“Do more with less” is a mantra that has allowed Singapore to achieve a higher GDP per capita than the United States, even though Singapore is about 13,673 times smaller than the US. The same concept has now enabled researchers to develop a rotary-wing drone that doesn’t need “extravagant” components like two whole wings or four separate motors. F-SAM is a monocopter drone that weighs only 69 grams, can achieve a maximum lateral speed of 2.37 m/s, and fly for about 16 minutes with its semi-rigid wing.
Developed by the Singapore University of Technology & Design, F-SAM stands for Foldable Single Actuator Monocopter. As the name indicates, the drone can be folded – much like a Swiss Roll – to fit into your fist, and it uses only one actuator for control.
The design of this monocopter drone takes inspiration from samara seeds, also known as helicopter seeds. Samara is a type of dry fruit whose seeds are surrounded by a papery wing that carries them farther away than most other fruit seeds when the wind blows.
As such, F-SAM has an inherent capability for autorotation, which is the mode of flight of the samara seeds. The same flight mode also lends the monocopter a natural fail-safe – the ability to descend gracefully in autorotation in the event of a power failure.
Essentially, F-SAM consists of two major components: the body and the wing, which is made up of balsa wood laminated with plastic. The single motor is mounted on the leading edge of the wing to enable the drone to fold easily and decrease its footprint area by as much as 69%.
Also, the components are placed such that the center of gravity lies close to the body in the unfolded state, enabling most areas of the wing to receive airflow to generate useful aerodynamic forces. Almost 40% of the drone’s weight comes from its battery, and the monocopter rotates counterclockwise (looking from above). Watch it in action below…
F-SAM: A foldable, single-motor monocopter
What can this monocopter drone do?
The researchers tried adding a camera to F-SAM but the images came out blurry, which is not surprising because you’ve just seen how the drone spins to achieve flight. Though the team is still experimenting with 360-degree cameras, they tell IEEE Spectrum that LiDAR or ToF sensors are better candidates for a monocopter.
In addition, this drone can easily be used for single-use GPS-guided reconnaissance missions. Since F-SAM uses only one actuator, building the drone is not expensive. Also, the flying robot has a low noise profile and can be camouflaged once landed.
The research team further tells that various lightweight sensors can be integrated onto the platform for different types of missions, such as climate monitoring. And since F-SAM units autorotate on their way down, they can also be deployed from the air while being used to collect meteorological data in the air.
In the meantime, the team is also working on another “do more with less” drone project that would be able to deploy single-use sensors for forest monitoring and wildfire alerts.
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