System and method for performing precision guided air to ground package delivery
1. A system for delivering goods to the ground from an aerial vehicle, including:
- cargo to be delivered; and
an outer delivery package configured to house said cargo; and
a flight controller located inside said aerial vehicle; and
a designated landing site.
Described is a method of delivery for cargo or goods from an aerial vehicle (mothership) to a designated ground delivery location via the use of a direct air shipping (DASH) package. For example an aerial vehicle may be an airplane or helicopter that remains at altitude with a DASH packaged stowed for deployment. As the mothership travels in the vicinity of the designated location the DASH package flight control computer (flight controller) calculates a preferred travel trajectory based upon the aerodynamic properties of the package and location relative to the designated delivery location such as a small delivery pad located on a patio of a home. When the mothership transits through a calculated release point the DASH package disengages the mothership. As the DASH package descends it may increase accuracy relative to the designated delivery location by altering aerodynamic properties to maintain the preferred travel trajectory and decreasing landing zone size requirements and increasing precision of delivery. To reduce the impact force at landing the designated delivery location and/or the DASH package may contain a net, airbag, parachute or similar device to provide a suitably soft landing suitable for commercial home delivery.
- 1. A system for delivering goods to the ground from an aerial vehicle, including:
- cargo to be delivered; and
an outer delivery package configured to house said cargo; and a flight controller located inside said aerial vehicle; and a designated landing site.
- View Dependent Claims (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)
- cargo to be delivered; and
- 12. A method for delivering goods to the ground from an aerial vehicle including the steps of:
Inserting the cargo to be delivered into an outer delivery package; storing said outer delivery package in an aerial vehicle; programming a desired landing location into memory onboard said aerial vehicle; releasing said outer delivery package from said aerial vehicle; deploying aerodynamic features on said outer delivery package; controlling the direction of said outer delivery package while in flight; and allowing said outer delivery package to land at said designated landing spot.
- View Dependent Claims (13, 14, 15, 16)
The present invention relates generally to the air delivery of goods from an airplane or helicopter, or other aerial vehicle, to a ground location by means of an autonomously guided package. Specifically the present invention relates to a system and method for a guided aerial delivery package to provide high accuracy package deliveries regardless of external atmospheric or ground conditions. Depending on the fragility of the cargo, the autonomously guided package may be directed to land on pre-placed landing gear.
Airdrop systems have been use for many decades to perform delivery from airplanes. In its simplest form a package is dropped from a moving airplane such that forward momentum carries the package towards the intended ground location. This simple solution has long been used to provide humanitarian aid in areas plagued by famine, natural disasters or war.
Alternatively some slightly more advanced systems make use of parachutes, airfoils, or gliders or the like. Those devices reduce landing impact forces, and allow for “soft landings” in order to protect the dropped cargo. Still more recent configurations include electronic flight controllers that may be used to calculate or predict the flight path of a parachute or glider in order to increase precision of the flight path or to provide feedback and control of flight surfaces to steer the package towards the designated landing location.
Air drops have need to deliver goods as close as possible to the end user in order to reduce secondary transit modes such as truck or hand delivery, and may take place in congested locations where buildings, persons or vehicles may be present in the vicinity of air drop operations. Therefore it is critical that air dropped packages land within a designed landing sites and do not accidentally hit uninvolved structures or persons. Landing zones must therefore be large enough to account for the inherent inaccuracy of parachute or glider approaches, and clear of tall obstructions on approach path.
Conventional Air drop systems today attempt to address the need for delivery accuracy through the use of parachute or parafoil structures with an underslung load commonly consisting of a pallet, box, or bag.
The main drawback with parachute structures and other comparable structures used in the art today is that such devices are not able to provide sufficient guidance or control in all weather conditions such as high wind. Accurate landings cannot be guaranteed in such adverse conditions. In addition to landing inaccuracy, parachute and comparable structures are fragile and can be damaged in adverse conditions. For example, a controllable parachute with a low forward airspeed is also subject to collapse or loss of lift from a tailwind.
