Leveraging the third dimension

KLU as a translational interface between research an business

Right now, it still sounds like science fiction: in only a few years, flying robots will be able to zip around in the sky above us, almost soundlessly. They will transport goods – and later, people – from A to B automatically. Problems such as highways jammed with cars and the impending collapse of the infrastructure would literally vanish into thin air. For Stefan Fink, chairman of IEM- TEC AG, this scenario is a business idea. His first step, the “Multicopter,” is almost ready for series production at his Regensburg-based company.

At KLU in October, Fink had the opportunity to make a detailed presentation of this project to representatives of business, teachers, and students. KLU sees itself as a translational interface between research and business, in addition to its research and teaching operations. The university would like to regularly provide future-oriented projects in the logistics field with this type of forum. Fink was happy to take advantage of it. “I am guided by a vision,” the engineer said. “In two generations at the latest, society will not be willing to accept traffic jams – the economic loss is simply too high.” With his Multicopter product, Fink is betting that the sky will be the transport route of the future. As the innovator emphasizes, in the third dimension there is enough room and society will not have to spend billions of euros on infrastructure. These are the reasons why we have to free ourselves from the infrastructure.

He is relying on technology to make this possible. Software will guide the aircraft to its destination and back – with no pilot on board. The laws of aerodynamics play only a minor role here. “This is the difference to helicopters. They have to mechanically adjust their rotors at each revolution,which is a very complicated, very expensive solution,” said Fink. His Multicopter, on the contrary, relies on automatic control engineering – and the power generated by eight electric motors. The developer is consistent in his vision of the Multicopter as an aid, a smart flying robot. He prefers not to use the word “drone” – the military-related connotation is too negative.

Instead, Fink concentrates on the Multicopter’s economic potential. “The Multicopter must be so intelligently engineered that we can react to all application scenarios in the shortest time possible,” he said. “The professional application of this technology is a key market for the future.” Regardless of whether it’s a photo flight for inspecting electric cables, air transport or observation – Fink sees few technological limits for his flying robot. And the first practical applications overstepped the vision phase a long time ago. “Now in the initial series phase, the Multicopter could already be applied in the logistics sector to transport urgently required products quickly from A to B – for example medicine,” Fink explained. Large building complexes that do not use pneumatic tubes, etc. are another field of application.

Currently, air law is setting the biggest limits to the Multicopter’s spectrum of applications. For example, the series model will carry a maximum load of five kilos when it lifts off at the beginning of 2015. That is the result of the legislative situation: in most federal states, an unmanned aircraft is only allowed to weigh five kilos without requiring complicated licensing. But Fink is not daunted – he is in constant communication with the space authorities. “The safety features of my Multicopter are of much higher quality than the one applicable to passenger airplanes,” he said. “When an error occurs, I immediately know its cause.” The software is capable of immediately compensating for errors and can solve problems in flight. “The highest development stage will be using the Multicopter for transporting people. At that point, our existing infrastructure will no longer be a variable factor,” Fink said. “We will be able to plan the time it takes to travel a route exactly and simply ignore traffic jams and strikes.” But for now, that is science fiction.