Azjeg's Posts (14)

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SKELLIT - Modular mission control system

11029197873?profile=RESIZE_710xSKELLIT is a family of wearable, hand-held, console- and deskmount solutions for tablets and smartphones, all based on the same extremely compact active docking technology. Your tablet just snaps into the secure application specific frame, and it can be removed using only two fingers, while it will never come loose from any other force or impact.

Active docking also means instant connection to peripherals like a gamepad or wired LAN and, of course, an external power source. It is essential to anyone using their mobile device regularly for professional purposes, especially outdoors.

11029198284?profile=RESIZE_710xWe can't always choose the operator location and other conditions of drone missions. That's where such modularity really comes in handy. For most quick flights you can keep the tablet docked in the handheld set with the RF module snapped onto its back. However, if you want to stay seated in your car for a longer mission, the docking RF module can go on the roof, and you're comfortably holding just a handheld unit.

11029198872?profile=RESIZE_710xOnce you have to hike to your launch point or have to access the controller frequently during the day, a wearable set is the most comfortable solution. Mounting the flat RF box on your shoulder or on a backpack, and only having to hold a small rugged controller keeps everything light for you on the job.

11029199095?profile=RESIZE_710xSome of you may have seen our earlier mission control stations, or our various other sUAS system integrations. We've been developing products for all areas of the UAV-USV field for well over a decade now. Most of our customers want rugged IP54-68 grade gear from us, so that's what we do.

11029201090?profile=RESIZE_710xThe other main equipment feature we concentrate on is portability, which may mean quick field assembly from compact and light modules, or just lean and mean self-contained and instantly usable systems. While we've always tried to design most of our hand-held mission controls with at least some level of wearability in mind, our latest SKELLIT product line surely provides the pinnacle of this feature.

11029203076?profile=RESIZE_710xSKELLIT Protean is the full UAV-USV controller package for any given industrial tablet, which may include any combination, or in fact all of these modules:

SKELLIT HH - the handheld controller unit with 2-4 joysticks, 2 toggles and 6-8 pushbuttons

SKELLIT RF - snaps right onto the back of the HH or on the tripod adapter, with a long range digital IP datalink RF module inside, i.e. Microhard, Silvus, Doodle Labs, etc.

SKELLIT RF tripod adapter - you can mount it on top of a mast and powerful magnets can hold it onto your car roof for separation and a better vantage point

SKELLIT body radio - shoulder mount adapter for the RF box

SKELLIT full MOLLE - wearable mount for plate carriers, dungarees, backpacks, etc.*

SKELLIT half MOLLE - wearable mount for zip front vests and life vests*

SKELLIT Bike - handlebar and tube frame mount

* Both the full and the half MOLLE wearable mounts can be turned over at their hinges to serve as a firm desktop stand.

11029202873?profile=RESIZE_710xSwitching between any of the above docking frames is just a snap, because the flexible CF element is tough enough to hold the tablet in its place, even against high impact forces. Still, despite the fact that there are no moving components here, you only need to snap with your thumb and index finger to remove the tablet from any of them.

11029199895?profile=RESIZE_710xPeripherals, accessories:
SKELLIT MHH - rugged gamepad with OPC (deadman's switch)
SKELLIT MHH Light - rugged convertible mini gamepad for one/two-handed operation
SKELLIT PB - rugged power bank, 30-60Wh capacity
any type of external transparent IP RF and MESH module for comms
various IP67 grade body cables, external chargers, wired LAN cable, standard USB cable, etc.



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"See" more of your RF environment in the field

