Getting a full-fledged ‘helicopter’ drone to fly autonomously is among the toughest task in the unmanned aerial vehicle business. Bengaluru-based drone specialist, Adarsh N, has just cracked that code, arguably becoming India’s first private individual to do so.
Here’s what Adarsh achieved last Sunday: at a field on the city’s outskirts, his four-kg, Thunder Tiger Raptor 50 helicopter drone took off smoothly, followed a predefined flight path and landed precisely at a spot earmarked in advance.
The entire operation was in autonomous mode, meaning the helicopter was not remote-controlled.
The flight duration was short, but the range could be extended up to 40 minutes by equipping the aircraft with an additional fuel tank, says Adarsh. The test flight achieved an altitude of 35 metres. The drone was powered by glow fuel, a mix of methanol, nitromethane and oil.
So, how was the flight path worked out? “Using a software, the waypoints of the drone were marked out. I chose a rectangular path, complete with the points where the copter changes direction and landing spots, all tracked from a ground control station,” explains Adarsh.
A video of the first flight he shared on YouTube shows a smooth take-off and landing. “The software interface gives you full, real-time information on the flight, tracked on a map. The speed, altitude and duration are all there. The range is restricted only by the helicopter size and fuel capacity.”
For Adarsh, who works closely with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) labs in the city, the autonomous flight was a game-changer. “This has already been achieved with fixed wing aircraft and multi-rotor (quadcopter). A few institutions have also made similar flights on helicopter configuration. But for me, as an individual, this was unprecedented,” he says.
Several Bengaluru-based DRDO laboratories and state-owned aviation major, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), are currently in research mode to perfect the autonomous helicopter flight. But the drone choppers are of a heavier build, 10 kg and upwards.
Perfecting the ‘autonomous’ flight in the copter mode could potentially revolutionise management of disasters, traffic and fire safety, besides reconnaissance in military operations. Remote-controlled drones are limited by sight. Autonomous drones can go anywhere, depending on the fuel capacity.
As Adarsh points out, they could be designed to hover above a particular traffic junction relaying critical data in multimedia or drop inflatable floats to drowning victims.