Aircraft design at its best is a process of balancing the desired capability against physics and technology. Reliability, safety, cost, performance and style are all a product of the effort put into a design.
As I look at the unmanned aircraft companies, there is a great deal of optimism. There is also a great deal of experimentation without an engineering analysis. There is an assumption that unmanned systems should be as cheap as hobby aircraft. These things push for projects to skip steps of a disciplined engineering development project, counting on a "success driven schedule."
In our 13 years of business, we've heard companies say things like: 'It falls out of the sky every now and then. We don't know why.' As we move away from unmanned aircraft that are flying over enemy territory, to those flying over civilian bystanders, we as a community need to greatly increase our discipline for the development of safe and reliable aircraft. They need to operate under acceptable atmospheric conditions. We need to have both theory and experiment to know that things are right.
Our experience in designing a large number of hovering vehicles gave me a bit of skepticism about UAV 'designs' recently in the news. Both the Amazon and the Google original designs for delivery have been abandoned. It's not surprising that declaring a design obsolete is a leading reason for the abandonment. My questions include:
- Why did they make it so far into the product development stage before they figured it was just becoming obsolete?
- Who was doing the requirements analysis and the engineering design?
We don't know enough about the projects to be overly critical, but it does cause me to wonder about the team's engineering approach.
A key component of AVID's unique design approach is using our tools, processes and experience to help other companies engineer quality unmanned aircraft products. AVID software products alone do not create the best designs. They are operated by engineers who understand the nuances of aircraft design. For some companies, they have the expertise in-house. For some, it is easier to employ AVID to develop the design. We are happy to work with either approach.
We value the opportunity to apply our tools to new design problems, engineer air vehicle platforms, and reap the satisfaction of the customer who says 'It flew just like you said it would.'