A small quad-copter does not have the speed or range to complete the entire 2018 mission and a large fixed wing aircraft cannot land at the remote landing site. One concept is to carry a small quad-copter on a larger fixed wing aircraft and deploy it at the remote landing site to land, collect the blood sample, take-off and then re-dock in flight to be carried home to the lab for testing of the sample.
This is one of several approaches we are evaluating and testing and we will post more information on this and others as our development progresses.
Early experimentation has shown that we can carry a small drone on the back of a larger fixed-wing and deploy it in flight.
Once we can deploy the small quad-copter, the key challenge is re-docking. The first stage of developing a method for this is rendezvous of two aircraft in flight which was achieved during our most recent testing.
The challenge for this test was to see if we could write software that used the GPS signals from both aircraft to adjust the relative speed and position for each to get them flying in close formation which was achieved in the most recent test flights. Once we can use GPS signals to get them close we will need to switch to a camera and computer vision based system to close the gap and dock as GPS is too inaccurate for a hard-connection of the aircraft in-flight.
This is an exciting approach and while many things need to be developed for it to work we are keen to crack it as it opens up many more options.