The first racing drone to carry a human pilot on board ALAUDA AIRSPEEDER v3
Jansen wants to be that human pilot. Now you probably know lexi from her youtube channel where she makes content about fpv drones and drone racing. But recently she was hired by airspeeder, moved to australia and is now a full time test pilot for the air speeder hi, everyone, im, lexi johnson, aka, mayan high uh fpv racing pilot videographer, photographer youtuber dear friend, of joshua bardwells, and currently also racing pilot for flying Cars for airspeed, my names harry im, an aerospace and software engineer at louder, aeronautics, uh, the technical partner of airspeed – and i am super happy to have been invited to talk to you guys, uh, because this vehicle that is sitting behind you right now is probably one Of the coolest things in i, like my gut, wants to say, coolest things in fpv, because thats just what i say, but its not really an fpv craft and in some senses its not really an rc craft either, although you are flying it with rc and fpv. These days is that right, lexi, yes, thats absolutely right were flying this with hd0 and its absolutely remotely controlled right now. Okay, so lets talk about like this craft and actually thats. Why im glad harry is here, because i want to get into the technical, specs and capabilities of what this damn thing can do before we talk about how you got to be here, flying it and what the hopes are for the future like what does this mean? But lets just focus on the craft um.
I see that it has eight motors harry. What what can you tell us about the technical, specs and capabilities sure yeah? So it is a octa rotor, so coaxial, as you can see, um just to allow, for you know the most amount of propulsion that we can get with the space that we have. Probably an interesting note with the system is that if you see the top motors theyre actually on an angle to the bottom motors and obviously an interesting artifact of that is at this scale, with an aircraft at this scale with aerodynamic forces um, you actually need more. Your authority than you have on the smaller drones. You know youve got a lot more inertia at this size, so uh yeah, youll notice that the top motors are on a bit of an angle to the bottom thats, not so conventional on a drone so thats to improve our your authority. Actually so an interesting little artifact there um in terms of the uh chemistry of the batteries, were running a lithium polymer battery, similar to what you see in the fpv world, um running at 58.8, volts um high current system in terms of escs, we run 300 mpscs, Which are current limited in software, so the props are a 32 inch prop uh? What does it weigh okay in terms of all up wait when the aircraft is fully loaded, its uh 150 kilos, so its heavy and whats going on what kind of thrust to weight ratio? What kind of thrust does it make at the moment? The thrust to weight ratio would be its around three to one.
If im correct, i have to check those numbers again but around three to one yeah, a lot less than we like in in very small quads. We see somewhere between maybe eight and twelve, to one theyre super powerful, but three to one is respectable for an aircraft yeah yeah. So i generally for vtol control. I think youre wanting above you know 1.2 for controllability um to ensure in vital youre able to combat all the disturbances. So yeah look um. One thing that weve learned a big lesson, and especially if people like lexi coming in, is that these aircraft, what separates them from a normal fpv drone, is actually that they fly um. You know very differently to a small fpv drone youve got so much more inertia. So much more momentum, so its funny. When you see these things, you expect them to. You know to flick around like an fpv drone, but they actually fly in a very coordinated manner like a fixed wing aircraft. So i flipped it in the simulator, hopefully in the simulator and thats it its all well and good for harry to tell us all these specs, but you have actually gotten to fly this aircraft. How? How familiar was this airspeeder to you with the first time you flew it compared to like one of your racing drones or how different well, the first time i actually compared it to a cinewoop, its a little bit more stable and its of course slower.
