UM PhD student hopes his silent drone will be an urban cargo delivery game changer

Yulia Strokova

Tomas Pribanic has found a way to apply an ionic thrust to autonomous vehicles in Earth’s atmosphere and testing is underway. 

“Innovative, bold, and, what’s most exciting, silent.” This is how Tomas Pribanic, CEO and Founder of Undefined Technologies, describes his first-of-kind drone technology. Why “Undefined?”’ It comes from the math expression 1/0, which exists but cannot be equated to a number or symbol.  
“This concept reflects the most with our mission: to make impossible possible,” continues Pribanic, who has worked for some of the largest aerospace companies and is currently  working towards his Ph.D. degree in Mechanical Engineering. “Three years ago, I accepted that technical challenge to create ionic thrusters for drones that could be viable for atmospheric conditions on Earth and other planet’s atmospheres.” 
It took Pribanic several years of research to investigate the physics behind ion propulsion. Finally, he discovered the break-thru which enables this technology to be used not only in the vacuum of space, free from the powerful gravitational pull, but also in atmospheric conditions with ‘unprecedented’ levels of thrust, 3X more compared to existing discoveries.

Tomas Pribanic

Last year, Pribanic formed a partnership between Undefined Technologies, his venture capital-backed startup, and the University of Miami. The National Science Foundation has evaluated the technology and is currently the final stages of review for additional  funding to create a silent vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) craft to be used in urban areas where noise limits requirements are too stringent for existing cargo drones. 
Pribanic has been mentored by College of Engineering materials scientist Dr. Xiangyang Zhou, and has worked with Bob Williamson, the entrepreneur in residence at the University’s Office of Technology Transfer, to patent and commercialize his new invention. Now, Undefined Technologies is in the final testing stages of achieving the first mission flight of a craft using this technology. 
“Tomas took a known technology and modified it to become a practical yet quiet way to provide lift. We shouldn’t be surprised if he fundamentally changes the drone industry,” Williamson said to the UM news reporters.

Market Opportunity

Pribanic is eager to disrupt the urban cargo delivery market and use drones for various supply chain activities, including delivering everything from online shopping packages and groceries to vital medicines and COVID-19 test kits. 
According to the recent drone market report, the global drone market will grow to more than $42 billion by 2025.  Remote work, telehealth, and automated delivery services are just a few examples of technologies that have gotten a boost as people began limiting social interactions and personal trips. 
Last year, major retailers such as Walmart and Amazon received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to commercially operate drones and launched pilot drone delivery programs in urban areas. Also, package carriers FedEx, UPS, and Wing, a division of Google owner Alphabet, received FAA certificates for drone delivery.

Noise Pollution

Once all the drone delivery services take flight, the world is about to get a lot louder – as if neighborhoods were filled with leaf blowers, lawnmowers, and chainsaws. Drones’ distinctive and irregular buzzing sound remains an unresolved issue.  Research conducted by NASA found that the high-pitched buzzing made by drones is more annoying to humans than noises generated by cars and trucks, even when the noises are at the same decibels levels.
The AirTantrum™ technology is projected to generate noise levels below 70 decibels, which would fall under the threshold established by a number of county noise ordinances. Ionic propulsion is entirely electric and produces zero-carbon emissions. The process uses a high-voltage electric field to ionize the air molecules in the atmosphere; the air molecules naturally return to their original state after ionization.
Pribanic recognizes that break-thru technology requires further work to improve power efficiency and stability in changing winds. Work at the state-of-the-art new facility of the start-up company is currently going non-stopping day and night. 
Yulia Strokova is a social impact writer and she has advised Undefined Technologies in marketing and communications.