhampton, like Aeroprobe, is helping the evolution of the industry through its physical technology. The school has designed and flown the world’s first 3D printed UAV. The platform is designed to be light-weight, affordable and printable and delivered in less than two weeks. When the school isn’t working on designing unique UAV platforms set-up for 3D printing capabilities, it is working on floatable wings that can be inflated before flight. The wings drastically reduce the weight of the platform and can easily be replaced.

At a time when regulations and policy seem to drive the talk around the UAS industry, it is refreshing and downright cool to talk with people like Hardwick or read about work like Southhampton’s. Cool, in this case, means that technology developers are working independent of yet-to-be-determined regulations, and instead are focused on what they could do, not what they can’t.