So i tried doing a lot of stuff in the simulator first, so i started with you know, going straight trying to turn and it felt a little bit more sluggish, which of course makes sense. I mean its a 150 kilogram kilograms. Big thing i dont know how much it is in pounds so um id add it somewhere. We could put that on screen. Yeah put it on the screen, because i have no idea um and yeah. It flies a little bit more sluggish, but also the thing is that i mean its supposed to kind of like i i saw it coming, but im pretty familiar with it. It feels really like a really big cinewoop and you can slalom it i already tested it. Can flip, of course, bread and grant are really bad because of this they like dont. Do it and trust me. I will um one day eventually will just so they havent, let you flip it. Yet is what youre saying no, they havent. Let me flip it, although i i was asking like, can i flip it and theyre like no um, so dont worry all right well get that uh in in the simulator, so theyve got a a dedicated simulator specifically to let you learn how to fly and learn. How this flies they didnt, just cut you loose and say here, go give it a give it a whirl yeah, its actually pretty amazing. First, we started doing simulator with our rc controllers.
Just you know. First guy radio master whatever but were switching to hotas. So we will have literally like pedals for your um one big throttle like an aircraft and a roll and pitch on the other joystick, so its actually pretty much a lot of fun um. There must have been so much pressure on you. I was going to say the first time you flew it, but frankly, every time you fly it and again ill go back to my experience with my beast class, which was a oh fifteen hundred dollar quadcopter, but every time i flew it, i was so concerned that I was gon na crash. What are you allowed to say what one of these would cost if you crashed it and totaled, it im afraid that if i crash it and total it well all lose our jobs. So no pressure like see but right its not just because its not just the cost of of one aircraft, but the implications for the program as a whole. Uh so theres a lot of pressure when it goes to licensing safety and were having so many things around safety uh that its like, i its actually like hard to crush it, because we have a lot of redundancy also inside so no worries that were fine. I wont crash well lets talk about that. Well, lets talk about that because im sure a lot of people are wondering like is this just an acro drone that you could fly into the ground or does it have things like altitude control, speed, limiting uh position, hold safety airbags? I dont know what kind of safety uh protocols are in place uh with this aircraft yeah yeah, so you mentioned a few um.
So, of course, yes, we have a lot of so at the moment when were in our testing program uh, we dont actually fly in acro mode, so thats might be interesting for some um, its very much a safety point of view at the moment. So, while were dealing with tuning the aircraft understanding a lot of its dynamic responses which are vastly different from a small scale, fpv drone, we have to have it in stabilized mode, because theres a lot of things that these new fpv powers that come in wouldnt expect Because it does handle differently, we have position modes. So, as you said, we use a mix of actually real time. Kinematic corrections on the gps system. Uh we have radar altimeters, um weve got an array of sensors such as barometric sensors, thats, pretty standard. We fuse all of that and then we can have this system. You know basically appear like its on a string. It sits dead, still uh even in wind disturbances, so thats, another safety mode. So, for example, when the pilots actually come in to land um, they will land in position mode, so theyll go from stabilized to position and that ensures that the vehicle is not walking as theyre coming into our landing um. Of course, we also have our autonomous functions. Why wouldnt you so you know, weve got our return to launch functions, weve got auto land um and, of course, we take failsafes very, very seriously.
Thats, probably when we design the aircraft. Failsafe is pretty much on the top of our list, so we go into sort of every single permutation understand what events can cause the aircraft to do what so, for example, you know, link losses, what happens if the link is lost and then comes back and we Ensure that the aircraft is going to you know come back home safely, essentially so theres a lot of safety uh. You mentioned that its octo configuration and, of course thats for redundancy, so you could lose one or more motors and still be able to return home or land safely. Um. Are you able to talk about any other like im sure people are wondering, do you have redundant receivers? Do you have redundant flight controllers? Do you have redundant escs? Well, i dont know what what what other levels of redundancy are in place that we wouldnt expect on a smaller drone, yeah, so uh one redundancy would definitely be uh the way in which the the powertrain architecture is laid out so ill start with the batteries. So the batteries uh have a level of redundancy where essentially, the top layer are controlled by one battery which is separated on each end. So the front top motors theyve got one cell which which powers them the bottom motors, have a different cell. So weve done that uh for a very good reason. Of course you know battery failures, they do happen. Lithium, polymer chemistry is not always that stable.