Another drawback to existing systems in the art is that parachute or comparable systems require large surface area chutes relative to the package size. The result is that the parachute or similar device may become entangled in trees, power lines, light poles or other ground obstructions near the landing location.
Yet another drawback is that parachutes are designed for a specific wing loading range and thus may only operate in a narrow performance window for minimum and maximum payload capacity. This limitation requires the use of multiple parachute sizes or ballast weights in order to cover a broad range of package weights.
In addition, parachute performance characteristics also require the use of secondary systems or multi parachute deployments in order to operate at the cruising speed and altitudes common to commercial cargo aircraft. The reason being that parachutes are designed for a target wing loading and cannot adapt to a wide range of load capacities while maintaining acceptable performance. These problems with parachute and parafoil performance increase the weight of the deployed system overall, and moreover decrease accuracy. The result is also increased cost and complexity. Moreover, the inherent inaccuracy and inability for controlled parachute systems to reliably land in all weather conditions requires the use of large landing zones generally relegated to fields of several acres or larger and to take place away from structures, or ground personnel that may be inadvertently struck by landing parachutes or packages.
Alternatively, powered or unpowered gliders may also be used to deliver cargo airdropped from airplanes. Similar to parafoils, gliders employ aerodynamic lift in order to reduce vertical descent rate and control surfaces to increase precision of landing. However, gliders require a large wingspan in order to maintain a suitable glide ratio generally greater than 10:1, and also require strong materials in order to maintain structural rigidity at launch speeds typical of cargo aircraft.
Conventional airdrop systems moreover have the drawback that they are not suitable for performing routine commercial delivery in developed or urban regions in which a heightened need for precision landing accuracy and flight during adverse weather conditions may exist. In addition, conventional airdrop systems are expensive, inaccurate and complex to integrate into traditional air cargo operations and thus are primarily used to support military operations, or relegated for special use cases away from ground activity. The present invention solves these and other problems.
The device and system of the present invention provide an efficient and accurate way to accomplish air to ground shipments in a variety of settings including urban areas. The present invention can be accurately deployed in adverse or extreme weather systems. In addition, the present invention is capable of safely accommodating fragile cargo. For those reasons and others discussed herein, the device of the present invention substantially departs from the conventional concepts and designs know in the prior art. The improvements disclosed in the present invention allow for a low cost apparatus that provides accurate airdrops suitable for all commercial flight conditions and delivery to all locations.
The deficiencies of the prior art as described previously are substantially overcome by the use of a guided direct air-shipping package in conjunction with a flight controller. According to one aspect of the present invention, a direct air shipping system consists of a direct air-shipping package that encases a payload to provide a vehicle of known aerodynamic properties. Specifically the aerodynamic shape is designed to be high drag relative to traditional flight vehicles such that forward velocity and terminal velocity are reduced. The intention of the aerodynamic shape is to diminish all foreword airspeed such that the package falls vertically, similar to the trajectory a shuttlecock might take.
The aerodynamic properties of the direct air-shipping package of the present invention may be numerically modeled in a manner that predictively estimates the resulting ground location based upon conditions at time of release from the aerial vehicle or “mother ship.”
According to another aspect of the invention, the package that is deployed from the mother ship (the direct air-shipping package, or “DASH” package), may contain fins, wings or deflectable surfaces to alter flight path sufficient to maintain heading towards the designated ground location. Such surfaces may be folded or stowed before or during launch to increase the packing efficiency of the DASH packages in the mothership.
According to another aspect of the invention a flight controller determines position of the DASH package system using GPS signals and other sensors to determine location, orientation and velocity relative to the designated ground location.
According to another aspect of the invention the flight controller executes the predictive model to calculate in real time an acceptable release window such that the natural trajectory will coincide with the target ground location.
