"NASA Supercomputer" and "DJI Phantom 3" are not words I ever expected to hear in the same sentence. Nonetheless, using advanced computer analysis, the agency has created this simulation of a drone's aerodynamics to help design better models in the future. It's pretty neat to watch.
Designing better-flying drones isn't just about adding more power, it's about making the best use of the available power, which is when manufacturers turn to aerodynamics. Understanding how airflow behaves around even something as seemingly simple as an X-shaped quadcopter is a challenging and computationally complex problem; thus, NASA turned to their supercomputer abilities to model the aerodynamics of a DJI Phantom 3.
In the video above, areas of red are high-pressure spots, blue are low-pressure, and gray are places of airflow interaction. Thus, the drone will tend to move toward areas of lower pressure, which is why we see an abundance of blue on top. Similarly, were we to see a view from below, we would expect to see more red. On the same token, designing quieter drones would partially involve reducing the amount of turbulence produced (or reducing the amount of gray we see in the simulation). NASA also found that doubling the number of rotors nearly doubled the thrust, which may seem obvious, but is not an immediately apparent consequences given the complex aerodynamics that could potentially reduce efficiency.