To celebrate Inventors’ Day-11th February at Carbonix, the Australian provider of disruptive aerial data capture solutions, we want to look at the progress that commercial drone technology has made in the last few years. This article aims to highlight technological innovation and how commercial drones (otherwise known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs) have bettered humanity and how their public perception is changing.
For Inventors’ Day we focus on the emerging new technology that is enabling growing adoption of commercial drones. The technology is so varied and rapidly changing that it is hard to pinpoint one name for it. ‘Drone’ is the generic term but is heavily associated with hobby machines. UAVs and UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) are popular alternatives.
Through experience developing and operating these systems, Carbonix has worked with regulators to refine how such systems fit within the framework that keeps our skies safe. While the regulations are developing, public opinion is also moving toward acceptance. Education about the real implications of drones is a big part of that progress. The distinction between hobbyists and professional drones made for industry is important here.
Domani is the latest UAV platform developed by Carbonix. It is unique in combining an electric VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) system with a hybrid petrol motor that provides thrust in horizontal flight whilst charging the onboard batteries.
With a 5m wingspan and class-leading performance, Domani is enabling data capture that was previously the domain of much bigger and more expensive manned aircraft.
In this article, we focus on its Nose Cone and Fuel Tank design that help optimize Domani, applying the technology of tomorrow to maximize efficiency today.At Carbonix, our focus is to provide solutions for large scale industry, improving operations that might otherwise be dangerous, uneconomical, or impossible. From applications in agriculture and mining, to search-and-rescue, long-range aerial automation is an integral enabler for a sustainable future.
Domani, architecturally similar to our smaller Volanti, required creative engineering to maintain efficiency at its larger size. Drawing on our heritage in America’s Cup racing yachts, where focus on performance is obsessive, we were able to maximize endurance, flight adaptability and an increased payload mass.
Using Volanti’s proven architecture, avionics, and command-and-control systems, we were able to jump from its 2-hour flight time (all-electric) to 10 hours (for Domani). This is a result of minimizing structural weight and maximizing aerodynamic efficiency. This need to push further in our design and engineering is inherent to us as inventors, and satisfies our own curiosity as creators.
Domani has a modular architecture, with interchangeable nose cones to suit different payloads. For missions requiring LiDAR (linear infrastructure and mapping applications), we developed a specialized nosecone that attaches to the standard fuselage at the root of the wing’s leading edge. This required wrapping an aerodynamically efficient skin around the given payload shape, whilst maintaining the overall center of gravity and longitudinal center of pressure. To this end it was critical to model the entry radius, curvature distribution (which in turn controls the pressure distribution, as well as allowing for cooling openings. The aerodynamic shape incorporates some stylish chines that help maintain attached flow to minimize interference drag at the wing root.
The shaping considerations had to be coordinated with mechanical requirements for stiffness, attachment points, hatch openings, waterproof/dust-proof sealing, ease of access, and production efficiency.
Our goal was to maintain Domani’s original elegance and aerodynamic prowess without making modifications to the fuselage.
Another example of inventiveness was the development of Domani’s fuel tank system. It was designed to conform to the shape of the aircraft, ensure a smooth dispensation of fuel without sloshing or bubbling, contain the fuel in the event of an impact, and last thousands of hours in flight.
Rather than installing an off-the-shelf fuel tank, the design team wanted to optimize the internal arrangement and harmony of the air frame.
Customizing the shape of the fuel tank, and optimizing its internal volume, allowed us to control the fuel flow, location with respect to the center of gravity (CG), and, as always, minimize weight. The material used to make the fuel tank is pre-impregnated (‘prepreg’) Kevlar, which makes it consistently light, impact resistant, and durable. Although not as rigid as carbon fiber, Kevlar is tougher and can withstand high impact situations, minimizing the spread of any damage. Manufacturing the Fuel Tank in-house using our aluminium molds, allows us to have greater control and awareness. Since the tank is a closed shape, molding it in composites requires split molds and internal bladders. Our proprietary composites processes make this possible.
UAVs necessarily incorporate various streams of emerging technology. Carbonix has the capabilities to pioneer un-mapped territory, making possible new industry applications within a sector that is set to see large growth in the coming years. According to Market Insider, the commercial UAV market is expected to grow to $63.6 billion by 2025, with Insider Intelligence predicting drone shipments will hit 29 million in 2021.
By focusing on integrating complete solutions that include all aspects of drone operations to make data acquisition seamless for the customer, Carbonix is exploring and enabling applications using depth and breadth in technological innovation.