According to another aspect of the invention, after launch, the flight controller continuously monitors the flight path of the DASH package based upon the numerical model. The flight controller may deflect aerodynamic control surfaces such as fins to further reduce error and maintain a trajectory of the DASH package towards the target ground location.
According to another aspect of the invention, the flight controller includes a transceiver, such as a radio modem or cellular modem. During flight, the transceiver is used to transmit position, altitude, orientation or other information regarding the DASH package to a base location. The base location may be located on the ground, in the deploying mothership, or in another location. The information from the flight controller may be used to monitor operation of the system in real-time. Additionally, the transceiver may receive information from the base location. Such information may include manual override control of the system or change in target coordinates, or external sensor information such as atmospheric conditions like ground wind speed.
According to another aspect of the invention, a designated landing location may contain a net, airbag, or low density foam matting or similar system to slow the decent of the DASH package and enable soft landings of the stowed cargo. The designated landing location may also include, lighting, navigation beacons, anemometers or other devices to aid in the delivery and navigation of the DASH package.
According to another aspect of the invention, the nose of the DASH package may be constructed of material configured into an energy absorbing crushable impact zone. This zone may be used to further reduce landing force experienced by the cargo and may provide a suitable soft impact for commercially shipped goods. To further cushion the landing, the nose of the DASH package may also include an inflatable airbag. That airbag could be compact when not in use, and would inflate upon impact in order to protect fragile cargo on landing.
The device of the present invention will now be described with reference to the figures. As disclosed herein, the DASH package system enables the unique capability of delivering goods or cargo to a designated landing zone with several advantages over current airdrop platforms. The present invention possesses numerous advantages over current airdrop systems.
As shown in
Designated landing site (2) may be any designated area intended to the land DASH vehicles. The landing site may consist of any area cleared of overhead obstructions such that a clear path from the mother ship to the landing site may be traced. In the preferred embodiment, the landing site may contain a net, foam pit, airbag or similar device to slow the DASH package at deceleration rate, which does not harm the shipped goods or cargo. Ground sensors such as anemometers, GPS base stations, or similar may be used to update the flight controller on conditions in the vicinity of the landing site. This data may be communicated to the mother ship or Flight controller by means of two-way radio modem, cellular tower, Wi-Fi or similar wireless communication technology. Navigation lights, markings or symbols may also be used to visually designate the landing site or create an improvised landing site. As the DASH vehicle may have high precision to a specific landing point the designated ground location may be much smaller than traditional helipads, runways or other landing locations further enabling more options on suitable landing locations and lower cost in the construction and maintenance of landing zones.
In one embodiment, mother ship (1) may be a Cessna 206, or other cargo aircraft. Mother ship (1) stows the package during flight operations and travels toward the general vicinity of the designated ground location. The ground location may be programmed into a flight controller onboard mother ship (1). That programming may be achieved by uploading GPS coordinates in advance of the flight. Alternatively the programming may be achieved by identifying a ground location during flight and using Lidar, Cameras, GPS, triangulation or other sensors to determine precise ground location. Navigation towards the ground location may be aided by the flight controller acting as a secondary navigation aid by means of tablet computer or similar display device that may provide directional guidance toward the designated ground location.
Sensor pod (6) may preferably contain a plurality of sensors such as GPS, infrared and/or visual cameras, altimeters, air speed sensors, and laser range finders. Other sensors and aids known in the art may alternatively be used. The devices in sensor pod (6) aid the flight controller in determining location, velocity and atmospheric conditions in relation to the desired ground location. In an alternate embodiment, a base station at the landing site may provide additional telemetry by means of a two-way radio modem or similar communication standard. The sensors are discussed further in connection with
The flight controller located in mother ship (1) uses the telemetry and sensor information in order to calculate a release trajectory that will result in DASH package (3) landing at the designated landing site (2) with minimal to no external energy or need to modify this natural trajectory. This preferred trajectory and release window may optionally be displayed on the secondary navigation aid (laptop or tablet screen) as a three dimensional volume, 2D or 3D approach for the pilot to follow in order to reach their designated ground location.
