From giving a bird’s eye view of a piece of land to delivering packages, the purpose of drones is expanding. And the possibilities of what the devices can do next could be endless.
SDSU senior Isaac Smithee leads the ATLAS Project Team at SDSU, which stands for advanced transportation through leading aerial systems project.
“I am the principal investigator and student team lead, which essentially means that any and all contact that we have with NASA, I am the person that does that conversation,” Smithee said.
Marco Ciarcià, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at SDSU, is a project adviser.
“It’s about developing a heavy lifting-capability drone, and we are envisioning the mission of this drone to serve as our aero-taxi vehicle, and yeah so we are planning on using the drone as a human passenger transportation system,” Ciarcià said.
“Our goal is to create a drone that’s big enough to carry a person,” Smithee said. “That doesn’t mean that it will carry a person, just that it’s big enough to do that.”
He says it could go beyond transportation.
“So this has all kinds of applications outside of personal transportation. This could be used in construction, it could be used in other transportation,” Smithee said.
The drone you see here is called Hummingbird. It’s a prototype for the Albatross, 500-plus pound drone which would be able to lift 200 pounds. The students here applied for and received an $80,000 grant from NASA for the project.
“There’s a lot of aspects where you need to move something that’s really big that would take maybe four people for you to move, and you only have to move it say 15 feet, so all you have to do is load up this drone, move it over, set it in place,” Smithee said. “But that’s pretty far in the distance for us, because we’re mostly focused just on getting it off the ground. Once we get it off the ground, then we can start doing cool things with it.”
Like, say, transporting a person.
“The passenger will just select initial points, pick a destination, and the Albatross will bring passenger from A to B,” Ciarcià said.
“We spent some time brainstorming, the four mechanical engineering students, and then we eventually landed on an air taxi system, because that just sounds really cool,” Smithee said. “We eventually realized that we needed more manpower on the project because this is a really big project, so we brought on two business students to help us with our social media accounts and finances.”
Ciarcia says enthusiasm is the reason for this project.
“Passion. They’re all excited about this project, they have a lot of interest on aerospace project of this type, and so they picked it,” Ciarcià said.
“It’s crazy, like I never thought that we would attain, that we would get the NASA funding to begin with, and now we actually have the opportunity to work on this project.” Smithee said.
And get the Albatross ready to take flight.
“Every once in a while I’ll sit back and be like, ‘Wait a second, there are some students that are working on smaller projects, and then there’s us working on this,'” Smithee said.
As far as when you might see the Albatross itself, it might be soon.
“You can see the Albatross assembled most likely mid-April for the engineering expo, and we are planning on having maybe test flights by mid-June,” Ciarcià said.
“This is a really great opportunity for everybody involved, and I’m just really happy to be working with the group of people that I have,” Smithee said.