3689735943?profile=originalOne of the most difficult risks to manage with all sUAS flight operations, and in fact with most remote-controlled vehicle systems is radio interference. Detecting the threat and evading it is almost impossible without proper RF instrumentation, namely a decent spectrum analyser. It's not something even developers are taking to the field too frequently, not unless RF measurements are the specific tasks for the day.
3689735970?profile=originalOperators are even less aware of the possible RF issues facing them out there, even though they are potentially flying in way more diverse areas than UAV builders. Of course, we can teach pilots to watch out for the signs like mobile phone towers and large dishes, but RFI doesn't always have such visible sources out there. As the ISM frequencies mostly used by our birds are shared resources by definition, we must be able to check for potential interference in the target area.
3689735848?profile=originalWe've developed a rugged docking field spectrum analyser module for our mission control stations (shown here: RHH link) that helps operators detect potential RFI issues early before take-off. It snaps right into the same RHH docking connector as our wedge RF boxes, and it has the same shape, but it houses a fast SA hardware, which can give you a full RF view up to 6GHz.
3689736023?profile=originalYou can sweep your entire target spectrum on the embedded 10" tablet of the RHH controller using both omni and highly directional antennas. Because it works as a standard USB peripheral device, we've also retained its functionality outside of our own rugged GCS system, so you can still connect it to a PC, tablet or even your smartphone.
3689735873?profile=originalTeaching most operators to use this tool may involve a bit of RF background information, too, but having them tune the SA to their work frequencies and watch for spikes around there is not rocket science. Reading the real-time, peak signal and waterfall displays is also slam dunk after less than 30 minutes of training. The better risk awareness and the early detection of RFI is worth the extra effort especially for critical UAV missions and in difficult environments.
3689735890?profile=originalOf course, there are many cheap RTL-SDR devices available that are capable of SA applications with the right software. Unfortunately, most of them aren't fast enough, and they don't go much above 1.7GHz, either, whereas we are especially interested in the 2.4GHz, 3.5GHz and 5.8GHz bands, as well. RTL-SDR dongles can still help you see your way around 430MHz, 868MHz and 900MHz, but they are also great tools for picking up ADS-B traffic, which is getting more and more important for UAV operations.

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3689734131?profile=originalSome of you may have already seen our rugged professional mission control units also presented here on DIYdrones. Most of those are produced to at least industrial IP specifications, but developers and DIYers are constantly bombarding us with requests for lighter and especially cheaper integrated solutions that would be at least on the edge of the affordable in applications where fully rugged builds and tightly waterproof features are not an absolute must.

Well, this is our first shot at this, so we're trying to get as much of your valuable input as possible to create a practical hand-held controller that may as well help a lot of people. We've already built the first prototype based on our current RHH line, some of our own ideas and customer input, so it's probably a good start for a conversation on the technical details for a more generic purpose unit with extensive DIY options.
3689734204?profile=originalUnfortunately, even if we drop most of the IP67 parts and build features of the RHH design, this particular product will still cost around 1200 Euros in very small series, but at least it's not the fully rugged €4k-€7k range. The final price is going to be determined mainly by production numbers, but at the moment we're just aiming for a batch of a few dozen units, just to be on the safe side.
3689734081?profile=originalThe current technical content of the prototype can serve both direct FPV operation and/or payload control, both in the very same neat little package:

  • 7" high contrast and high brightness (700 nit) 1280x800 screen, non-reflective matte or low reflectance glossy surface
  • non-bluescreening LCD controller with AV/HDMI/VGA input and full menu control
  • USB programmable er9x/OpenTX compatible open source RC TX logic with full menu control (eepe compatible)
  • high quality quad ball bearing Hall effect sensor RC style joysticks with full access to slide/ratchet/spring settings on both sides, thumber and pincher operation supported by design
  • fully managed Li-ion battery system with simple micro USB charge port and high current connector alternative
  • industrial grade ultra miniature toggle and pushbutton switches, optional pot and rotary switch
  • high impact industrial ABS enclosure, 210x280mm compact footprint
  • charger, USB programmer, PPM and HMD AV connections as standard


  • optional built-in RC TX RF module (FrSky XJT, TBS Crossfire, EzUHF, etc.)
  • optional built-in AV RX (5.8GHz, 1.2GHz, etc.)
  • optional external RF box setup with single field cable
  • optional external video connection (CVBS/HDMI/VGA)
  • optional wireless ground video relay (Miracast)
  • optional IT hw for IP video streaming, telemetry, etc.

3689734252?profile=originalAs you can see from the above, this is not a telemetry station with any kind of embedded IT hardware, just a direct FPV and payload controller. We currently manufacture a fully rugged 10" all-in-one telemetry GCS with a powerful Android hw, which we would also like to make a light version of, but we're still working out the kinks there, and we'll let you know.

The main questions we would like to ask You are mainly about the acceptable or necessary build and kit readiness levels, the most generic but still practical control layout and labels, built-in or optional RF modules, etc. We also welcome any other input that you may find important here. This is just a short list of issues that we're contemplating at the moment:

  • Toggles, pots, other controls... shall we adhere to a generic RC control layout (especially 9x type)?
  • What is your opinion of the current custom layout that caters for both payload and FPV operation with remapping?
  • Pots in particular, do you need them at all in a professional controller?
  • 6 position rotary flight mode switch, do you need them while you barely use 2-3 flight modes in general?
  • Joystick trims, do you need them at all in a professional controller? After all, they are a major source of mishaps in non-RC trained fiddly hands...
  • Single PCB construction or PCB mounted RC switches with connectorised/solder pad-based wiring for DIY purposes?
  • Moderate waterproof features, we can seal the electronics of the open joysticks, so the water can go simply through the body with port holes in the bottom service covers (or built-in silica pad) ... is this something you need to survive a passing shower?

