A big part of the DIY Drones credo
is keeping it safe, and by that I don't just mean adhering to FAA regs and staying away from built-up areas, but also keeping it safe for your expensive UAV! The truth, as we all know, is that computers crash and that aircraft flown by computers crash harder ;-)
The aim of a good UAV is to have a fall-back system by which a human pilot can take over if (when!) the autopilot goes funky. There are at least three ways to do this, all of which we feature in one or more of the autopilots here:
- Completely separate the navigation and stabilization systems and ensure that the stabilization system can be overridden by manual RC control. That's what we do in GeoCrawlers 1, 2 and 3, all of which use the FMA Co-Pilot for stabalization (it controls the ailerons and elevator, leaving just the rudder for the autopilot and navigation). If the autopilot crashes, you can still fly the plane with ailerons and elevator alone, something we end up doing all too often! (The FMA system always allows for manual input)
- Mechanically separate the autopilot and RC control systems. In the case of the Lego UAV ("GeoCrawler1"), the Lego Mindstorm system moves the whole rudder servo back and forth, but the RC system can always turn the rudder servo arm, allowing it to override the autopilot if need be.
- Install a stand-alone "MUX" or servo multiplexer, that allows the operator to switch control from the RC system to the autopilot and back again with the gear switch on the transmitter, even if the autopilot catastrophically fails. As far as I know, there's only one commercially available one of these out there, and that one, by Reactive Technologies (shown), is not cheap ($99). Still, if you install one and give it an independent power supply, there should be no reason why you can't regain control of your plane no matter how wonky your onboard computer has gone.
What you should probably not
do is exactly what we do (temporarily) with the Basic Stamp autopilot
(GeoCrawler3), which passes RC signals through the Stamp chip and synthetically recreates them on the other side for the servos. If that program has a bug or the chip otherwise freezes, you've basically lost your rudder and elevator, which could make keeping the plane in the air difficult indeed. You'll still have control of the ailerons and throttle, but good luck getting the plane down in one piece if your program decides to crash with the rudder and elevator at full deflection.
So the Basic Stamp UAV project might be a good place for a MUX. Anybody know of a cheaper one? (This guy
is looking for one, too)