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Calgary graduates hope to save lives with skyscraper rescue aircraft

Calgary engineers invent aircraft for skyscraper rescues
WATCH: A team of former SAIT students have invented a drone-like aircraft meant to rescue people trapped in skyscrapers. As Blake Lough reports, the idea was inspired by the tragic events of 9/11.

A team of four former students from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) were motivated by the horrific events of 9/11 to invent a flying vehicle capable of rescuing people from skyscrapers.

Team lead Nghia Vu said the terrorist attack highlighted how first responders are limited in their ways to save people trapped in high-rise buildings.

READ MORE: Scott Thompson: 18 years later, what have we learned from 9/11?

“Every city is building taller and taller structures,” Vu said.

“A ladder truck is only about 100 feet long. Helicopters can only approach from the top down… Our approach is: let’s get to the face of the building as fast as possible.”

A rendering of the AERO-V, nicknamed Project Skywalker.
A rendering of the AERO-V, nicknamed Project Skywalker. Submitted

The rest of the team consists of Jingyan Su, Thien Nguyen and Sikwon Yang.

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As part of their capstone project – a culminating assignment needed to graduate – the four technologists-in-training developed the Aerial Emergency Rescue Operations Vehicle, or AERO-V.

The piloted quadcopter consists of four rotors around a large platform with room for up to six people. The rotors can fold in, making for easy transport on the back of a firetruck or flatbed.

Vu said the technology needed to build the battery-powered machine is all readily available. With electrical components now better and cheaper, and with drone technology in the mainstream, the project – nicknamed Skywalker – is viable.

“It is a plausible, real solution to a global issue,” he said.

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“Other companies like Uber [are developing] drone taxis. The technology is evolving. But [Uber is] focusing on a very different segment than public safety which we are definitely driving towards.”
A rendering of the AERO-V demonstrating how its rotors fold up.
A rendering of the AERO-V demonstrating how its rotors fold up. Submitted

The project has already garnered plenty of attention.

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It was named the SAIT Engineering Designs & Drafting Capstone Project of the Year in 2018 and has more recently been recognized by the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET).

Skywalker is a provincial finalist in ASET’s Capstone Project of the Year Awards.

“Frankly I was astounded at the level of sophistication and the importance to this project. Of doing something for public safety,” ASET CEO Barry Cavanaugh said.

“When we see the enthusiasm that we saw for [this project], to name it as a finalist from our subject matter experts and our awards committee – that says an awful lot about the quality of the proposition.”

“I’m absolutely certain Nghia and his team are provoking a great deal of investor interest.”

Investor interest is what Project Skywalker needs to get the AERO-V off the ground. Vu and his team hope to build a working prototype of the aircraft by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2021.