3689734236?profile=originalIf it's not clear from all of the above, this is NOT a crowdsourced project, at least not financially, so you don't need to pledge any money to take part in this little endeavour. We're not a one-trick pony start-up venture as we've been in this industry for a decade now, but we have to keep learning from our customers and peers.

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UAV GCS design notes

3689733084?profile=originalIt’s probably time to provide some background to my blog posts on various ground control stations we’ve been designing and manufacturing, because our experiences over the years may give some food for thought for fellow UAV/USV developers.

Already in early 2010 it became clear that the multirotor revolution, the boom in FPV RC and especially various autopilot development projects like ArduPilot would eventually amount to something substantially different in this field. Even though there were thousands of companies starting to make birds at all levels of sophistication, everything was still controlled by toy or hobby grade remote controls and a seemingly haphazard collection of improvised devices with a crazy cable clutter. If we're honest about it, not an awful lot has changed in the general look of the ground end since then for many UAV development projects.

We have also tried to do our best with our own fold-up hexacopter and ground vehicle projects creating application specific integrated control units using whatever was available at the time, but it soon became apparent that hobby RC parts are not the way to go. Because our process control and CCTV history has already provided experience in serious industrial standards, the transition to a more robust and reliable approach was very much inevitable.

3689733116?profile=originalStill, looking back at the early years of specialisation in ground control stations we can't help but remember some mistakes that were made both in R&D and business development. There are some important lessons that we have learnt (and apparently still learning) in this process. One of these is that while it's always imperative to listen to your customers, you don't always have to take their word for what they think is right, or it is in fact what they actually want. It has to be said that earlier in the development the willingness to please has also driven us much towards accommodating sometimes even impractical or downright crazy customer requirements against our better judgement without putting up a decent fight.

Because most of the early customers were still in the vehicle development phase, hardly any of them had a clear vision of how their products will be used eventually, and neither did we, necessarily. Clients were also concentrating too much on demo flights, presentations and trade shows, not the actual final products or users themselves, simply because these demos were seen as the most important first steps for the initial sales or in attracting venture capital. This resulted in an overwhelming abundance of open application questions, way too universal control options and layouts, but most of all, ground control stations that were still too big, heavy and cumbersome.

Although most of our current clients already have a clear understanding of their specific UAV or USV application and their target customer, the big presentation screen issue is still around after all these years, and it doesn't seem to be going away any time soon. The main reason is nevertheless similarly flawed: The bigger the better.

While the need for huge mapping and video downlink displays can easily be accepted in static, container or large van-based stations, hauling around a 20-30kg GCS case as a "portable" unit just because the images may look better in big is just plain mental. If the necessary dimensional trade-offs are to be made at any component, it's clearly the screen size. Not only that monitors are the single largest devices in nearly all stations, but high nit sunlight readable panels above 10"-12" are horrible current hogs, so you also have to double or triple your built-in battery packs just to reach a decent level of autonomy.

3689733213?profile=originalSide-by-side large dual screen systems are also an ongoing concern for many end-users. Because there are a number of similar station examples out there for some time now, until you've actually used one of them, you would think that they are great for dual operator applications. Once you sit in front of one of those you soon realise that even if it's an extremely long rifle case, you just can't seat two people there without their shoulders touching. This is not a comfortable setup for any operator duo, because they will only see their screens at an odd angle while still continuously elbowing each other. Two screens in the same box can still be a great solution for some heavier applications, but they are both for the same operator nevertheless.

3689733170?profile=originalDual and triple operator scenarios require separate controls and displays for every crew member, but at least these can be fully customised, so the added ergonomy doesn't necessarily push the costs up. Out of a standard pilot-payload dual operator setup the latter will only need camera controls, the video downlink screen and maybe a map section view letting the pilot concentrate fully on waypoints, telemetry and direct flight controls. This considerably simplifies both units and makes a station setup extremely flexible.