So we do that for a good reason, so theres redundancy in the packs if a battery fails weve still got at least one layer of motors on the front or rear, so yeah thats the first um in terms of flight control. So we have um a triple redundant imu system, so we can ensure that were getting non corrupted. Data um, yes, and in terms of telemetry links, an important one, is that we have fail safe and kill systems a bit of a crew words there, but a kill system that works on a completely separate telemetry band and it runs through a completely different mechanism. So, for example, uh youll all be familiar with how youve got a kill, switch on your flight controller or on your transmitter, which sends a signal through to the flight controller itself. We actually have a totally external kill system which runs on a completely different frequency band and that actually isolates the batteries using mechanical uh contactors. So pretty much if we had to kill the aircraft and yes so its uh, its a very mechanical system, very, very sort of brute force, commercially, its a giant relay that cuts the batteries off. So, in the worst case scenario, the aircraft couldnt possibly fly away. Exactly exactly right: yep yep, so that is worst case. Obviously thats like no one wants to press the big red button, but its there. If we need it so under under a plastic cover.
Yes, absolutely i dont think anyone would be surprised that if you crashed a manned aircraft and or injured a pilot that would be a big deal or that if you crashed and you you know an unmanned aircraft in a way that injured a person on the ground. Obviously those would be big deals um. I do think uh people are gon na say, look if youre gon na race, these things, surely theres gon na, be you know, like they say, ricky bobby right, robins racing. How can you race them, but also you cant, take the risk of crashing them. We kind of think that we will crash. I mean everyone, crashes formula, one crashes, we we will crash as well uh. We have some redundancy systems, we have some safety systems so on the screen. When we have our osd, which we call the hud, we will get an information thats showing us on the screen that there is something like we have one thing which is like a little circle on the head, and it shows us where the other speeders are so Its not like, with a normal racing when youre, just flying and all of a sudden theres someone coming from above you and youre having a heart attack, because you will know that there is someone in there because of this little screen there, as well as theres. Like a line that shows you that there is something on top of you below you on the sides, so we will see where other people are so thats kind of like a safety feature.
But you know it occurs to me to wonder lexi when youre flying fpv. Is it a fixed camera? Is it a gimbal camera? Can you literally look around or is it just not like its a fixed fpv camera, but on hud we really see. We have all the information about all the other speeders, so thats kind of like seeing knowing whats going on around you. So special awareness is that so its a safety feature for us, its a safety feature for the speed s and for everyone around as well. Of course um. Well i mean theres no better time than now. What kind of stuff? What kind of interesting stuff are you doing with the hud yeah yeah, so itd be a great time to talk about telstra purple, so telstra purple are our technical partner. With this system, so they not only help us with the telemetry system, some of the fail safe systems but theyre helping us with this really experimental and really interesting new fpv system. So, typically in fpv races, you know you have actual physical banners gates to fly through right. Basically, so in our system, its uh, its a bit more exciting and were going to the next level sort of trying to push this more futuristic feel so we actually have 3d elements injected into the fpv feed. At real time. We have hud information and its sort of this amazing example of distributed systems all coming together, where we can have virtual gates virtual pit lanes over the fpv feed with low latency, so thats.
Actually, what well be thats, what were going to be using in the race thats coming up, so its really exciting ive, seen it myself in action out in in the field and yeah its its a bit of a game. Changer quite incredible, yeah thats always been a real challenge. Um people have tried to do that before, with with hobby drones and the lack of accurate uh position. Information as well. As you know, low latency ar technology has always made it a challenge, but obviously you guys have incredibly accurate position, information and and a lot of money to throw at that problem. Uh its got to be nice, knowing that theres no actual gate for you to crash into yes, exactly so yeah, as opposed to as opposed to having that sort of real life warning. We actually have a series of pilot warnings, so if they miss a gate, if they reach a perimeter, theyll actually get a whole bunch of messages on their screen. We have a similar, weve sort of based a lot of this off of formula one. So the architecture of the the warnings, the flags, its all really based on formula one, which is actually quite cool because, ultimately you know we are the formula one of the skies. So why not base it off of what theyre doing um so yeah its really interesting to see how we can build up this sort of uh virtual environment? And you know optimize the workloads for these pilots so that they can fly as safely and as as competitively as possible lexi.