Once the release window has been transited the flight controller signals to a release actuator to drop or launch DASH package (3) on the preferred trajectory beginning the flight phase. In an alternative embodiment, the DASH package may be manually released from mother ship (1). In that embodiment, an operator on board mother ship (1) may open a hatch or other portal. A computing display such as a tablet or other computing device would display a countdown to release, at which time the operator would deploy the package. After release DASH package (3) may fold, inflate, or deploy aerodynamic features such as tail fins, wings or nose section. The purpose of this is to increase packing factor and ease of launch in the as-stowed configuration and to protect control surfaces from harsh conditions during the launch phase. Increasing packing factor allows a larger number of DASH vehicles to be stowed within a given cargo aircraft volume allowing for increased operational efficiency and lower cost per package compared to fixed wing gliders, multi rotors or parachute based systems.
Reference will now be made to
As shown in block 12, mother ship (1) is piloted towards the location of the designated landing site (2). The flight controller may optionally output secondary navigation information to a computer interface such as a monitor to aid in navigation to the designated landing site. As shown in block 14, the flight controller continuously calculates a preferred trajectory based upon sensor inputs such as GPS, altimeters, and accelerometers in order to calculate a release window consisting of a bounded volume of space in which the as-released flight trajectory will intercept the designated landing zone. Other equipment known in the art may alternatively be employed.
Block 16 shows that when the release window is reached, the flight controller actuates a release servo or similar mechanism to detach DASH package (3) from mother ship (1). As shown in Block 20, Dash package (3) begins the flight phase of the operation in which the DASH vehicle is traveling on a ballistic trajectory towards the ground. DASH package (3) then begins the natural trajectory phase of flight in which the forward momentum and aerodynamic properties impart a trajectory. Control surfaces or the vehicle may be optionally maintained in a stowed configuration until forward air speed or other triggers are met.
As shown in Block 22, in the preferred embodiment DASH package (3) may deploy, wings, fins or other similar structures in order to transit from an aerodynamic or volumetrically efficient configuration to the maneuverable flight form. The deployment may be trigger by the flight controller due to preset altitude limits, or sensor inputs such as air speed or attitude.
As shown in Block 30, the navigation sensors continuously calculate error from the preferred trajectory based upon input data from sensors (32). The input data is interpreted by the flight controller navigation algorithm (34). That algorithm determines the deflection of control surfaces to continually reduce error in the positioning of DASH package (3). The flight controller may then output commands to actuators 36 in order to move control surfaces such as fins or wings 38. Error calculation and correction is then continuously performed until terminated by the flight controller or manual override.
In one embodiment, the operator may manually override navigation and actuate control surfaces by communication via radio modem or other wireless communication devices. Control override may consist of altering the preferred trajectory or GPS coordinates of the designated landing site or by manually manipulating control surfaces.
As shown in Block 42, prior to the time at which DASH package (3) impacts the landing area, landing triggers may be set by crossing a altitude threshold, minimum distance trigger, or similar sensor inputs. The landing trigger may be optionally used to perform deployment of a drogue chute, stowage of wings or control surfaces or orientation of the vehicle into a preferred landing configuration. DASH package (3) then lands at the designated landing site as shown in Block 46, and ceases flight operations.
Reference is now made to
A suite of sensors (50) such as GPS (52), Magnetometer (54), 3-axis Accelerometers (56), barometer (58) and Video Cameras (60) gather information sufficient to provide telemetry and information to determine the location, orientation, heading and flight conditions of the DASH package. The sensors may be self-correcting and error rejecting such that the particular sensor providing the highest fidelity is weighted for use within the Flight Controller (70) Navigation algorithm. The FCC (70) processes the measured flight information then commands a suite of actuators (80) to deflect the corresponding servos (82-88) to maintain or modify the flight path. Additional servos may optionally be used to perform other tasks throughout the flight phase such as control surface deployment (90) or backup parachute or landing device deployment (92).