Fully rugged industrial laptops or tablets were usually part of such huge rifle case stations, but their use for mission control is always an interesting option, since nearly all the features are seemingly built in there. However, the net weight, size and the connection ports placed all around the frame make these extremely hard to use as hand-held devices or even embed them in a full function GCS. There are some fully automatic UAV applications where they have their place, but direct manual controls are a must in the majority of cases and as emergency overrides, especially for regulatory reasons in many jurisdictions.

Of course, you can use a modified docking station to evade having to use the awkward individual frame mounted side connectors, but that still leaves you without direct vehicle or payload controls. Unless you seriously think that a touchscreen joystick is a professional option, there’s no way around making the entire unit a tad bit bigger to accommodate these controls.

3689733137?profile=originalAnother interesting general image of most current UAV operations is the crew standing or sitting outside with their big station on a portable desk and the antennas mounted on tripods beside them. If you've ever been involved in such a field day endeavour you know that just the preparation and the wrap-up itself adds at least an hour to the proceedings, while you are constantly exposed to the elements. If you already reach your field location most of the time by car or a van, why not keep your options open with a man portable size control station or a vehicle based built-in type that allows operation from inside the vehicle itself?

3689733234?profile=originalOf course, if your RF modules are embedded in your GCS, you have to opt at least for some mag-mount antennas on coax extensions, so you can get your signal out of the Faraday cage of your car, but that's really not the solution. Gigahertz signals are highly attenuated even on short stretches of coax, that's why antenna cable extensions should never be used in any GCS setup.

Unless you are only working at LOS ranges you should always be using a separate RF box, because the best position for the operator is never the ideal location for the antennas for obvious reasons. If your RF modules are installed in this compact external unit literally at a pigtail's distance from the antennas mounted on it, only digital and low frequency analogue signals have to travel along any length of cable. Being able to mount this box on top of your van, tripod, mast or even the pan axis of an antenna tracker gives you the real flexibility of a professional grade modular mission control station.


As more and more direct feedback comes from end-users, sometimes you must remind developers and manufacturers what operator preferences really are. It's always a tough job, because there are some egos involved, and you don't want to present yourself as a know-it-all, especially when you understand all too well that it's a continuous learning process on both sides.

Just our two cents worth...

The peRISKop team is a group of professional UAV-USV specialists heavily involved in remotely operated vehicle design and development since 2008. Coming from a technical security, RF, industrial control, imaging and speciality CCTV background we have soon realised that our efforts are best spent at concentrating on the missing or underserved areas of UAV systems development.

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3689732359?profile=originalWe have a new Android based fully rugged ground control station format for some serious UAV/USV work. We’ve been calling it simply the RHH, and it was developed with extensive modularity in mind from scratch. As the supporting and enthusiastic community of DIYdrones looks more and more like the primary meeting place of professional unmanned platform developers, rather than just DIY-ers and hobbyists, I think there’s some interest in this level of GCS integration here, as well.

3689732534?profile=originalBecause operating only in fair weather is a luxury not all users can afford, we had to come up with a fairly light hand-held controller that does the job under any circumstances. While we still mostly associate UAV flights with clear skies, there are always occasions where we just can't get away with a hobby grade RC and a tablet or a laptop. We also thought about surface systems, which are even more affected by the weather.3689732449?profile=original

3689732372?profile=originalProtecting the GCS from the elements is just one of the points here, because when it comes to rain or extreme cold you would like to operate from some kind of shelter, at least a car or a van. That’s where the extreme modularity of this design comes in really handy. The entire RF unit of the RHH is removable from the bottom of the controller, and it can be mounted on your car roof, tripod, mast or even on the pan axis of an antenna tracker.

3689732567?profile=originalThe field cable between the two modules is just a thin and flat twisted pair, which can be shut into the car door without messing with the seal. The cable can be of any practical length, because there is some serious voltage compensation and signal conditioning going on at both ends. Although it’s not exactly PoE (Power over Ethernet) in all versions, but we use a similar system for legacy hybrid AV/RC/modem controls, whereas there’s a fairly straightforward powered LAN connection for transparent IP RF links like Microhard or modified WLAN.

3689732393?profile=originalIf you want to get rid of the single field cable, a wireless ground relay is also possible with most RF link combinations between the station and the RF box, but it may introduce unwanted latency in some signals. Safety is another concern when adding another RF hop to such systems, because typically low power ground relay signals are easy to block or screen accidentally. Of course, then you also have to power the RF box independently, preferably with built-in batteries.

