The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) decided to tackle the needs of first responders’ communications needs in areas that have been hit by natural disasters where all traditional infrastructure has been wiped out. They identified drones as an ideal platform to solve this challenge and act as a communications relay. The critical requirements they identified were that the drone must have an HD camera on a stabilizing gimbal with a real-time HD video link, it must use RTK (precision) GPS technology, it must be able to carry a 10lb payload, and it must be Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL).
Finding a drone that meets this list of requirements is no easy feat, and NIST did an exhaustive search of existing commercial solutions and were not able to find any viable solutions. In April of 2020, NIST opened the First Responder UAS challenge to crowd-source the next generation of drones that will support first responders around the globe. Nova Labs members jumped at the opportunity to show their ingenuity and expertise in an effort to serve the first responder community. Two teams were formed and submitted applications and both teams were awarded early wins. The Nova Labs teams were competing against a nationwide RFP and in June of 2020, 20 winners were selected which included both Nova Labs teams!
Unfortunately, soon after the competition began, COVID hit and developing a complex aircraft like this become increasingly difficult. Nova Labs members were fortunate that this was the same time that the Innovation Center was really getting off the ground. With dedicated offices and professional space to work on commercial projects, it helped to put both of our teams ahead of the game! By leveraging the tools at 1916 and the commercial space at 1930, the teams were able to minimize the distributions that COVID created. After going through nearly a year of R&D and four rounds of deliverables and deadlines with NIST, both teams have just been selected to participate in the final competitions which has a $100,000 grand prize. Out of the original 20 teams that won in round 1, only eight teams were selected for the finals. So, it is pretty exciting to have 25% of the teams in a national-level competition being represented by Nova Labs!
You can view the full list of finalists at https://www.firstresponderuaschallenge.org/finalists.php
The two teams that are representing Nova Labs are team Tempus UAS with Fred Briggs and Bo Wernick, and team Spydar with Sam Winkelstein, Liza Peirce, and Stuart Dana. A few pics and outline of what the teams developed are below;
Team Tempus developed a tandem helicopter and leveraged huge blades and a gas engine to hover for long periods of time. It carries two gallons of fuel and hopes to carry the 10lb payload for four hours. The rotors are nearly six feet in diameter and the ready-to-fly weight is 54lb. It uses a Cube Orange flight controller and a Herelink controller which has integrated HD video transmission. The system was designed in OnShape CAD (Bo offers regular classes on this platform). The laser was used to mock up parts in acrylic and then final parts were made from carbon fiber plate on a CNC router. The metal lathe was used to make some of the engine transmission parts and Bo made a beautiful fuel tank holder from scratch using honeycomb core, carbon fiber, and the vacuum pump. It’s light as a feather and unbelievably strong! The central transmission takes the engine’s power to a belt system to power the main shafts. The blades do cross over each other and the belts are timed to keep the blades in sequence. To fly for the goal of four hours, the system would require a huge battery to power the electronics, including the power-hungry flight controller. To minimize this need, a micro generator was added to the engine which charges the battery during flight.
Notable Nova Labs members that helped with the project: from Spydar Sensors Inc. – Stuart Dana and Sam Winkelstein. Help from Nova Labs members from Rehoboth USS, Jorge Jimenez, and Ted Markson. Also, Bo Wernick helped in addition to his work with Tempus UAS. It is also worth noting that most members of each team have been members of Rhinohawk (Nova Labs’ autonomous drone team who have worked on similar challenges in the past).
M-Dar stands for Multi-Ducted Angled Rotor, the VTOL ducted-fan motors in the side pylons. The pusher-propeller and wings provide propulsion and lift respectively for forward flight after takeoff.
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