A team of eight NUS students, combining skills and expertise in computer, electrical and mechanical engineering, has successfully designed and built Singapore's first personal flying machine.
Dubbed Snowstorm, the futuristic contraption took one year to develop and is the brainchild of Team FrogWorks, a collaboration between NUS Engineering's Design Centric Programme (DCP) and the University Scholars Programme (USP) at NUS.
The machine got its name from its hexagonal appearance resembling a snowflake and the central position of its pilot in the "eye of the storm".
Snowstorm boasts an impressive 24 motors and an equivalent number of propellers, which receive 52.8 kW of power from three rechargeable lithium batteries. The frame is made of aluminium beams, carbon fibre plates and tubes tied with Kevlar ropes.
"We constantly had to balance and consider trade-offs between the types of materials, their characteristics and weight, said Year 3 Engineering student Shawn Sim. In some cases, the team even 3D-printed parts to have a customised and optimal fit, he added.
Year 3 students Wang Yuyao (left) and Xue Yushu from Team FrogWorks making final adjustments before the flight
The electric-powered aircraft is capable of vertical take-off and landing like a helicopter. It can be controlled by a single person of up to 70 kg seated within, for a flight time of about five minutes.
With safety as a priority, a five-point harness secures the pilot while inflated gym balls are incorporated into the six landing gear legs to cushion the impact. In addition, the batteries were designed to function independently in the event that any should malfunction, while a switch to end the flight and land the craft safely can be operated from the ground if the pilot is incapacitated.
After several rounds of testing with a dummy, the machine had its first successful flight with a live subject during a demonstration on 2 December at Chua Thian Poh Hall in University Town. Year 2 Engineering and USP student Zheng Xiaowen had no fears however, saying that she had "complete faith in the team's work.
Rather than an alternative mode of transportation, the prototype is intended for personal recreation use in large indoor spaces. "A common trope in popular science fiction is the projection of humans flying on our own think The Jetsons, or even Back to the Future. NUS Snowstorm shows that a personal flying machine is a very real possibility said Dr Joerg Weigl, Lecturer at DCP, who supervised the project along with Associate Professor Martin Henz from USP.
Despite the successful maiden flight, the team will continue to fine-tune Snowstorm in terms of software, safety measures, and propeller and motor configurations to enhance its safety, simplicity and performance.