As long as were talking about racing, i i think people really want to hear about how you got here. Like i from my own personal perspective, i know you as a youtuber, a content creator, a drone, racer uh and one day on facebook. You kind of mysteriously said that you were moving, and then you announced that you had this job and its like. How did how did you find this job? Well, my process was actually that they found me. I got this really mysterious email on my inbox, which was saying hey. We would like to basically pay you for racing and becoming the best pilot you can ever be, and i was like: okay, thats, really vague, thats great. You must have been suspicious because you get all these emails as a youtuber and all of them. I get those a lot. I do get those a lot. Its like lets set up a girl team, which is happening like since 2015 and im always like yeah lets. Do it um, so it was really vague email and i was like okay, but what does it mean, but the email also said that then you have to move to australia and i was like okay, australia. I was never on my list but um. Okay, can you tell me more because i mean two lines of text dont give me much which uh robs probably gon na watch it. So hey rob. How are you doing and uh i? Actually i didnt even i was stupid because i didnt even click because it was saying like asp, then i didnt click it because i was like okay.
This is really vague, probably its a scam and the guy came back to me and he wrote like a huge text about what theyre gon na do and its a flying car that they want me to fly it remotely. First, as i do my normal racing, but also to get inside of the thing, and then i i was reading through this text – and i remember just looking at it like what is this even and then i finally scrolled and clicked the airspeed, then i went through Like this rabbit hole of just going for the instagram youtube website, all the kind of stuff that i could find on google – and i was like i wan na – do it its gon na be great right? Well, how how excited and or terrified are you for the day when they go? Okay were ready to do it its time to climb in and fly it for real im excited. I think all of my family is excited arent. You excited to see me inside the first time, im in im, gon na totally become an imperial marsh and put the gopro in, so everyone can see it im gon na. Do that totally its just awesome. Im excited. I know that i know that you cant give a definite answer and it depends on many things, but how far out are we are we from from this actually being manned like real, like theoretically? How soon could we see somebody flying? One of these, i think harry, would be a better person to answer this, but generally the thing is.
I also need to get licensed as a pilot, as i think, its commercial pilot in general, so this will take at least a year or two to make it happen for us, but at the current stage we are having a test pilot thats going to be testing The manned version – but i think rest for harry right so at the moment, were actually commencing our man program this year. So when i say that were actually starting to design the manned system, so um its exciting weve actually already started to specify and have actually placed orders for some of the crash structures, so the central structure of the system, so its actually happening as we speak, um Weve got a whole team. Um weve got consultants over in uh overseas uh, some that have come from formula one um, some that have come from the aerospace background that are actually working on um the design. You know both aerodynamics and structural uh, looking at crash structures. So it is all happening so, with that in mind, were really looking at getting someone into the seat um at the end of this year, which is really exciting or towards the start of next year. Thats the timeline – i am incredibly excited, uh to see what the future holds for airspeeder for the racing league and lexi for you personally um. Where can people find out more and follow whats going on uh yeah, so you guys can go to spiders, instagram and youtube.
They put a lot of stuff, of course, and you can also go to all the pilots, so its fabrizie uh, stef belin. I think he is and of course, to my place, my on high im posting weekly vlogs from here. So you can see like my first day here. How did i get here and it will be my first flight and all that that type of thing so its going to be super exciting, a lot of vlogs and yeah just follow it on my own hi everywhere. Yeah yeah well, i will put well ill put links to all that stuff down in the video description, so people can follow um well, this is really amazing and i i wish you the best. Thank you. Thank you very much.