visibility_off Meet the winners of the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge

Meet the winners of the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge

Four months ago, Local Motors issued a challenge to our co-creation community unlike any we have before. Instead of focusing on automobile design and development, we took to the skies with the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge.

The challenge we put forth was to design and engineer a cargo drone combining the VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) and hovering capabilities of a well-known quad-copter design with the speed and cruise efficiency of a fixed-wing aircraft by using an additional pusher motor. This sort of drone could be used in many ways, from providing humanitarian aid in remote areas to shipping a package across a traffic-clogged urban core.

We announced the winners of the challenge earlier this week, but now let’s take a deeper look at each of their motivations for entering the challenge and the lessons learned from it.

Alexey Medvedev

  • First Place: Airbus Main Award ($50,000)
  • Third Place: Cargo Prize ($2,500)
  • Design: ZELATOR

This snowboarder, cyclist and world traveler earned his diploma in architecture from Siberian Auto-Road Academy (Russia) in 2007. Since that time Alexey, 31, has used 3D models and painting to invent new vehicle and various other product designs. He came across the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge purely by chance.

“A friend pointed out this challenge to me and when I saw it, I had to give it a try,” Alexey said. “I never imagined that I would achieve these results.”

Alexey actually changed his design entirely midway through the creative process. The first two weeks of challenge, he spent time working on what he called a bionic form design. But he was dissatisfied and ended up changing it. The result was the overall winner, the ZELATOR.

Alexey credits perseverance for his excellent showing in the challenge, but he also had some extra inspiration that helped fuel his creative fire: he and his wife had their first child (a baby girl) about a month-and-a-half ago.

“During the validation period I received a message that my entry was not valid,” he said. “I was very disappointed because I thought I did everything right. In addition my daughter was born, and I had a lot of worries and not enough time. But I realized that I’d already put in too much effort to leave it at that. Never give up and bring everything to the end. That’s my advice.”

Harvest Zhang

  • Second Place: Airbus Main Award ($20,000)
  • Second Place: Cargo Prize ($5,000)
  • Third Place: Community Prize ($2,000)
  • Design: Volans

Harvest is just 23 years old, but has a breadth of experience that few people his age can rival. The Brighton, N.Y. native graduated from Princeton University in 2014 with a degree in computer science, and along the way did a wide range of internships in both high school and college.

He did research on Inertial Confinement Fusion, built data acquisition infrastructure for NASA, and even helped Facebook develop some of its current technology. The latter is also his current employer. Harvest is a musician and artist with an extensive portfolio. He’s also been flying and building remote-controlled aircraft since he was 8, and more recently took up the hobby of autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

“The advent of FPV (first person view) flight and the recent boom in open-source, community-driven development of flight software and hardware are extremely exciting in a rapidly innovating field,” Harvest said. “The sensation of FPV flight is just incredible -- closest to being a bird I've ever felt.”

Harvest approached the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge as a case study of sorts. The goal was to teach himself the process of conceptual aircraft design, while also developing techniques for creating large, complex CAD models and rendering them. The small set of high-level, specific requirements of the challenge helped him focus on exploration of the design space.

Fulfilling the challenge’s requirements and conceptual operation of his finished Volans design were two of the primary guidelines Harvest followed throughout the design process. He also relied on his experience building remote-controlled aircrafts throughout most of his life.

“The aircraft only spends a fraction of its time in the air. Much of the time it is being assembled or disassembled for transport, or having cargo being loaded or unloaded, or being maintained,” he said. “Getting this right is the difference between an efficient aircraft and an efficient system.”

Harvest praised Local Motors and Airbus for running a complex, fast-paced co-creation challenge and said the experience was both rewarding and educational.

“The best bit of advice I have for future Local Motors challenge participants is to fully engage with the community as early and as often as possible,” he said. “No single person has the breadth and depth of domain-specific knowledge in all the various areas, so take advantage of advice and feedback from others with different strengths than yours, and pay it forward by contributing your own knowledge back to the community.”

