WILMINGTON — The Wilmington Air Park is one of the testing sites for five Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved Certification of Authorizations (COA) awarded to the University of Cincinnati for flight tests of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
One of these five UAVs includes an octocopter, which is designed to fly to and from a docking station on the top of an electric-powered truck. In its future operational mode, the HorseFly will make its own package deliveries while the driver continues on his route doing the same.
This new development gives the university a rare combination of an FAA endorsement (in many cases, flying a drone is illegal without it), nearby testing facilities and innovative minds experienced in collaborating with industry partners, according to professor Paul Orkwis, head of the Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Department.
“There are going to be a lot of companies in the up-and-coming UAV business, but how can you be successful with it?” Orkwis says. “You have facilities that people want to use and you have minds that have ideas. That’s what we can provide: smart people who care about this stuff and can help a company.”
The COAs also will benefit the National Science Foundation-funded project titled “Situational Awareness during Fire and Emergency (SAFE)” being carried out at UC under the supervision of professors Kelly Cohen and Manish Kumar. The project focuses on developing UAS-based solutions for generating situational awareness during large-scale disasters.
Faculty at UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, namely professors Kelly Cohen and Manish Kumar, have been working with UAS for years, but attention from government representatives increased late last year.
Collaboration with the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center led to sponsorship for the two-year FAA authorization from the Ohio State Department of Transportation in addition to priority access to Wilmington Air Park. During the months of November and December 2015, the UC UAS flight test team led by Tom Black and Bryan Brown conducted two successful sets of flights tests
Workhorse Group is developing the eight-rotor octocopter, HorseFly™ UAS, in tandem with its EPA-approved electric work trucks. Weighing 15 pounds empty, HorseFly has a payload capacity of 10 pounds and can achieve a maximum speed of 50 miles per hour and a flight time of 30 minutes.
The HorseFly UAS, which is subject to FAA approval for commercial use, is designed to be given a package and a delivery destination by a delivery driver, using a touchscreen interface in the delivery truck.
It has the ability to launch itself from the roof of a delivery vehicle and ascend to a safe cruising altitude and then navigate to the desired delivery point—say, a house’s front stoop—autonomously, using GPS navigation.
HorseFly’s technology allows it to reach the GPS delivery destination, where then a human pilot in a remote location monitors the descent with a multi-camera video feed, and has the ability to modify the autonomous operation if necessary.
After the package is delivered accurately and safely, the HorseFly can then ascend back to a safe cruising altitude, navigate to the new location of the delivery truck and use infrared tracking to land and dock with the truck. The HorseFly then has the ability to recharge its battery using the onboard battery of the electric vehicle.
This offers several potential benefits if approved by the FAA. For example, it saves the delivery driver the time and trouble of having to physically drop off each package himself, which cuts down on the cost of delivery per package.
Additionally, since the truck itself would be making fewer stops, it would reduce emissions and result in cleaner air. The company has teamed with the University of Cincinnati to develop all the systems necessary to execute precision takeoffs and landings in a variety of weather conditions.
“Workhorse Group is among a select few world-class leaders working to create the UAS revolution by demonstrating its advantages for a better future,” said Professor Paul Orkwis, head of aerospace engineering at UC. “We believe the HorseFly program represents a major innovation in this arena.”
“Obtaining this authorization from the FAA is a vital step forward in making our HorseFly drone a practical component of our package delivery system by testing the drone’s unmanned flying capabilities,” said Steve Burns, chief executive officer of Workhorse. “We believe the pairing of the HorseFly drone and the Workhorse electric vehicle may usher in a significant improvement in reducing emissions and improving the efficiency of the delivery process.”
Workhorse president Martin Rucidlo added, “The authorization to conduct testing at the Wilmington Air Park gives us the ability to work on perfecting the Workhorse Truck and the HorseFly system. We look forward to working with the UC team and continuing the quest to revolutionize the package delivery process.”