Skyborne at Army Innovation Day 2018

Skyborne was very pleased to be selected to display and pitch at Army Innovation Day 2018. We had a fantastic audience, including Chief of Army Lt Gen Rick Burr, Head of Land Capability Maj Gen Kathryn Toohey, head of SUAS Lt Col Keirin Joyce and Australian tech investor Steve Baxter. 

Army Innovation Day 2018 included a short-cycle nomination, selection and demonstration for three themes. Skyborne submitted Cerberus GL under the Robotics and Autonomous Systems in the Combat Team theme. We were amongst 19 companies and 24 technologies selected to demonstrate capability.

Major General Toohey spoke at the conclusion of the day: "We have seen robotics and autonomous systems that improve a combat team’s engagement, various techniques for improving communications systems, and learnt of new examples of small drones that assist soldiers in having increased situational awareness."

Army will now engage in an assessment process to fund selected demonstrations that will proceed to user evaluations in Army units. More to come!

Skyborne at Land Forces 2018

Skyborne attended the Land Forces 2018 Exhibition in Adelaide last week. Never a dull moment, Skyborne was nominated and shortlisted for four innovation awards (SME Innovation Grant, Young Innovator Award, Innovation Award for Combat Equipment and Mobility and National Innovation Award) and participated in the 3-minute pitch competition. We are delighted to announce that we took out the pitchfest award for “Land Force Benefit”, which was one of three awards in a 30-team line-up. Defence Minister Christopher Pyne presented CEO Michael Creagh with the award.

Business development meetings and networking events took up the majority of the time in Adelaide and we’re likely to see the flow-on benefits over the next few months. Thanks to DST Group, The Australian Army, CASG and the LAND4108 / 159 project leaders who took time out of their busy schedules to visit our stand and observe the latest Cerberus GL developments.

Most folks that visited were huge fans of our technology concept and wanted to see it develop further. Some questions that came up often were:

1) “How does Cerberus GL compare to loitering munitions?”

Loitering munitions have their place, however it’s a different platform to Cerberus GL. If your only goal of squad and platoon level fire support is weight minimisation, then utilise a loitering munition every time. However, Cerberus GL offers four advantages over such devices. Firstly, cost. A loitering munition consumes its airframe, flight computer and optics etc when it explodes on the target. Cerberus GL fires standard 40mm grenades; a few orders of magnitude lower costs per shot. There are also multiple grenades to use if the armament is a multishot grenade launcher. Secondly, Cerberus GL provides persistent ISR and battle damage assessment after firing. Loitering munitions (almost by definition) cannot. Thirdly, speed of effector. Loitering munitions are at best subsonic fixed-wing aircraft, with a top speed of perhaps 40 m/s. A standard HE 40mm grenade has a muzzle velocity of approximately double this at 76 m/s. For targets of opportunity, Cerberus can quickly aim and fire a high speed round. Finally, operation flexibility is far superior with Cerberus. Shotguns, net-guns, micro-munitions etc could all be fitted, let alone the range of 40mm grenade types available (HE, smoke, IR, flash, CS etc). This means that the right armament is chosen for the right mission.  

2) “How can you achieve good accuracy with your system? The airframe has noise on it.”

Time will tell what kind of accuracy we will get from our combination of airframe pointing and small-range weapon gimbal aiming. Theoretically we can achieve a Circular Error Probable of 1.5 m at a range of 180m. However, if all we do is match a soldier’s accuracy, we already have a useful fire support platform. Better to keep our soldiers out of harm’s way.

3) “How can your UAS handle counter UAS devices such as drone-shield?”

These counter UAS devices perform one or a number of the following: GNSS jamming, GNSS spoofing, radio communications jamming and spoofing. Cerberus has no specific defences against these systems other than encrypted communications at this stage. However, counter-weapon devices exist for every type of weapon to some extent. For example, one could argue that there’s no point in having an assault rifle on the battlefield because armoured vehicles exist. The current nature of asymmetric warfare is such that it’s highly unlikely that a modern adversary of the Australian Army and its allies would a) have access to the same EW drone jamming and hijacking devices that we do and b) always have them on standby. Consider for example, the counter-terrorism role Cerberus GL might play, firing flash grenades through windows in a hostage situation. How easy is it for terrorists to buy (for example) an IAI ELI – 4030, get trained in its operation and set it up? 

