Innovators: Design Intelligence Inc.

Published: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 By: Brian Brus

The Journal Record

NORMAN – Norman-based Design Intelligence Inc. has designed its first unmanned aerial vehicle for nonmilitary applications, company President James Grimsley said.

The company unveiled a product line this month in Las Vegas at the AUVSI North America 2012 conference, a major industry gathering hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. The vehicle has a modular payload system and is scalable to fit multiple applications and missions, ranging from atmospheric research to security reconnaissance. And the solar-powered version will be capable of extended flight times, increasing its mission versatility, he said.

The typical consumer probably won’t notice those details as much as the shape and general appearance of the plane itself. The tail, wings, body, and even a head and feather sculpting resemble a bird in flight. Design Intelligence engineers and others in the fledgling industry have discovered that oftentimes the most effective designs have already been developed in the testing lab of nature. The approach is referred to as bio-mimicry.

Grimsley said many of the details of Design Intelligence’s products can’t be openly discussed because of client contracts.

“We’re seeing a lot more interest in small vehicles and the FAA is responding appropriately,” he said. “The markets are developing very quickly. We are developing commercial platforms so that when we are allowed to enter those areas we’ll be ready to take off.”

The industry is still deciding on acronym reference standards for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, including MAVs or micro air vehicles and RPAs or remotely piloted aircraft. Congress passed legislation several months ago that requires the Federal Aviation Administration to work toward allowing UAVs to fly in national airspace with larger vehicles by the end of 2015. Grimsley wants to be positioned to meet that deadline.

“It is important to also note that Oklahoma, as a state, is very active in research and activity in supporting integration of UAVs into the NAS (national airspace),” said Grimsley, who is a member of Gov. Mary Fallin’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Council tasked with guiding the state’s vision in the industry. “We’re benefiting from the accelerated pace backed by the FAA.”

The company’s work is not limited to only UAVs and unmanned systems because so many of the individual systems can be used for other purposes. Design Intelligence has worked with the Navy Research Laboratory and the U.S. Marine Corps, for example, to develop a solar backpack system for use in the field. Grimsley said the backpack can help reduce the number of batteries that Marines have to carry. The company’s research focus is in what he refers to as energy harvesting and advanced power management. Simply put, better fuel sources mean longer use. Grimsley said that includes multi-modal approaches such as incorporating solar energy conversion from panels on top of a plane’s wings and taking advantage of rising warm air currents to soar like birds.

“We’re working on ways that will double and triple the duration and effective range of the smaller vehicles,” he said.

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