Churchill postgraduate engineering student Simon Corkery is part of Vortec, a team of engineers who have developed a drone that can operate in strong or gusty winds and at greater angles, providing better results for cinematographers.
In December last year Simon and his team won the C-Prize — an emerging technology competition run by the New Zealand government’s commercial innovation agency Callaghan Innovation for their thrust vectoring UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). Aimed at boosting New Zealand’s position as world-leader in the development of UAV technology, the C-Prize challenged teams to design and build a prototype drone that could overcome one of the obstacles that can hinder their use in the film and TV industry: strong wind, rotor noise and the need to track moving objects automatically.
Focusing on the problem of wind, Simon’s team found inspiration from recent developments in wind-turbine technology to come up with a cutting edge propeller design that allows the drone to thrust in any direction, enabling it to remain stable even in strong winds.
Voretc were one of six finalists selected from 80 entries by a panel of screen industry professionals, prominent investors, and entrepreneurs. Once selected, the team had less than four months to build and test their prototype, develop a commercialisation plan and deliver a business pitch.
Speaking about their break-through design Simon said:
“Designing our drone certainly was a challenging project. For the competition we designed what we now call a thrust vectoring drone. A normal drone must tilt its body to move and react to wind, which causes the camera to move and results in shaky footage. Since the body of the drone must tilt, the drone must move a lot of mass and is quite slow to react to gusts of wind. This means the drone cannot easily maintain a steady position in wind.
Instead we designed a system which allows the direction of thrust to be changed very quickly relative to the drone. This allows the drone to move in any direction without having to tilt the body. Consequently it can respond to gusts of wind much faster, whilst allowing the camera to remain still, giving you good footage. It also enables the drone to hover steadily at any angle (such as sideways, and even upside down), which is impossible to do with standard drones.”
Vortec went on to win the competition with their thrust vectoring drone, the Science and Innovation Minister for New Zealand, Steven Joyce commented on their entry:
“They incorporated a range of advanced sensor systems to understand the environment the UAV is operating in. On top of the significant technical achievement, they presented a very strong commercialisation plan.”
The team won $50,000 and an expenses-paid trip to exhibit at the 2016 National Association of Broadcasters trade show in Las Vegas — the largest international trade show for media content and technology. Vortec’s winning entry had already gained the attention of American film studio DreamWorks through the competition proces. The NAB show gave the team further important exposure to professionals from the international digital media and entertainment industries.
Speaking about their time at the show Simon said:
“There was huge interest in our design as it was the only thrust vectoring drone present, and it solves a real issue for production companies and cinematographers.”
Simon and the rest of the Vortec team are now working towards turning their two prototypes — the SkySlide and the StormTamer, into commercial products for film crews.
Vortec’s members are: Ben MacLaren, Nishaad Salvapantula and Ryan Kurte and Simon Corkery.
Simon is a mechanical engineer, specialising in aerodynamics. He is currently a postgraduate student at Churchill Churchill studying for a PhD in the Energy, Fluid Mechanics and Turbomachinery group of the Department of Engineering.
Simon is a recipient of a Schlumberger Cambridge International Scholarship. Schlumberger works with the Cambridge Trust to off the Schlumberger Cambridge International Scholarship, and there are currently four recipients working in Cambridge in the fields of Engineering, Earth Sciences and Chemistry.