CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A different kind of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) is under construction in the Unmanned Systems Laboratory at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. The craft, which is still in the development stages, can not only fly horizontally, it can fly vertically as well. Click here to view a video of how it will work.
“This aircraft could be used for search and rescue in environments considered to be too complicated to access by means of conventional UAS,” said Dr. Luis Rodolfo Garcia Carrillo, Assistant Professor of Engineering and Director of the Unmanned Systems Laboratory.
Garcia Carrillo and a group of undergraduate researchers from the Mechanical Engineering program hope to have a prototype of the multi-rotorcraft with morphing capabilities by May 2015.
Unlike conventional small RPAs with four helicopter-like rotors, which fly in a horizontal mode, the proposed platform with eight rotors will be able to rotate its body into a vertical flying mode.
“The vertical flight mode is mainly intended for enabling navigation through narrow areas where conventional multi-copters are too big to access,” said Garcia Carrillo. “Also, the proposed prototype is able to operate with four engines, or even two engines, in case of rotor failure.”
What this means, for example, is you can send this aircraft, which will only weigh about four and a half pounds, in through a narrow window of a burning building looking for victims or hazards to firefighters, officials explained. Furthermore, if the heat disables half of the engines, it can still fly.
Garcia Carrillo says along with the extra rotors, the RPA will also have a camera, a wireless communication link and a proximity sensor. The onboard equipment could change depending on what the aircraft operator needed it to do.
The FAA has designated Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center as one of six federal test sites for RPA. The goal for the center is to assist the FAA as it develops plans to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace by 2015.
Studies show an anticipated economic impact, once airspace is opened to RPA, would be about $6.5 billion and 8,256 jobs in Texas alone from 2015 to 2025.
Photo slideshow: UAS at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi