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 James Pike on March 24, 2016 at 9:00pm

Great setup Rob.  Very impressive.  Of course I would expect no less.

Comment by Andrew Tridgell on March 24, 2016 at 9:11pm

fantastic setup!

Comment by Daryl Wilding-McBride on March 24, 2016 at 9:51pm

Thanks for sharing this Rob. You make a good point about tables and sitting down. It's a great idea to use tripods and stand up instead.

Comment by Cool Dude on March 24, 2016 at 9:52pm

Does the trailer have a restroom? This is a serious question, although it may sound funny to some.

Comment by Olivier on March 24, 2016 at 10:02pm

Way to go! Is that a Frsky X9e on the desk? How do you like it compared to the Taranis?

Comment by Tsahi Mizrahi on March 24, 2016 at 11:46pm
Comment by Fnoop on March 25, 2016 at 12:02am

This is awesome!  What about an antenna tracker for the top?

Comment by Ravi on March 25, 2016 at 12:56am

I was also curious about the RC set on the table. is it frsky X9? I need a similar setup but not because of cold but because my country is very hot so I will add an aircon and a genset. now I know form where to begin. thanx

Comment by Michael Papenhagen on March 25, 2016 at 1:56am

Hi Rob, thanks for sharing it with us. This seems to be a better option than a Panel Van. What are your floor dimensions?

Comment by Pascal P. on March 25, 2016 at 2:04am

Once more, a very clever and clean solution from Rob. I had a van in mind, but this trailer is finally much better. In my place you need a 4x4 vehicle, and 4x4 vans are quite expensive.

I agree with Snoop : tracking antenna on the top for long range flight following, video is always much better inside.

Also I like very much your yellow copter. Huge gimbal.


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