UA Little Rock student researches how to improve lift capabilities, flight times in drones

Andrew Cherry, a senior mechanical systems engineering major, has been researching how to improve the lift capability and takeoff of quadcopter drones for commercial use. Photo by Ben Krain.

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock student has been experimenting with drone design in hopes of making current drone technology more viable for commercial ventures. 

Andrew Cherry, who will graduate May 11 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical systems engineering, is researching how to improve the lift capability and takeoff of quadcopter drones via fluid mechanics.

Drones that can take off using less force will use less battery life and be able to travel farther carrying greater loads, making them more viable for future ventures in delivery, transportation, and military operations.

“Most drones can generate plenty of lift to get themselves moving and have a good range distance,” Cherry said. “If we can improve the amount of lift drones generate at a lower RPM (rotations per minute) of the motor, then the drone will use less battery life and be able to travel longer without having to charge the batteries so often. If we can improve the lift, a delivery drone, for example, could travel to more places and deliver more packages without having to stop and recharge as often.”

Cherry first became interested in studying drone technology after taking a class with Dr. Jin Wook Lee, assistant professor of systems engineering, who serves as Cherry’s faculty mentor on the project.

“Throughout my classes with Dr. Lee, I’ve become more interested in fluid mechanics,” Cherry said. “It’s something I wanted to jump on board and learn more about. Working with drones is such a growing field. I came to school to learn, so I am glad to work on things that few people have worked on before.”

Cherry is one of more than 100 UA Little Rock students who received a $1,000 grant to conduct original research, creative works, and community service projects this semester as part of the university’s Signature Experience Award program. He presented his research at the Student Research and Creative Works Expo on April 18 in the Jack Stephens Center. The project is part of Lee’s ongoing research to create a novel thrust generator for drones.

“A novel thrust generator I am designing for drones is expected to have significantly less aerodynamic losses and therefore, the overall propulsive efficiency and the flight duration will be greatly improved,” Lee said. “Our ultimate goal is to implement this device for various commercial applications such as drone delivery service, military unmanned aerial vehicles, and passenger transportation.”

In Cherry’s research, he’s seeking to improve the lift and takeoff capabilities by employing a convex, dish-like surface structure known as a coanda surface underneath the drone’s propellers.

“According to the coanda effect reported in 1938, the pressure right at the convex surface is lower than the ambient air and therefore negative values, if air flows strongly over the surface,” Cherry said. “This negative pressure will generate additional lift forces and therefore contribute to improve the lift capability of a drone without significantly complicating the overall structure.”

Cherry was tasked with using ANSYS Fluent, an engineering simulation software, to create different designs of the coanda surface and running simulations with changing parameters to determine which design would generate the most lift force.

“From this project, we will be able to predict an optimal design so that eventually a quadcopter will have an improved overall efficiency and therefore longer flight durations and lift capabilities,” Cherry said. “The results will serve as a seed for further developments and improvement in the drone technology.”

In the upper right photo, Andrew Cherry researches how to improve the lift capability and takeoff of quadcopter drones for commercial use. Photo by Ben Krain.

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