Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Swiss Alps to be laser scanned by Swiss-made uncrewed eVTOLs

Swiss-Austrian consortium is planning to test large-area laser scanning applications with drones in the Swiss Alps. The partners are Dufour Aerospace, RIEGL, BSF Swissphoto, and the SLF, who will collaborate for a series of test flights over several months.

There is a growing interest among private and public stakeholders for high-resolution, up-to-date, and cost-effective data, especially in the areas of alpine environmental hazards and energy production. Currently, airplanes and helicopters are used for large-scale, high-resolution laser scanning.

However, a test series is being conducted to demonstrate the efficiency of drone applications, with the aim of reducing environmental impact and significant cost reductions.

Dufour Aerospace, RIEGL, BSF Swissphoto, and the WSL-Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF are collaborating on a project that involves the use of UAS platforms and laser scanners to collect data for snow and avalanche research.

Dufour Aerospace will provide the AeroMini and Aero2 UAS platforms, while RIEGL will provide the laser scanners and help with integration. BSF Swissphoto will contribute to data validation and assess the commercial relevance of the technology and processes, and the WSL-Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF will ensure the data quality meets requirements and support the field test with experienced personnel.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of our AeroMini and Aero2 vertical take-off-and-landing uncrewed aerial systems in relevant applications. We’ll have a shared, clear aim of increasing efficiency in data generation in the medium and long term, supported by renowned, experienced partners. We can’t wait to start,” said Dufour Aerospace Co-founder and CEO Thomas Pfammatter.

The AeroMini is a more compact version with a 3-meter wingspan, while the Aero2 boasts a larger 6-meter wingspan. What’s unique about these aircraft is that they will operate without a pilot onboard.

The Aero2 is an eVTOL aircraft with a versatile tilt-wing configuration and hybrid-electric propulsion for an extended range. It can reach a speed of almost 200 mph (320 kph) while cruising as smoothly as a conventional airplane. The modular propulsion system with an auxiliary power unit also seems to be a great feature, allowing it to cover up to 497 miles (800 km) and increasing its potential area of applications.

One of these machines made it to the US last year, and it was delivered to drone operator Spright, which ordered 40 units from Dufour Aerospace with the option to add 100 more.

The tests are scheduled to begin in Dubendorf, Switzerland, and will gradually expand across the Alpine region over the next two years. If the feedback is positive, this could pave the way for more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly aerial data acquisition.