More generally, the Cerberus platform is a game-changing, compounding innovation system. We start the design with the most efficient hover platform possible. A helicopter is the most efficient for hover efficiency but cannot adequately tilt during hover to point munitions up and down and would require a low hanging, high angular range gimbal mechanism to point the weapon. Cerberus has only two main lift fans and a balance fan due to the novel centre of gravity placement towards the front.  It is 20% more efficient in hover than a quad-copter of the same mass. This twin-actuating propeller system allows airframe pointing of the weapons, which in turn allows the weapon and weapon gimbal to be mounted close to the centre of gravity. This has a two-fold advantage: streamlined flat packaging for ease of transport and reduction of the recoil pitch-down moment, which enables minimisation of platform mass. The intrinsic recoil robustness of the platform in combination with the hover efficiency allows the entire vehicle to be so small and light, coming in at under 6 kg. 

The Land Forces event was exciting, educational and informative! We made a mission example promo video that was released at the event, feel free to check it out!

Finally, it is very exciting times here at Skyborne – we will have some special news in the next update.

Skyborne takes off in Abu Dhabi

Skyborne is delighted to announce that we were selected in the Top 5 start-ups in the world for Krypto Lab’s Drone Innovation Start-Up Contest 2018 (DISC 2018). 

The Drone Innovation Start-Up Contest aims to recognise the top innovators from around the world who are redefining and pioneering the unmanned aerial vehicle landscape.  The application of these UAV’s span from the field of aerial photography, transportation and logistics to terrestrial mapping and law enforcement. 

Dr Michael Creagh (CEO and CTO) and Adrian Dudok (CBO and CFO) attended and Michael pitched live onstage for the grand finale held at Krypto Labs’ state-of-the-art premises in Masdar City on the 6th May.  The DISC attracted over 600 applications from 61 countries with the five finalists vying to win up to $500,000 USD in funding and mentorship. 

Skyborne had the opportunity to showcase the Cerberus GL, the tactical UAV at 6kg, to a great number of attendees consisting of industry experts, entrepreneurs and investors.   Addressing not only a gap in the tactical UAV market but also the adaptability and practical applications of the Cerberus GL that customers and investors seek. 

The top 5 was composed of a vast range of UAV start-ups, all pitching different product applications.

5th place: Internest - a French start-up designing a precision landing system utilising ultrasonic sensors.

4th place:  Inkonova – from Sweden start-up design a UAV that has wheels to either be a ground or aerial vehicle with a tilt-rotor design.

3rd place: Skyborne Technologies – lightest armed tactical UAV

2th place: Asylon – a US based start-up designing an automated battery swap station to increase UAV utilisation

1st place: Voliro – a Swiss start-up company has taken first prize with their tilt rotor UAV having the ability to carry out aerobatic manoeuvres for a variety of commercial applications. Congratulations team Voliro!

The pitch night was a phenomenal success and Skyborne had the opportunity to expand our network to include other start-ups and the Middle East, including their defence market.  

Skyborne would like to personally thank Krypto Labs' Managing Director, Dr Saleh Al Hashemi, for the opportunity provided to be part of DISC and showcase the Cerberus GL.  

 The team with Krypto Labs' Managing Director, Dr Saleh Al Hashemi

The team with Krypto Labs' Managing Director, Dr Saleh Al Hashemi

 

Few photos of our tour in Abu Dhabi

Introducing the Cerberus GL

I am very pleased to announce the Cerberus GL prototype. At under six kilograms, the Cerberus GL is capable of performing aerial fire support missions at the squad and platoon level. Soon to be armed with a multishot electronically-fired grenade launcher, Cerberus will be able to get our soldiers out of tight spots under fire and perform numerous other roles on the battlefield with the lightest possible multiple-shot UAS platform.  

UAVs have become a mixed blessing. With organisations such as ISIS strapping grenades to commercial drones and terrorising allied soldiers and civilians alike, new challenges have presented themselves to our armed forces. The motivation behind the Cerberus GL is to address these challenges. We intend not only to exceed the capabilities of these 'terror drones' with a cost-effective platform, but to provide broader multi-role flexibility in rapid IED/mine clearing, counter-UAS operations and counter-terrorism. 

It has been an amazing year under Advance Queensland's Ignite program. We are incredibly grateful to the Queensland Government (special note to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Minister for Science Leanne Enoch and our local MP Joan Pease) for providing this opportunity to our young company. The grant program has funded two (near-identical) UAV prototypes plus spares, enabled us to put a full-time mechanical engineer on and paid for numerous business development trips around Australia, (and soon) overseas. We are under no illusions that raising capital for a hotly contested defence product is an easy undertaking and without grant programs like Ignite and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, companies like ours face an even greater struggle. 

