Aero Team Eindhoven will supply airborne transport drones with a new battery

Why are we writing about this topic:

The TU/e ​​student teams Blue Jay and SyFly decided to stop early this year. They have not always wanted to develop a drone that eventually ends up on the shelf. But they also felt they had too much knowledge to stop permanently. They merged and are now working on a multi-year project with which they will turn the world of transport upside down.

At Aero Team Eindhoven, TU/e ​​students are working on developing an autonomous drone network. So far it sounds like a logical plan, but not a revolutionary one. That’s about it. The student team does not want to replace the batteries in cargo drones on land, but in the air. “Our goal is to show that replacing a battery is a good option to increase the range of cargo drones,” says Bram Schut. He continued his master’s in computer science and artificial intelligence for a year holdto focus full time on his role as Team Lead.

Package drones: short flight times and difficult landings

“Our main sponsor is package service GLS. They will fly between distribution centers with drones. But it is actually impossible to do in two ways. The first problem is that drones cannot stay in the air for long. The other problem is that package or cargo drones are quite large. To land, they must either have a runway or you must fly them into a net. So it is now difficult and time-consuming to change batteries.”

Battery replacement in the air

Aero Team Eindhoven plans to build highways between distribution centers. If a drone is half empty, then there are charging stations on those highways. From there, small drones fly with a new, full battery for the cargo drone. They snap in and change the battery mid-air. “Battery replacement in the air that’s what we call it. In fact, we are trying to imitate petroleum tankers burning airplanes in the air. The drones that fly with the cargo drone battery are small, mobile and have much more flexible landing options.”

It concerns the transport of emergency packages, such as medicine or pacemakers to hospitals. Aero Team also wants to offer an option for private parcel services to deliver a parcel on the same day in a green way. A cargo drone carrying a two-kilo package flies about seventy kilometers per hour and can sustain it for an hour and a half. With battery swapping in the air, the range of cargo drones becomes infinite.

Blue Jay and Syfly

Aero Team arose from the merger of two separate student teams: Blue Jay and Syfly. Blue Jay was founded in 2016 when a number of students wanted an indoor drone to deliver a beer to guests during the university’s 70th anniversary. “Every year they set themselves a new goal. But last year the genie was a bit out of the bottle,” says Schut.

“Actually, we’re trying to mimic petroleum tankers burning airplanes in the air. The drones that fly with the battery for the cargo drone are small, mobile, and have much more flexible landing options.”

Brad Schutt

At Syfly, they developed a fixed-wing drone that could make weather forecasts. Unfortunately, KNMI did not really expect that, and that project was also coming to an end. “But we didn’t want to stop. The teams had a lot of internal knowledge. So we came up with Aero Team Eindhoven. The idea is that we no longer develop a new drone every year that can do a trick and then end up on the shelf. It’s really a larger project that we will spread over several years.”

Aero Team Eindhoven. Image: OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Aerodynamics, artificial intelligence and mechanics

The project is in a prototype phase. The cargo drone must be airborne and the charging station installed before the end of this school year. In an office on the High Tech Campus, 21 students are working hard to achieve this goal. They do this in various entertainments. For example, one group is testing how the drones can autonomously cover flight routes and how battery-swapping drones can land as precisely as possible with the help of artificial intelligence. Another maintenance deals with the mechanical aspect of the battery change. The most important question is how the battery can be replaced in the smallest possible space. Some students also look at aerodynamics and which drone shape works best. Schut: “We want a flat top or bottom anyway so the second drone can land on it.”

VR experience

The team is also part of the VR Experience consortium. At the beginning of December, High Tech Campus, Fontys, ROC and Stadslab will start a joint project in which they will investigate where in Eindhoven there is room for drones to fly. The participants stand in different places in Eindhoven through VR glasses – the main market, a residential area or pasture. They can then adjust all sorts of factors: how many drones are in the air, how big they are, how much noise they make and how high they fly.

The approach is to find out to what height drones can be tolerated. “We want to know how people react to more drone traffic. Hopefully in time we can relax the rules, because the rules are now very strict. It makes testing very complicated for us, and a lot of companies that want to do more with drones get stuck in this as well.”

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