Felix Finger

  • Third Place: Airbus Main Prize ($10,000)
  • Design: Minerva

Felix is well on his way to becoming a global authority in the world of VTOL UAVs. The 26-year-old earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering from The FH Aachen University of Applied Sciences in Germany. He’s now finalizing his application for a partnered PhD program of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia and the FH Aachen where he’ll further research methods for multidisciplinary design of light aircraft with focus on the integration of hybrid-electric propulsion. He builds remote-controlled aircrafts in his free time when he’s not playing piano and barbecuing with friends and his girlfriend Julia.

A self-described aviation nut, Felix discovered the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge right after he finished his master’s degree. He thus had both a lot of free time on his hands and relevant data from his thesis “Comparative Performance and Benefit Assessment of VTOL and CTOL UAVs.” The Challenge required low weight and maximum performance in designs, which dictated the slender wings and minimal number of motors in the Minerva design.

“To cut down on drag I needed to minimize wetted area by packing all the necessary components around the payload bay, then wrapping a fuselage around it as tightly as possible,” he said. “I decided to use the so-called ‘spanloading’ approach for my design as well. By putting the hover propulsion system and the batteries in the booms, a significant weight reduction was possible, which directly translates into improved range performance.”

Felix stressed his gratitude towards FH Aachen for allowing him access to their CAD and CFD laboratories during the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge. But he also appreciates the experience Local Motors and Airbus provided.

“This was my first time on this platform, so it took me some time to really grasp how the concept of co-creation works in practice,” he said. “There were so many entries entered in the last two days of the challenge. Many had amazing slides, beautiful renderings – but also fatal design flaws from the airworthiness angle. My advice to future participants is to upload early and get as much feedback as you can. Without any time to correct such errors I found it a real shame to see so much skill and effort go to waste.”

Finn Yonkers

  • First Place: Cargo Prize ($15,000)
  • Second Place: Community Prize ($3,000)
  • Design: SkyPac

Finn is one of those people who enjoys life to the fullest. He lives on a boat full-time and travels the East Coast with his dog Lulu (which is also his Local Motors community profile name). He also rides his motorcycle whenever possible, but admits owning an exhibit design and marketing firm affords him little time for recreational activities. He has an industrial design degree from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Finn said three factors played important roles when designing SkyPac: simplicity, ease of use and long-term operational durability. His strategy was to recognize the turnaround time of the aircraft as a critical to the entire operation, so the flight itself could be achieved with less complexity, minimizing opportunities for failure.

“I think having an adaptable or modular approach is very much the key to a successful solution,” he said. “I made sure to explore various usage models to test out viabilities and cross-pollinate ideas in an effort to provide a more stable platform for updates as needs and applications expand, along with improvements in battery and fabrication methods.”

Finn has been a Local Motors community member for more than four years, but said he owes a huge amount of gratitude to both long-time and new members who joined just for this challenge.

“I feel my story is a perfect example of successful co-creation because I learned a great deal and can be definitive in saying that without the community my entry would not have been as successful of a solution nor would it look the way it does,” Finn said. “The best advice I can give is to be humble enough to accept advice while also believing in yourself. In the end, win or lose, your project and the thinking it represents has to bring originality — and only you are in control of that.”

Frédéric Le Sciellour

Frédéric earned his master’s degree in industrial design from Institut Supérieur de Design (ISD) France. He currently works for Jaguar Land Rover as a Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) designer.

Designing unique conceptual vehicles is one of Frédéric’s favorite hobbies. But his original major in college was aerospace engineering, and the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge provided the opportunity to combine his engineering and design knowledge. For this challenge, Frédéric wanted to do something that adhered to the requirements of the challenge, but the designer in him wanted a finished product that was also aesthetically-pleasing. Needless to say he accomplished both in the eyes of the Local Motors community.

Frédéric’s only advice to future Local Motors challenge participants is to go with your gut, follow the requirements and play to your strengths throughout the process.

“The visual part is very important to me. You can have a great idea, but if it doesn’t look good, people will reject it,” he said. “But that’s just my vision because I am designer and I like to create things that people can look at and say ‘that’s cool.’”

Congratulations to all the winners and to everyone who participated in the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge. The next step of course is building a prototype of the winning entry. We’ll keep you up-to-date, as the build is scheduled to start immediately.

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