3689732584?profile=originalUsing such a rugged docking RF box design has another advantage when operating many different systems with the same station. Because the pinout for the bottom docking connectors is universal for all station and RF box variants in the 10” RHH line, changing bands, RF modules or even upgrading to high-end transparent IP links is just a snap without having to modify the station itself.

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Compact Rugged Ground Control Station


It's been a while since I posted write-ups or photos of any of our latest series or batch production models here, but this system has been available since March this year, so I'm not putting this out any further.


As many of our previous all-in-one units, it is built into our favourite Peli 1400 enclosure, so IP67 during transport is already a given. While all controls, seals and the entire manufacturing technology is at least at IP67 levels, we only rate the stations up to IP54. The main reason is because we don't want people to use high pressure water jets to wash these with some sandblasting effects on screen sunlight readability... :-)


This very unit was our prototype back then, so it still carried a couple of experimental and testing features. It has separate power controls for all internal and external modules, (Gb Ethernet, USB, RF box, keyboard, RC TX, etc.), which are replaced with group switching for the different application scenarios in the production version.


The built-in battery is a PCM managed and balanced 10Ah 4S LiFePO4 block, which gives more than eight hours of autonomy under all circumstances, even if all the RF modules and the antenna tracker are powered directly from the station.

Mainly as a support for legacy analogue-digital hybrid systems, which are using 2-3 separate RF bands RC/telemetry/video it also has a dedicated built-in SDR for field spectrum analyser purposes in the 10MHz-6GHz range. The optional SDR have found its final location in the external RF box, while there are still reasons for keeping such a sensitive unit away from the high-power RF modules.

However, as the latest digital transparent IP RF link modules are also based on SDRs, and thus can function as SAs in their particular band, there's no general need for adding a separate SA hw in there. Still, as the RF link is the most crucial element of nearly every UAV system, it's always nice to have a separate tool in the box to see what's going on around you.


The mechanical build follows our usual upside-down case format, which not only makes enough space for the joysticks and the controls, but it also creates a natural sunshade or hood around the 12" high res and high nit screen. The mandatory energy chain between the body and the lid runs into a sealed tunnel and an internal cable cavity, so it doesn't compromise the overall ingress protection level here.

Because the embedded IT hardware can range from Pentium Core M to i5-i7, proper thermal management is critical. Since we cannot just ventilate the enclosure directly while keeping it waterproof, we opted for a sealed robust thermal interface. It is based on an internal and an external heat sink directly connected to each other through the wall of the enclosure under the handle. While we also made provisions in the original design for an optional Peltier element there, the large surface of the direct metal contact was enough to keep things cool inside.


Both as a support for direct joystick control through telemetry and for training simulator purposes we've also included a PPM2USB interface, which can be switched both as an alternative and a simultaneous signal route from the RC TX logic. This gives you all the flexibility you need for different control options including an emergency redundant manual override.


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3689710899?profile=originalI promised a while ago that we're going to show you some simpler gear than our high-end client builds or series production stations. Well, this is one of them.
3689710842?profile=originalA smartphone and a self-powered snap-on telemetry modem. You may ask what the point is in combining these two things together, especially when the Bluetooth telemetry bridge solution has already been out there for quite a while. Mainly because it's handy, extremely compact and, of course, there are always some reliability issues with other applications, when the BT connection breaks down, as you may as well just walk out of its range.
3689710976?profile=originalSince the BT link only has to bridge about an inch of fixed distance here, there's no way any external RFI can break it down, but it still helps maintaining the secure IP67 level waterproof state of both the Sony phone and the modem box. There's nothing to plug in during operation, just snap on the phone, switch on the unit and go.
3689711005?profile=originalIt is mainly intended for highly autonomous sUAS systems capable of automatic take-off, landing and waypoint based flights, but since the manual controls are already implemented in a couple of Android based GCS sw, there's no reason to limit its usefulness for other applications. It's also a good companion telemetry station for dual operator scenarios, where the manual functions are controlled through FPV by the other crew. While the RFD900 is certainly an overkill for most short range platforms, there's is still the possibility of using it with a digital video downlink, too.
3689710997?profile=originalThe bridge box is based on a modified RFD900/868 modem with a serial BT module attached to it. We've replaced the heat sink of the modem with a ceramic type, mainly because it was way easier to seal it than the jagged edge of the original one, but it's also more protected like this in a recess. The miniature toggle switch and the charger connector are also waterproof, and they go well together with these stock industrial enclosures.

3689710904?profile=originalAn intelligent PCM protects the lipos that power the box for a good few hours of battery endurance, depending mainly on the output setting of the RFD modem. However, even running at a full 1W I couldn't deplete them in over six hours. There are two versions presented here in two variants of the same enclosure line. The thicker type makes use of the diversity capabilities of the modem  and it also has a bit more Whs of batteries in there, 15Wh instead of the thinner's 12Wh.
3689710925?profile=originalBecause I personally hate large smartphones with 5"-5.5" screens, this one is a relatively small 4.6" beauty, making the whole assembly even more compact. If I need a larger display for any application, I'd rather use an 8" tablet instead of a cumbersome phone. BTW, we have also made such snap-in carrier boxes for various 8" Android and Windows tablets for similar applications. I can also create a blog entry about those the next time, if you are interested...

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PC tablet based sUAS GCS


Here  is another take on our wearable control tray format, this time with an embedded Win tablet PC that does it all for you. It has the same footprint as our previous trays (e.g., but this one has more of a Spartan practicality to it, really.

While this unit was prepared with three built-in RF modules for testing and prototyping purposes, the station framework also works with an external RF box, and in fact with a fully digital link, as well.

Just to be backward compatible with both combined and separate RC/modem solutions, or even a diversity A/V RX, we made room for a maximum of three RF modules inside, and three antennas on top of the controller for short-mid range applications up to a few kms, even without external modules. When using analogue A/V RXs, the video signal is fed through a frame grabber to the tablet with very little latency, so you have a choice of displaying the video downlink either full screen in FPV, or in a window/overlay in your favourite GCS sw when flying auto missions. When using a digital video downlink, you can either opt for the wired LAN port from your external RF box with IP video, or you can just install a ground WLAN bridge for the tablet Wifi inside.

Despite this unit having a PC inside, since most current Android ground station sw packages also support overlaying the direct downlink video on the GUI in various configurations, there's no reason why the very same design wouldn't work with an 8" Android tablet without any serious modifications.


The current IT core:
modified high nit and high contrast 8" PC tablet with either

Intel® Atom™ processor Z3740D/Z3775D
1280x800 IPS display


Intel® Atom x5-Z8500
1920x1200 IPS display

Both original business tablets can sport a built-in HSPA+/LTE modem, but we favour an external USB dongle connected to the front of the tray, because you never know which service provider will have coverage at a particular rural area. Replacing the SIM card in a dongle or the entire USB modem itself is much easier than getting to the SIM slot of the tablet itself...

We have installed a modified OTG USB hub to allow charging the tablet's 20Wh built-in battery on the fly while still linking frame grabber, telemetry modem, 4G dongle, LAN module, etc. to the tablet hw. Depending on charge levels you can power both the tablet and the rest of the control tray hw from the 85Wh or 7500mAh of balanced and protected 3S lipos. This gives you a minimum of 5-8 hours battery endurance for the whole station.

Although this unit contains both an EzUHF LR RC module and an RFD900 modem for compatibility, we can install TBS Crossfire, DragonLink or ULRS for combined RC/TM modem to make it even simpler. Also, while there is a 5.8GHz ImmersionRC UNO AV RX in there right now, depending on your preferred hybrid band plan the AV can still be any of the usual 900MHz/1.2GHz/5.8GHz modules available.

The RC TX logic is our own miniature take on the open source 9x architecture, so you can choose your favourite firmware for both PPM and SBus systems. We are currently running a modified 12ch version of the fw with the EzUHF module, but a 16ch SBus setup is also possible with certain RF modules.

As a personal note, I'm not entirely happy with these separate add-on type labels on the controls, because the colour filled engraving looks way more elegant directly on the main CF board. However, this is an easy way of customising or rearranging the switch functions without having to recut the entire top CF board.

Of course, this belly box model still conforms to our favourite standard compact station format, so a Peli 1400 type enclosure fits it like a glove. We can pack it in the same box with a double field charger, a second telemetry station or with a huge separate compartment for an external RF box, cables, antennas and other accessories.

