By Brian Brus
Courtesy of The Journal Record
NORMAN – Norman-based Design Intelligence Inc.’s unveiling of a new solar-optimized unmanned aerial vehicle has quickly garnered positive international attention, company President James Grimsley said.
The company partnered with MicroLink Devices Inc. in Illinois to refine the design of an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, with enhanced portability and extended power cell life that positions it in the market for a wide range of nonmilitary applications, Grimsley said after returning from the Paris Air Show this month. The overall design effort was nearly the equivalent of starting over from scratch, he said. Design Intelligence has research and production facilities in Norman and Stillwater.
The Eturnas UAV weighs less than 9 pounds and uses a reconfigurable solar wing design that allows use for so-called long-loiter, slow-speed surveillance or quicker flight tasks. When operated under good sun exposure and weather conditions, the Eturnas has more than three times the endurance of most battery-powered UAVs, Grimsley said.
Even the most efficient wing design can be only so successful without a good energy source and payload architecture. Grimsley said the high-efficiency solar cell technology developed by MLD is lightweight and flexible, mounted in the wings of the Eturnas. The solar cell technology has been demonstrated on several aerospace applications and has even been tested on the International Space Station.
Design Intelligence has collaborated on several projects with MLD for about three years, including contracts for the U.S. Department of Defense. Grimsley said the Eturnas will not be sold for nefarious purposes in the United States and that his company will be cautiously selective in its international sales. Payloads of cameras and other sensor technology are appropriate for uses such as wildlife conservation and terrain mapping. He said efforts to police endangered animal poaching in Africa is a good an example of a likely application.
The industry is quickly evolving, even faster than the laws regulating UAV use. Congress passed legislation last year that requires the Federal Aviation Administration to work toward allowing UAVs to fly in national airspace with larger vehicles by the end of 2015. Grimsley said his company is well-positioned to meet that deadline.
The company has not yet released images of the Eturnas, and some media sources have mistakenly published photos of another bird-like design, he said. The Eturnas looks like a traditional airplane. And even though the wingspan of the UAV is about 10 feet, it can be easily and quickly disassembled for transportation by a single person.