For more information, please see our Cerberus GL page.     

More to come...

Dr Michael Creagh (CEO)

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Celebrating International Women's Day 2018

The theme for 2018's International Women's Day (IWD) is #PressForProgress - there are many aspects to this, for example challenging statements that limit women and assuming women want opportunities until declined.

Engineering - and the drone industry - are somewhat infamous for their masculine culture. Oftentimes if we talk about flying for a particular project, or discussing the design of our drone, you'll hear things like "when can the boys go and fly?" or "can you check with him about this aspect?".

This seems like a minor difference in language, but the assumption that drone pilots or engineers are automatically male is part of the inclusive mindset that IWD advocates for.

I've personally worked with remarkable drone pilots and engineers, both female and male, and the best results usually come about when we work as a team and are able to communicate with each other.

Studies on teams in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) have shown that achieving gender parity within the group is key to improving collective intelligence and group performance, and "having a few 'token' women on scientific teams does not appear to be sufficient in order to improve performance."

In other words, our actions now will have an effect on future STEM team performance and allow women in STEM teams to perform to their fullest.

I was fortunate to be keynote speaker for the Department of Employment, Small Business and Training's Alice Through The Looking Glass IWD event to encourage young women in high school to choose entrepreneurship and non-traditional STEM careers and in the process, break through glass ceilings.

Having a mechanical and aerospace engineering background and currently the Head of Operations for Skyborne's aerial services division, I'd like to lead by example and show what opportunities are available to these young women. 

  Photo: Andrea Ambrosio

Photo: Andrea Ambrosio

Enjoying the lolly bar

The splendid Salt House in Cairns was also host to an IWD luncheon to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House Charities. I was privileged as guest speaker to present what we can achieve with drones, ranging from beautiful promotional material to aerial photogrammetry and LiDAR surveys.

One of the themes for IWD is to challenge stereotypes and how better to demonstrate this than to extend what we expect from drones (photography) and the image of the drone pilot and engineer?

Sneak peek of our Cerberus prototype amongst charity auction items - stay tuned for more news!

One of the most groundbreaking examples of this technology is the discovery of a huge Mayan megalopolis in the Guatemalan jungle - the overgrown vegetation has hidden the pyramids and roads for centuries. Flying over the site with a UAV equipped with LiDAR, the laser beams penetrate through the treetops and to the rock structures beneath, allowing for even more research possibilities and adding to our collective knowledge of previous civilisations.

Spoilt by Salt House!

Chocolate heaven

International Women's Day doesn't start or end on March 8 - it's a continual challenge to our inherent biases, to genuinely respect the abilities of each and every person, and paying attention to our day-to-day behaviours.

Skyborne supports giving opportunities to capable individuals and will continue to stand for equality.

How much work goes into engineering and producing aerial videos?

 

Skyborne is proud to share this engineering-focused video of the Sunshine Coast University Hospital. We filmed the entire video with drones, including the interior shots! The intention was to combine stunning aerial footage with an overwhelming amount of engineering and services facts, which may mean you'll have to watch the video several times. 

This video really highlights some of the functional areas of a building that may not always be appreciated - for example, we don't usually think about how the air conditioning system is designed or how it's been made more efficient in operation. Similarly for the engineers who worked on the mechanical plants or the structure of the building, their efforts usually go unnoticed.

It's also a wonderful example of how much effort goes into producing a video. The footage for this video spanned an entire day from morning to night and obviously involved a great deal of flight planning and coordination on the day. Flying drones is physically demanding and under an Australian summer sun this can quickly become taxing.

Once all the aerial footage was shot, post-production came into play. It may be surprising to learn that selecting appropriate shots or gathering all the necessary factsheets involved several people and is not a straightforward exercise. On top of that, each fact and each accompanying arrow, line, or shape were added and timed individually. It's not a trivial matter to add text to follow the underlying footage, despite how simple it may seem. And of course, things like colour correction and ensuring the video flowed well were considered.

This labour-intensive process is well worth the effort if the vision is to create a high quality, full production aerial video. At Skyborne we pursuit excellence and always aim to create the best work we can. To see more of our work and find out how aerial footage works for you, click here.

 

Our aerial flythrough of the SCUH.

