The Aeronautical Association of Split has linked the knowledge and experience of several generations of students, resulting in the Vector VX-3, the brand new Croatian drone.
As Poslovni Dnevnik/Darko Bicak writes on the 14th of February, 2020, what entrepreneur Mate Rimac is to Croatian cars is what Alpha Sagittarius from Split could well be to the world of the Croatian drone.
For many years now, Professor Branko Klarin has been gathering students at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture (FESB) in Split. These are students of aeronautics for whom he has made his laboratory available for both research and ”play”. But as that generation left college, their collective knowledge of aeronautics was lost with them, and then new students started from scratch.
Because of this, the FESB Association – the Aerotechnical Association of Split (AUS) – was founded a year ago, which has succeeded in bringing together the knowledge and experience of several generations of students, which in turn has resulted in the Vector VX-3 Croatian drone project.
These students from Split have won a number of awards here in Croatia and across Europe with their impressive Croatian drone project, and have recently returned from the United States where they were at the renowned AUVSI SUAS Aeronautical Student Competition, traditionally held at the Naval Base in Maryland. They left behind them fierce competition from the likes of Harvard, Penn State and Berkeley, and were the most successful university in Europe.
As explained by Đani Vrsalović, one of the former students of FESB and one of the initiators of the founding of AUS, the interest of potential partners and investors was so great after their appearance in the USA that their work outgrew the possibilities of the association and they had to register as a commercial company .
Given the fact that Vrsalović himself already had a registered company, Alpha Sagittarius, primarily engaged in shipping and tourism, in early 2019 it was decided for that company to become the basis for the development of a commercial Croatian drone development project in which Vrsalović is the majority owner and the other participants are partners. The drone, weighing about 5.5 kilograms, is expected to hit the market by early 2021, and although it’s too early to talk about prices, estimates are that it should range from the 60,000 euro mark upwards.
”Although the drone is most commonly referred to as a multirotor, which rises and is managed by its four propellers, much like a helicopter, this one involves a fixed torso and wings. This is an innovative modular design, and we’ve been recognised in the US, which allows for the drone to be adapted to the needs of its users,” Vrsalović pointed out. It is, he added, a very serious tool that will receive even better quality features and software throughout the course of 2020 that will boast elements of artificial intelligence.
“We expect that its primary function will be in search and rescue operations at sea and in the mountains. It will be optimised for the energy control of transmission lines, pipelines or wind power plants, etc. With the software we develop, it will have the ability to perform operations without problems and to detect problems by default. It will have autonomy of a maximum of three hours and that will be sufficient to make an emergency delivery, such as blood plasma or medication, from Split to Vis, and then return – they will be able to carry cargo weighing up to about 1.5 kilograms,” explained Vrsalović.
So far, the company employs four people, with three more who work occasionally and they have a number of partner companies. “This is almost entirely a Croatian project – of course we have to buy computers and cameras from abroad because we can’t produce them here in Croatia. But everything else, from the composite materials and communication systems, to the software and more, is being developed in Croatia. While we were developing the project within the association, Rimac worked on the composite materials for us.
But when both of us became serious players, we no longer had the capacity to do that, so we found a new partner in the Brzoglas Kaštela company, and our communication equipment is being developed by Stratowave – Connect in Zagreb,” he noted.
So far, 1.5 million kuna has been invested in the project, of which just over one million comes from European Union (EU) funds. Although they don’t plan for these Croatian drones to be used for military purposes just yet, Vrsalović did note that this is the second step that he doesn’t want to talk about in more detail just yet, and will set that subject aside until they perfect the drone in its first step and its commercial uses.
“The military has special NATO standards that imply much more demanding and much more expensive equipment. This greatly raises the cost of development, as well as the final cost of such a drone. We’re thinking about it, but for now, let’s just stick with what we’re doing,” he said. He believes that Alpha Sagittarius has great opportunities for development because drone technology in Europe is far behind the US and some other countries, and that they can make a lot of sense with their ideas and knowledge in the segment of commercial and then military drones.
The turning point for the organisation to start establishing a commercial company was the situation from the AUVSI SUAS competition in the US, where members of the association competed, and where their Vector VX-3 project drew an enormous amount of interest.