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Fold-up GCS with Android Telemetry

A flexible mission control kit

Thanks to the abundant comments from our friends and the ever growing requirements of our clients, we've been double busy working on some new GCS models for small series and batch production. One of the new models – or rather new versions – is this little kit, which caters for a long list of customer demands collected during the earlier production cycles and in this design phase. The primary goal of this exercise was to create a new station framework that has all the following basic features without unacceptable trade-offs:

  • Man portable system with an absolute total maximum package weight of 12kg
  • Full ground control functions with complete direct RC, live AV and modem telemetry
  • Removable Android based fast and user friendly IT hardware
  • Both wearable "belly box" and seated desk mounted operation
  • External RF box option for pole, tripod, tracker or vehicle mount
  • Belly box no more than 2.5kg, individual transport cases no more than 6kg
  • Easily adaptable control systems for the most popular FCs, primarily APM/Pixhawk/PX4, but also DJI, MicroPilot, etc.
  • Fully customisable controls with dual joysticks, trims, 6+3+3 modular switch and pot locations
  • Single operator basic scenario with the option for additional operators with linked control trays
  • Extremely fast field set-up and disassembly
  • Self contained packages, all antennas, cables and other accessories must fit within the transport cases
  • Self contained field charger option
  • Flexible RF link set-up, 1-3 band operation including COFDM or MIMO links
  • Scalable levels of water and ingress protection, from simple dust proof to full IP (54-67)


Our previous fold-up type station had a PC tablet installed, which performed pretty well, but we weren't too happy about the Windows GUI or in fact with Mission Planner in this small 8" format. The Android based GCS software packages have come a long way since then, so the time has come to update this wearable belly box framework with a much lighter and friendlier Android tablet.


Because the Bluetooth telemetry link has also become a de facto standard, there was no need to mount the tablet permanently in its frame for a constant USB connection any more. Neither was it important to charge the tablet from the control tray, especially if we were to use a tablet with one of the longest battery endurances available. Besides, some of our customers noted the need for being able to remove the tablet during waypoint programming, settings tuning and other purposes. However, they still wanted the tablet to be an organic part of the station with its own hood and well secured in place, rather than the flimsy clip-on phone or tablet mounts of other systems. Hence the current slide-in "letterbox" frame, which holds the tablet firmly even when you are just hanging the station all the way down from its handle.


As this is a fairly long range kit, we used an external RF box to be able to separate the operator from the best antenna location, but for short ranges we can fit all the RF modules in the control tray itself. In that particular case the entire station fits into a single transport enclosure. The downside is that we still need to link the fold-up telemetry frame with the base for the antenna leads, but it's still workable through an energy chain.

The ideal RF link combination with built-in RF modules is just a TBS Crossfire and any old 5.8GHz AV. As the Crossfire will satisfy both direct RC and telemetry modem functions, we can get away with only two antennas on top of the tablet frame in the corners.


You'll notice the single system cable that links the RF box to the control tray, which is an engineering treat in itself. While it is pretty simple to link these two units when the single RF link is an IP based fully digital high-end system, we do quite a lot of signal conditioning for mixed signal versions at both ends of the cable to eliminate crosstalk. While this unit only needed 5 meters of autonomy from the RF box, we can easily go over 100m of cable without issues using the same technology.


The noble wood frame is not a flashy detail here, because we have tried and tested at least a dozen different materials for this very purpose. While we have quite the tooling and experience in composite and aluminium CNC end milling, this type of structure was a bit out of our comfort zone. We weren't too happy with the 3D printed versions, with neither their finish, nor their rigidity, and we certainly didn't want to put a boat anchor around anyone's neck by using aluminium as the body of a wearable tray. Our series production batch sizes don't warrant injection moulded parts in this format, either, so my favourite material remained the only option.


As a personal note, I was a cabinet maker/joiner apprentice before I went to college and later uni, so wood is very close to my heart as a material for anything. As with most other wooden objects or pieces of furniture I've ever made, the surface of the frame is not varnished or lacquered, but treated half a dozen times with tung oil and hard wax. We've found these frames to be lighter and stronger than ABS when made of okoumé, but walnut will be even better.


Some readers of these log entries noted earlier that I only show rather expensive and high-end builds which are unattainable to the average DIYdroner. We started our journey at very much the same level as everybody else, with maybe even less funds living on the other side of the old iron curtain, but we've built a strong team over the years. We still don't shape our gear to fashionable forms as any self-respecting industrial designer would do. We just put the technical substance in ergonomic and practical packages while keeping basic proportions and rules of symmetry, that's all.  

While this kit is still not so much of a consumer grade piece, we are slowly moving towards numbers and new methods of production, so this wouldn't be the case for very long. Next time I'll also be discussing some very simple and practical builds that everyone can replicate or develop, but they still make a big difference in UAV operations.