A suite of communication hardware (100) maybe used to transmit data from the mother ship or from a ground operator to obtain the status or impart commands after the DASH vehicle launch. A video transmitter (102) maybe used to deliver video data from the camera sensor (60) and may be transmitted via a radio modem, analog radio or similar (104). Telemetry data (106) from any of the sensor suites may also be optionally transmitted via the radio modem. Servo Control data may optionally transmitted or received via the radio control transceiver (108). Such data may be used to send override commands or manually command the DASH vehicle servos.
Reference is now made to
The vehicle body (120) may be made out of Styrofoam, plastic or similar material that can be fabricated at low cost. The vehicle body is designed as a rectangular prism to maintain a high packing efficiency of traditional shipping boxes (140). A nose section (122) may be preferably made out of a material such as Styrofoam that compresses upon impact with the ground to act as a crumple zone, and aiding in the suitably soft landing for the shipping box (140) inside. In one embodiment, the nose section may contain an inflatable airbag, which is deployed upon landing in order to further protect the cargo. Wings (124) may be optionally installed or deployed to provide increased lift or modify the aerodynamic performance based upon package weight.
The DASH package is designed such that the aerodynamic properties are known enabling calculation of the trajectory during flying. Compared to a Sail plane or para-wing, in the preferred embodiment the DASH package has a very low lift to drag ratio such that it cannot provide adequate lift to soar long distances or maintain a straight and level flight path. In the preferred embodiment the flight path is straight down, similar to a skydiver, accomplished by using the high drag body and control surfaces to remove all forward airspeed and instead drop vertically at terminal velocity. The purpose of the straight down trajectory is to enable landing in areas with nearby ground obstructions like trees, tall buildings, vehicles or persons, and also to reduce the effects of vertical error in GPS sensors. In the straight down trajectory a landing is possible as long as the landing site has an unobstructed view of the sky. This is in contrast to sailplanes or parachutes that may have in excess of a 10:1 glide ratio and require a clear approach path. The secondary benefit is that there is no need to accurately measure height above ground level. GPS is known to be inaccurate in the Z-axis, a gliding approach path requires a longer landing site or additional sensors to account for inaccuracies in the height above ground level. As the DASH package is coming straight down guidance only needs to be provided continually in the X and Y axis regardless of altitude above target. This vastly simplifies the navigation requirements and complexity of the control process and increases repeatability of landing operations, as no complex flare control flaps or similar device are needed during a touchdown phase.
Control surfaces (132), depicted as grid fins in this embodiment, may be deflected to modify the attitude of the DASH package and thus alter the flight path. The grid density, pattern and arrangement may be modified to increase drag into an optimal range. In conjunction the aerodynamic drag of the vehicle body (120) and grid fins may be used to maintain a specific terminal velocity range to reduce vertical descent rate during the flight phase. The FCC is mounted in the tail kit (130) of the DASH vehicle. In this configuration the vehicle body may be made low cost and disposable while the tail kit may be optionally recovered to reduce the cost of repeat package shipments. This allows for the optional recovery and reuse of the tail kit and disposal or recycling of the DASH package body (120).
The package (140) may consist of a standard commercial cardboard shipping box typical of commercial deliveries. The package is inserted into the dash vehicle. The location of the package may be shifted along the length of the vehicle or rotated to improve the location of the Center of gravity relative to the aerodynamic center of lift and thus increase static contrability and flight characteristics.
All examples herein are to be construed as being without limitation to such specifically recited examples and conditions. Moreover, all statements herein reciting principles, aspects, and embodiments of the invention, as well as specific examples thereof, are intended to encompass both structural and functional equivalents hereof. Additionally, it is intended that such equivalents include both currently known equivalents as well as equivalents developed in the future, i.e., any elements developed that perform the same function, regardless of structure.