May 20, 2013

Using OpenVSP and AutoDesk Project Falcon to model and test drone designs

I came across two tools recently that are handy for designing and testing drone models. The first is OpenVSP (VSP stands for "vehicle sketch pad") available as a free download from NASA. OpenVSP allows you to create models of airplane designs using a toolbox of common airplane objects such as wings, tube fuselage, pods, rotors/propellers and so forth.


It also contains more complex objects such as blended wing-body hybrids. The really cool thing is that all of these objects are parameterized with critical parameters such as the chord for a wing, the NACA airfoil number for a wing, the number of blades on a propeller, and so on. This allows you to quickly fuse together the plane design you desire and tune it with commonly-used aircraft design specifications.
Once you've created a design iteration you'd like to test, you can export an STL file (a common 3D CAD file format) of the design. Then, you can import that into AutoDesk's Project Falcon tool, another free download.

Project Falcon allows you to test your drone design in a virtual wind tunnel. It's a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) app that tests your drone design by simulating the flow of air over the drone's surface.




Falcon also calculates drag and lift forces and shows them in a handy graph. This allows you to fine-tune your design and get an idea how much payload your drone can carry.


The ability to view pressure points on the drone's surface can help you pinpoint problem areas that are causing your drone unwanted drag or loss of lift.

Fun Stuff

For those who are seeking an easy way to quickly iterate their drone designs, these two tools are great for tweaking your design using well-understood airplane and copter components. The virtual wind tunnel CFD capability in Project Falcon can give you an estimate of the flows that will affect your drone before you start building.

The Guts

I've forked the source of OpenVSP and made a handy Mac OSX app bundle available on github.

Posted by todd at May 20, 2013 11:36 AM