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Chinese Unmanned Helicopter to Redefine Air-logistics
A new Chinese unmanned helicopter might be the industry’s first critical step to a functional aerial logistic platform in the near future. This unmanned helicopter, produced by Ziyan UAV excelled its counterparts by its outstanding performance in load-bearing, safety and speed.
Industrial Unmanned Helicopters vs. Consumer Drones
When people talk about “unmanned aircraft” on the market now, most likely they are referring to consumer quad-copters with multiple propellers on their arms to hover, rotate or fly. Due to the comparatively low technical barriers and open source model, there are numerous quad-copter products on the market. More often than not, when people think of UAVs, the image of quad-copters is what comes to mind. As of now, quad-copters remain the first choice for consumers who are interested in drones.
However, as noted by Jiangping Wang, founder and CEO of Ziyan UAV, the quad-copter is not anew invention, nor the best choice for industrial use. It was eliminated by the U.S. Army back in the 1960s. In recent years, its comparatively low technical barrier has brought it back on stage.
After years of research, the Ziyan team believes that single main rotor unmanned helicopter is the best solution for the future air-logistic use whereas the quad-copter is more for the consumer market.
Due to the low aerodynamic efficiency, quad-copters are faced with performance bottlenecks.
The propeller in a quad-copter and the rotor in a helicopter can both be seen as a wing that provides the pull by their rotational movement. The narrower the wing is, the higher the lift-to-drag ratio will be, which means that with the same level of pull strength, you’ll need to conquer less resistance and consume less power.
The induced drag in the wingtip of a wing, a propeller or a rotor is where the largest resistance appears, and also is what consumes the most power. That’s why a quad-copter with numerous propellers not only lacks the aerodynamic lift brought by the wings, body or rotor disc in a fixed wing aircraft, but also has pretty low efficiency because of the large number of propellers (and wingtips) and its limited size.
Moreover, the lift efficiency of quad-copters is also impaired due to the fact that it cannot function continuously with a pneumatic high angle-of-attack as the rotors of a helicopter. Also, the opposite direction of the blades in quad-copters has led to down-wash turbulence that further decreases the lift efficiency.
These limitations have led to the poor performance of the quad-copters — low flying speed, short flying time and being not able to up-size or bear large loads.
Under a similar level of power consumption and weight, the performance and economic efficiency of quad-copters cannot really compete with helicopters.
This has led to their differences in application with quad-copters focusing on consumer uses like entertainment or photography and unmanned helicopters being the best solution for the logistics industry. Not surprisingly, the big names that have been working on drones, including Google, DHL and Amazon, and they have not taken quad-copters as an option for transportation.
Moreover, the traditional fixed wing aircraft does not possess the VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) ability and thus requires a take-off runway or an open space for taking off and landing. However, the unmanned helicopters’ requirement for taking off or landing is much easier to fulfill due to its VTOL ability. It is also why unmanned helicopters can be applied to a wide range of use.
With all these deficiencies, why are quad-copters still the hottest drone?
According to Wang, the comparatively low technical barrier and existing open source platform of quad-copters enable people to produce quad-copters after optimizing the preexisting development kits without much effort.
For the unmanned helicopters, however, the technical barriers in wing configuration, rotor design and autonomous flight control have stopped people who have no profound experience from entering the industry. This is why quad-copters are all over the market whereas unmanned helicopters are not.
The Five Strengths of Ziyan Unmanned Helicopter
Unlike most of the developers in the industry of drones, the Ziyan team has always focused on the research and development of the integrated manufacturing and smart flight control of unmanned helicopters.
As a matter of fact, the Ziyan team does not take quadcopters as their rivals. According to Jiangping Wang, they have set small or medium size cargo helicopter as their performance benchmarks.
Ziyan is working on three unmanned helicopters, ZYG 800, ZY-50 and ZY-280, which are distinctive in their sizes, loads, and power. The last one is still under research. These products are able to finish beyond-visual-range and accurate point-to-point autonomous flight under high speed and heavy loads.
