College students in Cambodia have produced the prototype of single-passenger drone they hope to develop for eventual use as air taxi transportation and an aerial asset for firefighters. Though only backed by limited funding, the aspiring engineers say their project was driven by the simple desire to solve a few of society’s problems.
The recently tested prototype single-passenger drone was produced by students at the National Polytechnic Institute of Cambodia (NPIC) on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The group of aspiring engineers took three years to develop the craft, working with a tight budget of around $20,000. Despite the pluck and determination that went into its production and trial flight, the not illogically dubbed “NPIC Human Carrier Drone” won’t be causing executives at Volocopter, Lilium, or Joby to bolt up at night in cold sweats just yet.
For now, the trial vehicle can carry an individual weighing up to 132 lbs. a maximum distance of just over half a mile at top altitudes of 13 feet. Battery power is good for around 10 minutes, and then down it comes. Its eight propellers encircle a cockpit featuring one of the school’s less-than-comfy-looking classroom chairs. A crash helmet worn in the test flight appeared to have been repurposed from primary motorcycle use.
Drone development aim: solving social problems
But establishing themselves among the heavyweights of urban air mobility was never part of the group’s ambition. Instead, members say, their motivation was simply to find innovative ways of addressing some of the enduring problems they see every day. That initially focused on finding a way to leap-frog Phnom Penh’s perpetually snarled traffic.
“We had this idea that we wanted to solve some problems for our society by making a drone taxi , as well as drones for firefighters,” fourth-year student and test pilot Lonh Vannsith said in reports on the project. “For high-rise buildings that the average fire trucks can’t reach, this drone could carry water hoses to very high floors on the building.”
Unless Phnom Penh skyscrapers top out at 12 feet, the current prototype will need considerable tech goosing to give it that kind lift firefighters require. The NPIC students know that, however, and are already looking to extend the program another two years to develop the drone further for specific firefighting use.
Members say to do that they’ll probably need to raise another $40,000, and put even more heart into the second iteration as they did to get the original “NPIC Human Carrier Drone” aloft.
As they do, they can take inspiration from Swedish single-passenger drone developer Axel Borg, who invested $10,000 of his own money into his chAIR craft – eventually taking it to very impressive performance levels. True, Borg’s vehicle has since been dissembled and permanently grounded after its parts weakened from metal fatigue. But that doesn’t prevent video of his backyard test flight from going viral over and over again – perhaps the same way footage of the “NPIC Human Carrier Drone” may if more people hear of the project.