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Aerospace Division

Interview: DroneTeam Twente’s VTOL takes shape

Institution News Team

DroneTeam Twente
DroneTeam Twente

Chris from the UAS Challenge team caught up with the lead members of DroneTeam Twente via MS Teams to hear more about their team, their UAS and what they are preparing for in 2022.

As the Netherlands’ first and only entry to the Institution’s UAS Challenge, DroneTeam Twente hashave wasted little time in becoming a strong contender in the Challenge. Headed by Sietse Oosterhout, Team manager and Philippe Damoiseaux, Technical and External affairs manager, the team consists of just over a dozen students working on their latest UAS entry.

Having won the innovation award in 2019, despite having not been able to join for the fly off event in that year due to COVID and associated travel restrictions, 2022 is already proving to be a better year and the chance to really show the results of their hard work.

Both Philippe and Sietse are in an enviable position for the year; both students have taken a year out of their degrees to work on UAS Challenge, alongside other drone-related activities in conjunction with the university. “In the Netherlands, drones are seen like they are in the UK; there’s strict legislation for operators and unless you use them, they are seen as noisy and a nuisance,” explained Philippe. In fact, one side of their building is under a no-fly zone as they are 1km away from a local stadium. “The main objective for this year out of our studies is to innovate and accelerate the drone industry,” he explains, “to do this, we are starting to collaborate with drone companies across the country and the world, from start-ups to established firms, particularly in aerial photography, so that we can share what we at university have learned and pick up knowledge from those in industry.” The main objective here is being able to give back knowledge that the team creates in order to achieve this acceleration.

Their work also extends out on campus, where they work to organise drone workshops for students, most of whom are interested in getting into drone flight. Taking place around four times a year, these workshops have students put together a drone from parts using instructions, with Philippe, Sietse and their team giving a helping hand to get them off the ground. Despite the fact that drone flying and racing continue to be niche hobbies, these “Ikea Drone” sessions are always incredibly popular and reflect how interest in drones continues to grow.

Over MS Teams, the pair walked us round their latest CAD design for their 2022 UAS; an evolution of their 2021 work and based around a VTOL design that can transition to horizontal flight. It’s in the design work that Sietse’s skills as an industrial designer come to the forefront, with beautiful illustrations of the drone’s fuselage and wings accompanying their 3D renders.

Sietse Oosterhout

Sietse Oosterhout, Team Manager

“CAD to 3D printing is helpful for the design process – we can prototype, test and iterate fairly quickly” says Sietse, though material choice is still subject to change. The team is already speaking with a local manufacturer of foam products, with a recycled material ST-Eleveat from Sekisui Kasai also being considered for some of the components.

However, the main challenge for their design is ensuring that their drone is able to transition reliably and smoothly from VTOL to horizontal flight and back again – a key objective for their 2022 entry. In doing so, they will also be able to minimise the height needed for the transition and ensure that their electrical systems will work smoothly for autonomous flight.

“Since the team switches every year, most of the team didn’t have much experience with VTOL design,” they explained, “so we bought a prefabricated foam plane and adapted it into our transitioning VTOL design; this taught us a lot about how to get the electronics organised and fitted correctly.” This doesn’t leave out pilot error however, with wrong button presses leading to spectacular failures, but there is still plenty of time to rebuild and practice.

A second advantage of working with an early prototype came during testing. “We flew our test drone at a local airport and before flying it we had to get it scrutineered. This was invaluable as we now know what to look for and prepare for our future flights, including the UAS Challenge.”

However, the real test for the team this year will be getting it to fly reliably, so more effort will be put into testing early to perfect the electrical systems. Secondly, and in keeping with their objective to share knowledge, Philippe and Sietse are keen to record everything for next year’s team, organising regular updates every week and making sure to hand over key contacts the team has forged so that next year’s team can continue to collaborate with engineers in industry.

Thanks to Philippe and Sietse for their time speaking with the Institution, we wish the team well in the run up to this year’s fly-off. UAS Challenge teams and fans can catch up with all the latest updates from DroneTeam Twente on their Website and Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter social media channels. For companies looking to collaborate with DroneTeam Twente directly, please email Philippe directly to start a conversation.

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