What is the scientific research background of your technology?
In 2006 Prof. David Brotherton-Ratcliffe and his team started to study aeronautic levitation and propulsion using electric ducted fans.
Their research was based on the idea of using a large number of electric ducted fans distributed in one or more spatial networks. Each fan was controlled directly and its thrust modulated by high frequency electrical power in order to maintain level flight.
The basic idea was built around levitating (and propelling) an aircraft using many small (and redundant) lifting fans, arranged in a spatial distribution, rather than by making use of several large fans (which were all always flight critical).
This “many-thrusters” principle was made possible because of the unique and favourable scaling exhibited by brushless electric motors, which formed the core of modern electric ducted fans. Thermal motors do not share such a favourable scaling; replacing one large thermal motor with twenty smaller thermal motors would lead to a very large penalty in aircraft efficiency.
Electric ducted fans were also capable of extremely fast thrust response obviating the need for thrust deflecting and vectoring systems.
Favourable scaling together with fast response suggested the possibility of mounting multiple thruster units on an aircraft in up to three orthogonal directions to allow extremely precise three-dimensional flight control.
How does Neva technology transform the market for UAV & UAS?
The original 2008 research project initiated by Prf. David Brotherton-Ratcliffe and his team was for light airplanes and, to some extent, aerial robotic platforms. In 2010 long-time friend, and commercial director for a global consultancy, Robert Vergnes, suggested re-orientating this technology toward UAV and UAS for B2B heavy workhorse drones. He had seen the potential to target markets where enterprises will invest capital in costly equipment which can provide high return on investment for their owner. The core markets in his sights were construction, power, oil & gas, security, and large-scale agriculture.
The original idea of Robert Vergnes was to ensure that the Neva technologies would meet the real and current need for industrial businesses to provide high return on investment in their core businesses. This could be done by replacing existing machinery like helicopters, trucks, cranes, tractors and delivery vans – which between them represent markets exceeding US$ 1 trillion a year – with a new generation technology.
Neva UAVs & UASs will provide the same functions as older machines (lifting heavy weight, site works, construction, cranes, delivery, etc) but with lower carbon emissions and higher efficiency and greater safety. They will by-pass traffic congestion, undertake robotic work, and integrate into the ERP & EAM of enterprises.
From the outset, both men understood the complexity of creating a new aerospace company and applying aerospace robotics to other sectors in a European context - and they relished the challenge. They understood that success would only come through partnering with others within the aerospace sectors and with end-users and adopted the consortium approach for R&D, financing and commercial development.
Robert Vergnes supported the project by laying out the commercial and business strategies for the consortium and recruiting a professional team under sweat equity (CEOs, CTOs, engineers, PR, designers, etc.). He identified companies and organisations to join the consortium; and he worked with designers to develop Neva commercial concepts that match industrial needs.
This is how the Neva project became the consortium Neva Aerospace Ltd, which has a unique window on the true market potential for applying Neva technologies to UAVs and UAS.
What is novel about EDFs (electric ducted fans / electric turbines / turbofans)?
Although we were the first to use EDFs since 2008 for VTOL flight, the use of these devices is not fundamentally new. The EDF has had a long history of use for conventional radio-control airplanes operating in linear flight mode.
Most of the EDF technology existing on the market today is not tailored for VTOL flight. This is the main reason why there are currently few drones using EDFs.
EDFs available on the market are designed for linear flight (planes with a turbine air-entry speed ranging from 100km to 300km/h). However efficient VTOL operation requires a turbine designed for an entry air speed of 0 km/h! Existing EDF designs are therefore very inefficient when used in VTOL mode.
This is why we have started to design our own electric turbines specifically designed for VTOL.
So we are designing our own electric turbines specifically designed for VTOL.
Our technology is designed to be:
Why small UAV technology may never scale up?
The small multi-copter drones buzzing around our skies are probably near their technical limit: scaling up to carry bigger payloads requires a whole new technology – Neva technology.
For flying, hovering and transition from VTOL to linear flight, with economically-useful payloads, we believe our patented "3D Distributed Propulsion" technology is the only viable solution.
After all, if it was so simple to have a VTOL airplane or super-large multi-copter then the global aircraft manufacturers would have done it long time ago! When using standard wing, with 2 or 4 engines and rotary propulsion, it will be hard to improve on the Osprey V22 Tiltrotor. It seems that Agusta-Westland Wing-VTOL (Project Zero), Google VTOL drones and Airbus Quadcruiser approaches have met with significant design barriers.
At Neva, it has taken us ten years of R&D to develop technology concepts for designing electric and electric-hybrid aircraft based on 3D Distributed Propulsion. We had to think outside the box: the standard helicopter and airplane design offers no real downward scalability whereas multi-copters drones endure a flight complexity as their weight increases. What is easy for a 500g toy quickly becomes impossible as weight increases to tens of kilograms and above.
VTOL-wing planes with small fans or propellers, of the type Amazon is suggesting as delivery drones, in our view, cannot be properly and efficiently scaled up to carry useful loads.
The same applies to multi-copters. It is not only a battery issue here, but a physical issue as well. The propellers currently used for multi-copters lack the pitch-adjusting-blades of large helicopters and offer no rotor-plane adjustment. These two attributes make the helicopter fly efficiently, but are costly and impracticable currently for lightweight toy and camera drone makers.