Compared with the gas-powered medium-size unmanned cargo helicopters, Ziyan’s small-sized logistic platform (with a net load less than 15 Kg) is powered by batteries that largely reduce the risk while flying. Moreover, with the technologies in design and manufacturing, Ziyan is able to turn these aircraft into robotics, which can get tasks done for pilots, increasing the marginal cost of safety as well as the added value of their products. For users, it also helps to save time and cost.
Completing a fully autonomous flight envelope with an unmanned helicopter has long been anindustry wide challenge. The smart flight control system of unmanned helicopters, in which theZiyan team has put valiant effort, is an answer to this challenge. Adopting the modular design concept of the Model based development in the aircraft industry as well as advanced flight control algorithm, the Ziyan products are suitable for a variety of industrial uses in harsh environments. The next generation flight control with obstacle avoidance abilities as well as automatic identification and tracking function is now under development, according to Wang.
What exact advantages do Ziyan products have to disrupt the aerial logistics industry?
The speed of vehicles is vital to its efficiency and also the economical success of logistics.The ZYG 800, the primary product of Ziyan, can reach a cruising speed of 100-130 km/h and a maximum flight speed of 160 km/h, which is four times of that of a quad-copter.
Also, speed is crucial to safety. The faster these vehicles fly, the less hang time they have and the lower the accident rate will be. In other words, the faster, the safer. Also, with a guaranteed transportation speed, the Ziyan unmanned helicopter can deal with maximum wind levels. This has well excelled the quad-copters that can only deal with a gentle breeze or moderate breeze at best.
According to Wang, the Ziyan products have been tested along the coastal line since the first flight test. The sea breeze is strong and erratic. Challenging as the wind is, it proves the outstanding performance of the Ziyan unmanned helicopters. “We are now mostly testing the night flights,” Wang said.
Ziyan produces unmanned helicopters that have competitive lightweight bodies of 5 kilograms and at the same time a high net load of 20 kilograms. The maximum take-off weight of ZYG 800 is 40 kilograms. The weight of the quad-copter at this size is 10 kilograms, twice that of ZYG 800′s.
Unmanned helicopters are also known for its long endurance and comparatively low power consumption. Powered mostly by battery, ZYG 800 is highly efficient. With 10-kilogram cargo capacity and the battery can last over 30 minutes.
The high speed and long endurance has assured a longer voyage of Ziyan unmanned helicopters. They have longer flying distances, the shortest of which is over 30 kilometers. This flying distance alone is industry leading and much better than the claimedapproximate 15 kilometer flying distance of most quad-copters.
4. Industrial flight control systems
The Ziyan team has put in continuous effort in researching and developing reliable smart flight control systems, that can complete the fully autonomous flight. Due to the absence of airworthiness regulations on drones, from modeling and stimulation to the design process based on model, the Ziyan team has kept their work in line with the airworthiness design criteria in the aviation industry. From the aerodynamic performance analysis, sub-component modeling, automatic code generation, requirement-based testing, Hardware-in-the-loop Simulation (HILS) to test flights, Ziyan has adopted the regulations in the aviation industry to develop the flight control system for industrial use.
5. Smart system
The navigation enhancement with high precision, laser radar (Lidar), infrared/visible light camera, as well as many other advanced sensor fusion technology have brought strong perception to the next generation Ziyan avionics platform. Ziyan’s independent visual processing system enables its products to accomplish real-time target identification and tracking. With the latest deep learning algorithms, Ziyan’s unmanned helicopter can be a smart control aircraft that can actually think.
“Ziyan’s advanced integration and development technologies are why its products have long endurance, high bearing capacity and speed. These technologies are well adopted from the advanced research and development system in aviation,” Wang said.
As the logistic industry is highly concerned with cost, Ziyan has integrated the resources in Pearl River Delta, successfully decreasing the manufacturing cost of the control flight system as well as the whole aircraft. This enables Ziyan to bring highly competitive unmanned helicopter products to the market at a comparatively low cost.
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