NOVAerial Robotics Ground Control Station

Wanted to present my mobile ground control station as an example of the type of system that professional UAV operators will probably be using in the future.  I converted this cargo trailer into a mobile office to support my flight testing activities on large systems, in a country where the weather isn't very warm for 6 months out of the year.

The trailer started as a 6x12 all-aluminum cargo trailer from NEO in Michigan.  These are a nice high-end trailer, bonded rivet-less exterior, RV door, etc.  I opted for rubber torsion axles and radial tires for a smoother ride for the cargo. White vinyl interior, and one window.  They put the window on the wrong side, so I made them add one on the correct side (with the door).

From there, I did the upfitting myself. I started by rolling truckbed liner on the floor, as it makes for a very durable floor covering.  Originally I was going to have 20" shelving on one side, and a 20" wide desk on the side with the door and window.  But after receiving it, I decided it made more sense to have a single 32" wide desk giving more room for preparation.  Because of the lack of shelving, I then added space under the desk which can hold two large helis or medium octocopters.

In the front are two storage cabinets, and more workbench space. The bottom cabinet houses 2 Group 31 deep cycle batteries and a 1000W Inverter/Charger.  Not pictured is the Graupner Polaron EX1400 700 x 2-channel battery charger mounted to the workbench.  Very nice system indeed, and I really like the upright position as it uses minimal bench space.

The computer system is a Zotac mini-PC with an i3 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, hooked to a 24" monitor.  I much prefer this system with a real keyboard and mouse, and monitor mounted on the wall taking up no desk space.  It's much better for working all day than a laptop.  The system can actually compile the code in 8 minutes (Windows) which is strangely faster than with my much more powerful desktop system at home.  So making code changes at the field is no problem at all.

At the rear, I have 4 lockable storage cabinets, capable of holding several small helicopters, quadcopters, tripods or other ancillaries. You can also see the folding tables and chair I use if I set up outside.  The E-track is useful for securing items like a propane heater or... occasionally... dirtbikes. :)

With the 4x4 truck, I can get in to almost any location you would conceivably want to go.  I can stay there all day, take shelter from the wind and short rain showers.  I set up a generator if I will be using a lot of power to charge batteries.  It's a very comfortable arrangement, and the only thing I've found I'm missing is a built-in furnace which I might add next year.  I have run portable propane radiant heaters inside, but find that I have to open the windows to vent fumes, and lots of condensation ends up inside making it not an acceptable solution. 

I will probably detail this later, but I also have found that using tripods to hold electronics while flying outside to be ideal compared to setting up tables and sitting down, which never seems to work well and just results in me remaining standing to see the copter and then crouching down to fiddle with the computer.  I will also detail the Trex 800 camera ship shown below shortly.  Initial test flights are complete with 1.5kg of dummy weight in the camera bubble which is designed to take a full-frame DSLR.  It flies for 15 minutes on a very light battery load, I plan to double or triple the battery load for operational usage.  It has flown at 20 m/s like this so far but is very comfortable at 15 m/s.  This system was built for a customer who is doing very high end mapping which requires usage of a full frame sensor and very high-quality lenses.

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Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on March 25, 2016 at 3:45pm

@Darius, yep, thanks.  I just so happen to know a thing or two about driving off-road.  If I really need to get in somewhere, I'll just use this. ;)

Or build another off-road trailer if I need it.

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on March 25, 2016 at 3:47pm

@Gary: Yep, it's insulated.  I forgot that part.  It's very comfortable in the summer. Silver roof reflects most heat, and an get a decent cross breeze.

@Sparky, it's funny you mention that.  In one of the photos, there are buckets on the trees. ;)

Comment by Darius Jack on March 25, 2016 at 3:53pm

Mobile Drone Labs Trailer is great project.

I laminate semi-flexible solar panels for campers to cover the whole roof.

Easy to mount, lightweight vs. glass laminated PV panels.

An interesting add-on option for such Mobile Drone Labs.

Comment by Gary McCray on March 25, 2016 at 6:11pm

Hi Rob,

I was pretty sure you couldn't have missed that, just looking at the door and window jam thickness in your pictures it didn't seem like much room.

Used to have a jeep Rubicon which I occasionally got in some very iffy positions, requiring considerable winching to get out of.

Looks like you have a great area for it and plenty of experience as well.

Best Regards,


Comment by George Kelly on March 25, 2016 at 7:01pm

I humbly suggest calling that a 'ground control station' is unduly modest (I expected when I clicked the thread it was about one of the items standing beside you in the photo).

Gotta go for the gusto on these marketing things (or someone else will).

'Mobile All-weather Mission Control for Drones' (?)

(Approximate) cost ?


Comment by UAS_Pilot on March 25, 2016 at 7:47pm

Great GCS... Just what I wanted...

Comment by Alex Lee on March 25, 2016 at 8:22pm

Just need a Murphy bed and it would beat the couch hands down when she kicks you out of the bedroom for spending to much time on your hobby. Well done.

Comment by JB on March 27, 2016 at 8:35pm

+1 Alex ;-)


Hey Rob 

I like it a lot! Nice compact trailer which should give you good mobility in hard to access areas, and I was wondering how high it is inside as it looks fairly low headroom wise? I would like to do the same over here, but add some bath/kitchen facilities and a drop down bunks for convenience on long trips as well. Also does it have independant suspension or a rigid rear axle, and can you let it down, as there doesn't seem to be much clearance under the wheel wells.

BTW your welcome to join me to go 4WD "bush bashing" in Aus whenever you come over! ;-) Would be fun!


Comment by Antonie Kruger on March 28, 2016 at 6:38am

Hi Rob, very cool. Considering its a mobile ops office, very impressive. The Nissan might be an issue, but the rest is very cool.:)

Comment by Michael Papenhagen on March 28, 2016 at 6:45am

I agree with's very impressive, but like he said, the Nissan is an issue. I would have preferred to have seen a Ford Ranger there!


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