By Jim Drury
Students who have a remote-controlled multicopter drone that set a Guinness World Record for the heaviest payload ever lifted by such a vehicle say they hope to get permission to fly a person in its structure.
The University of Oslo team built the large unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), over an 18 month period. It contains 13 propellers and eight hexacopters powered by a total of 48 motors that reside on a frame built from aluminum and plywood.
Last October it broke the world record by lifting a payload of 61 kilograms (134lb 7.6oz) into the air and holding it there for 37 seconds, elevated to a height of at least one meter at all times.
The record attempt was far from easy, with the drone unable to lift its initial payload of 73 kilograms and having to reduce its weight. Team member Kine Gjerstad Eide told Reuters high winds almost forced the abandonment of the attempt, made in front of a large crowd of fellow students, and attended by Guinness representatives.
"We had to try three times and then the third try we made it," she told Reuters. "We flew for about 37 seconds with a payload of 61 kilos and the whole 37 seconds we had to be one meter above the ground."
The megacopter was piloted by Henning Pedersen and Dan Richard Isdahl Eng.
"It has 48 motors, 48 propellers, and those 48 propellers are grouped in eight groups and every group there are six motors and those motors are exactly the same speed," explained Pedersen. "Then we have a flight controller with eight outputs and those eight outputs are controlled individually. So the flight controller thinks it only has eight motors; and then we have 24 batteries, so each of those eight collections have three batteries each that they share."
He added: "We researched the motors. We found one motor could lift three-and-a-half kilos, and we multiply that by 48 and we got a maximum lifting power of over 150 kilos. So it was kind of just multiplication, basically."
The team is hoping to break its own record this summer. "We have been lifting 78 kilos in testing before that, so it's able to do more, so we are going to do more as well," said team member Krister Borge.
Its ultimate aim is to rival the likes of Hungarian prototype Flike, Singapore's Snowstorm multicopter drone, and the British-made Hoverbike, by transporting people. One potential use for a vehicle of this sort would be to rescue someone trapped on a roof, says the team.
The team has so far failed to persuade the Norwegian authorities to allow them to fly a person inside the craft's structure, but hope to get the decision overturned.
"The technology (to fly a person) exists today so it's a question of time before the authorities say this is the future, and say yes," said Borge.
Eide says the researchers hope to inspire hobbyists to build their own devices using off-the-shelf components like theirs. "Until now things that are flying haven't been made by normal people, you had to go into a huge company and it's really expensive and all of that," she said. "Now we're seeing the prices going down to a level where people can actually afford it, so it's really important that people can use their creativity and come up with something new and maybe this is just the start."