Most classes you’ve taken up to this point have probably neglected the importance of iterative prototyping. Usually due to lack of time, you probably ended up just making one final prototype for whatever project you were working on. Prototyping for a full UAV design project should be much more intensive and thorough to ensure your UAV can reasonably fulfill its mission. This page will step you through a standard approach to prototyping.
As you begin designing your UAV, there will likely be a few different configurations and system models that you’ll be considering. During the conceptual stage, one of the most important things to do is to begin creating a CAD model using a software package such as Solidworks®. This will help you to visualize how all of the different components fit together from each system. Some basic physical models using posterboard or cardboard may also be useful for doing a quick physical prototype.
Once you have a general idea of what your UAV is going to look like, you will want to start thinking about what materials and processes to use for your final build. One way to do this is to create a manufacturing plan (see Figure 1). A manufacturing plan is a general outline of the critical processes and technologies required to manufacture your UAV. This may change considerably as more analysis is conducted, but it’s good to have a general concept of how everything will be manufactured.
As your project progresses, you will find it very helpful to continue builiding many prototypes of each subsystem and likely the entire UAV. This gives you lots of chances to see points of failure before launching the final build, which is likely much more elaborate (and expensive). You will also find that your team’s motivation and excitement will increase when they can begin to see the fruits of their labor.
You should be sure to keep a log or design journal of any changes to your design and update them on your CAD file. This may at times require extensive remodeling if a major flaw is discovered or another substantial change is needed. Do not be afraid to throw out parts of your design that need to be changed (see Figure 2 for an example). Make sure to test as you go to ensure proper operation and integration of all systems. Nothing is permanent until you deliver the final plane and fly it.