Commencing as a hands-on boat builder, Dario Valenza, Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Carbonix, later studied as a Mechanical Engineer. He gained early experience as part of several America’s Cup teams and pioneered full hydrofoiling in A-Class catamarans at World Championship winning levels.
This involvement and technical experience conditioned Dario to question and push technological boundaries. He founded Carbonix in 2011 as a consulting company specialising in the design and construction management of high-performance racing sailboats. Among a number of stellar achievements, the company developed and supplied advanced control systems for Moth customers, including Australian Olympic sailing team Gold Medal winners.
As Dario explains:“Drawing on aeronautics and aerodynamics and next-generation composite materials and technologies, we were able to make high performance yachts fly. The hull being out of the water drastically reduces drag and immediately increases the speed of the yacht allowing speeds of more than 70 kilometres per hour for some classes. From a production perspective, it was all learning; we pushed the edge of what could be done at any given time – like doing large hulls out of carbon fibre and managing the resin flow and the cure and core bonding to minimise weight and maximise stiffness.”
In 2014, Carbonix produced the Volanti Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) UAV. Volanti is an evolution of Cometa, that had been developed in partnership with Spain based D3 Applied Technologies. Being able to dramatically improve the performance and practicality of commercial UAVs defined a new direction for Carbonix.
Aeroelasticity is the interaction between aerodynamic forces and non-rigid structures. “Designing and engineering for aeroelastic behaviour is fundamental to maximising the performance of hydrodynamic and aerodynamic craft. Using advanced materials and technology, aeroelastic behaviour can be modelled and tuned. This specialisation led me to build yachts, planes, and cars,” Dario said.
Production is all done on site where they engineer the tooling and composite construction, mainly using carbon fibre prepregs, vacuum bagging and oven technology. But as the Carbonix team developed lighter, stronger and more efficient composites airframes, the company found that the avionics systems weren’t advancing at the same rate. “The market wanted a fully operational UAV. But we realised that available electronics stymied reliability, endurance and range. We then had to develop the capabilities in-house and invent some of the core components of the systems ourselves,” advised Dario.
The company’s two main fixed-wing VTOL Power Lift vehicles are the Volanti and the Domani. The Volanti has a wingspan of 3.6 metres, while the Domani has a wingspan of 4.5 metres. Volanti is all-electric whilst Domani uses a petrol hybrid system which gives it the ability to carry as much as 5kg for up to 10 hours. Both vehicles are capable of executing automated aerial surveys over very large areas and operate from difficult terrain. They are fitted with proprietary avionics with a range of sophisticated sensors that can be customised to end-use applications.
Carbonix also offers a design consultancy and engineering service as well as custom manufacturing of prototypes and productisation of customer projects. It has extended its services to include training, maintenance and customisation and now offers cost effective leasing arrangements for its UAVs.
A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was recently signed between Carbonix and the global industrial conglomerate, Honeywell International Inc. The partnership will see the Carbonix vehicles fitted with Honeywell’s brand new Small UAV SATCOM systems. Weighing only one kilogram, Honeywell’s technology can enable connectivity in remote areas far away from the drone’s Ground Control Station. This takes away dependency on ground-based communication networks, freeing the user to capture high-quality data during long-endurance flights over remote locations. Satellite connectivity also enables Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) command and control, real-time video streaming, and communication over long distances for defence and civilian missions.
As the technology and policies around UAVs continue to develop, their usage in private and commercial applications multiplies beyond surveillance and reconnaissance. Utility sectors, as well as construction and mining are increasingly using drones. So too are community safety services such as firefighting and search and rescue. Urban air mobility and the use of drones for delivery services are said to be the new frontiers in aviation. Dario’s view is that the next step-change will rely on the interface between avionics, payload, endurance and range enabled by advanced performance materials and production systems such as composites.
Written by Kerryn Caulfield, Executive Director of Composites Australia Inc.