Dezeen Magazine

RCA graduate Marcus Kung designs propellerless drone

Royal College of Art graduate Marcus Kung has designed a drone that can fly without propellers, with the aim of reducing injuries.

The Impeller Drone — Kung's graduate project as part of the RCA's masters programme in Design Products — flies using four air blowers, instead of exposed rotor blades like most drones.

RCA graduate designs propeller-less drone

Kung created the product in an effort to make drones safer for casual users and bystanders.

"Drones are popular but they're dangerous," Kung told Dezeen. "The most common drone accident is people getting cut and hurt by the drones exposed rotor blades. A kid got his eyeball cut open by them."

"So I started questioning whether there's anything that in the future could replace rotor blades," Kung continued. "I looked into different kinds of technologies and eventually I found this system, the blower impeller. I redesigned it, put it on the drone and started vertical takeoff tests."

RCA graduate designs propeller-less drone

The impeller system sucks air in through the vents on the side of the drone and then accelerates it through a circular duct, creating an upward thrust as the air is pushed out through the bottom.

For now, the motor efficiency does not compare well with a standard drone, but Kung hopes that can be improved with more development.

He has already eased the load on the drone's four motors by creating a lightweight design with the assistance of a structural optimisation algorithm. This enabled the minimal amount of material to be used to create a structurally sound object.

RCA graduate designs propeller-less drone

An additional benefit to the Impeller Drone is that it is quieter that one operating with rotor blades. But in Kung's eyes, preventing injury was the primary goal.

"It can be used by non-professional drone users and filming [professional] drone users," he said. "For non-professional drone users, because they don't know how to control drone properly, they might hurt them self and the people surround them."

RCA graduate designs propeller-less drone

"For filming drone users, when they do the filming at a concert or a sports game, they don't have to worry about it hurting the audience," he continued.

A concept design for a propellerless drone was proposed in 2017 by Mexican designer Edgar Herrera, who won the Red Dot Design Concept Award with his idea, dubbed the Bladeless Drone.

RCA graduate designs propeller-less drone

Kung has managed to realise his take on the concept with a working prototype — although not without difficulty. Sixteen earlier prototypes failed to fly.

Drones were described as "potentially as disruptive as the internet" in the Dezeen documentary Elevation, released earlier this year. It documented the technology's impact on architecture, infrastructure and everyday life.

Impeller Drone was on display at the Royal College of Art as part of their annual degree show. Other projects on show included Yu Li's portable kitchen for millennials with limited space and Zhekai Zhang's ceramics collection made using fabric moulds.