Ancient steel production thousands of years ago produced variations of steel that were used to build weapons, tools, and household implements. The thought of using steel to build skyscrapers and airplanes probably never dawned on the engineers of the BC era. But look where we are today. A similar paradigm exists with composites.
Composites are not new materials by any stretch. Still, they do not have thousands of years of history behind them as steel does. Compared to steel production, composites manufacturing is still in its infancy. But if our industry follows the history of steel, composites will be used for still-unknown applications hundreds or even thousands of years from now.
To get a glimpse into the future of composites, look no further than a revolutionary new foto (UAV) being developed by a Florida company. The vehicle is classified as a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that looks like a cross between a drone and a helicopter. The company behind it is Aergility.
LIGHTWEIGHT AND VERSATILE
ATLIS has been designed as a wingless aerial vehicle similar to your average hobby drone. However, it is not intended for hobbyist use. Aergility has designed the vehicle to be scalable to the extent that the largest models could be capable of carrying a tremendous payload. At the core of their design is carbon fiber.
Carbon fiber is a lightweight but rigid material ideal for building a vehicle like ATLIS. The lower weight cost has allowed designers to come up with a prototype capable of flying at 100 mph. Furthermore, ATLIS can travel hundreds of miles on a single tank of fuel. Once again, carbon fiber has proved invaluable to the design parameters.
Not only does carbon fiber offer the high strength-to-weight ratio engineers were looking for, it also affords them the opportunity to develop a revolutionary lift control system that is key to the success of the vehicle. Engineers could not have made this system with heavier materials.
HOW THE VEHICLE WORKS
One look at ATLIS offers a pretty good idea of how the vehicle works. Lift and direction are controlled with a proprietary system that Aergility refers to as 'managed autorotation'. Their design accomplishes lift by powering all the vehicle's rotors at the same speed. Once in the air, various rotors can be slowed or sped up to control the direction and turning.
Even more impressive is ATLIS' regenerative braking system. This system recaptures energy expended during takeoff and landing. According to Aergility, that means there is no net loss of electricity over the course of a single flight.
SCALING UP THE PROTOTYPE
Aergility has already created a 1/4 scale prototype to test their design. Using carbon fiber for the vehicle body, rotors, and struts made for a lightweight and compact system that can be easily disassembled for transport. The vehicle has performed admirably in all tests thus far. Now the plan is to make a full-scale prototype that Aergility hopes to have ready in 2019.
Aergility is utilizing two things that are near and dear to our hearts: carbon fiber and prototyping. They are pushing the limits of composites applications to come up with something that could be a game-changer for moving payloads through the air. The company envisions a day when ATLIS is being used in agriculture, logistics, aerial surveillance, and more.
Making it all possible are the low weight and high strength properties of carbon fiber. No other material is quite like it, which is why so many designers and engineers are turning to carbon fiber as a replacement for steel, aluminum, and other materials.