Motor and Propeller Performance - Going beyond analytical results

A lot of thought goes into designing an efficient flying vehicle - if you've ever seen flaps on a passenger jet's wings, you'll have some idea of how many parts are involved in keeping a plane stable.

On a UAV, the same principles apply on a smaller scale. If the UAV encounters a gust of wind (turbulence") or needs to manoeuvre quickly, there needs to be stabilisation to prevent the disturbance from overwhelming the UAV. This is where practical testing for the motor/propeller combination is useful for obtaining actual flight characteristics so that the vehicle design can be improved.

We've made use of these characteristics during our R&D process and enlisted the help of our masters student, Zachary, to design and build this test rig. It features a gimbal-like mechanism to transmit the forces produced by the propeller and wind tunnel along the two axes, a variable force transducer location to utilise the full capacity of the load cell regardless of the electric motor/propeller combination used, and a universal motor mount to permit the mounting of various types and sizes of electric motors. The test rig also rotates on a stand to allow for testing of the propellers at multiple angles of attack (if mounted inside wind tunnel). 

On the primary axis is a subminiature load button load cell with a capacity of 111N (11kg) and this measures forces produced directly by the propeller. The secondary axis has a load cell with a capacity of 44.5N (4.5kg) and it measures the reactionary torque and lesser forces produced by drag of the test rig within the wind tunnel. The signals measured by the load cells are amplified on the data acquisition board and passed to the flight computer to be processed. 

The entire test rig was manufactured in-house from aluminium, along with 2 key shafts in steel for greater stiffness. The data acquisition board was also manufactured in-house. 

Results from this test rig can come from various combinations of fan speed and angles of attack, depending on the desired operating conditions.

  • Thrust is the primary data obtained from these tests - it directly measures how efficient this motor and propeller combination is.

  • Reactionary torque, as mentioned earlier, requires a secondary transducer in the perpendicular axis in order to measure it - this also means it can't be calculated analytically easily, which is why testing is crucial.

  • Impulse testing can also be performed - this determines how long it takes a given signal to reach a stable level, which affects the control systems design of the UAV.

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Are you designing your own UAV and would like real performance data for your chosen components? We can test motor/propeller combinations from anywhere - we can obtain the parts or if you prefer, send the components to us. To download a sample file of the data obtained from this testing, click here.

Announcing the Toadinator 8000

As the R&D lead for the Cerberus drone project, sometimes you get bogged down in detail and end up with a singular all-encompassing focus. This has its advantages, principally the delivery of robust and reliable systems, but one disadvantage is that creativity can be squashed. As a project progresses through its technical stages, innovative input (necessarily) diminishes as the prototype or product evolves.

This is why at Skyborne, we like to take a break from the long-cycle R&D process and just have a bit of fun. We like to give engineering interns intense, month-long challenges on machines that will push their design and practical prowess to the limits. Previously, we designed a 360 degree camera rover comprising of 6 Go-Pro cameras on a tripod, which was in turn mounted on a low speed skid-steer remote controlled base. We also established the viability of an ‘E-Roc’ Electronic Rocket, which looks at using a ducted fan in a long cylindrical vehicle.  

The Toadinator 8000 concept originally came from my girlfriend. She’s originally from North Queensland where toad infestations are out of control. She also hates toads with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. “Why can’t you make a machine to kill these things?” Well actually... maybe we could. Along came intern Josh, a very practical hands-on graduate that would be perfect for the role. With a very limited budget, Josh designed, manufactured, assembled and tested this little beast in just over a month. It has an FPV camera, a headlight, a pan-tilt turret and a Dettol pumping system so that you can sit on your camper chair and eliminate toads at will. For those of you unaware, Dettol kills toads in short order and has the same active ingredient as HopStop, which is sanctioned for toad elimination.

Of course we’ve got a few more mods to make. We need to make it waterproof, more crash-proof, cheaper for you and definitely with more lasers. You can’t have something with the suffix “inator” without a laser!  

Of course, if you’re interested in eventually buying the Toadinator for evening fun, check out toadinator.com and register your interest! We’ll let you know if we float a kickstarter campaign or if the unit becomes available for sale. Also check out and share our video. The more interest we have, the more likely we’ll be able to raise some development capital and push this onto the market. Remember to pay attention to the difference between a frog and a toad and don’t shoot irresponsibly! Other than that, happy hunting.   

So if you have a wacky invention idea, shoot it over! If you’re a well-accomplished engineering student who is looking for some hands-on experience, shoot us an email!