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A "wearable" UAV/FPV GCS with a twist

3689666781?profile=originalHere's an update to our handheld (or rather body worn) modular commercial/civilian UAV GCS, an all-in-one FPV system with a fully functional integrated PC telemetry head. This is something that we've had in the works for some time now, but only as a nice concept and some sketchy plans. Since one of our old clients has been pushing us hard for it, we had to put our CAD design into a tangible form eventually at the beginning of this year.

3689667052?profile=originalEven though our modular FPV tray system has become a very successful product with many working configurations and options, mounting a PC in it or over it was hardly a trivial task. We've been offering our own separate rugged telemetry system in the same Peli 1400 format as a companion to the belly box, so we knew what we were up against when we wanted to go even further.

3689667027?profile=originalOn the one hand, we were very much aware of the weight issues that may arise with the number of functions we need to include. The telemetry PC needs a complete support frame, a practical user interface, brings the necessary RF modem into the tray, and it may have a huge impact on total battery endurance, all resulting in added weight. This will also affect console balance, which is a very important factor with all types of belly boxes, because you need a stable tray to control both the direct RC and the PC GUI with precision.

3689667077?profile=originalOn the other hand, such a high number of electronic and RF systems in close proximity can cause havoc in both interoperability and interference. On top of the three obvious RC/AV/modem RF bands there are also some additional radio modules working in the PC. Of course WLAN, BT and NFC can easily be turned off in the field, but the embedded 3G modem is pretty handy for on-site live map services, and there's also a GPS in there. Depending on how you count them, we are talking about 10-12 different RF devices working close enough to bust each other's LNAs or end stages, even with their out-of-band or spurious emissions.

Anyway, the weight and balance issues never really cropped up, and we could use the same old folding brackets we made for the original control tray. We could mount the unit on the cross-over strap without a hitch. Even though the fold-up frame, its internal support and the PC adds some 700g to the set, you don't feel the difference, even after several hours of running around with it.

3689666982?profile=originalProbably because of careful module placement, adequate filtering and possibly some luck we haven't run into interference or loss of range issues, either. The current production sets are running with UHF LR RC, 868-915MHz telemetry and 5.8GHz AV in such a small unit, but we've also tested the same telemetry/AV combo with high power 2.4GHz RC without any issues.

The embedded tablet PC has a Z3740D Dual Atom CPU, 2GB RAM, 32-64GB RAM + micro SD card slot, 8" IPS Display with 1280 x 800 resolution and 10-point capacitive touchscreen, but it also works as a digitiser for even more accurate waypoint programming. It runs Windows 8.1, so Mission Planner and other standard GCS sw are there in your lap in full function.

In addition to the usual WLAN and BT modules, it also has a built in 3G-4G modem and both front facing and rear cameras. We've added a matte and low-reflectance (the two are not necessarily the same!) screen protector from 3M, to make the otherwise really high nit and high contrast panel even more sunlight readable. We have left both the SIM card and the micro SD card slots accessible, and we have also added a full size USB socket in the tray.

3689667048?profile=originalAdapting such a small piece of tablet hw has its own caveats, so, apart from toughening it up mechanically, we had to solve simultaneous OTG USB and charging, too. This is done through a single connector on the base for both the control tray electronics and the tablet. Despite the slightly higher power consumption of an embedded telemetry modem, battery endurance is still around five hours for the control tray. Since the tablet has its own battery, we have left it to its own devices for now, which will take it over the eight-hour mark easy, especially because there's an active powered USB hub for the peripherals.

3689666995?profile=originalFor those in favour of lighter IT packages, we also have the same station framework with an 8" Android telemetry control head. Not only is it much lighter and still totally waterproof, it's also a bit easier to operate via touchscreen than Win8.1 systems. As DroidPlanner and now Tower is getting more and more mature as an all-round GCS sw package, I think the future is bright for both platforms.

Thanks for your kind attention,


Find more photos like this on DIY Drones

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CamMan, a special camera controller


Here is the new member of our growing family of modules for our scalable ground control system. Sorry for the low quality photos, but we hardly ever have time to take decent pictures before the gear leaves the workshop. You can see the other modules at


The CamMan is based on our FPV controller of the same format, so it also has the transflective 10" panel installed. Because cameraship operators usually work with two or three person ground crews, many of our customers were asking for a special separate camera remote with industry standard controls. These now include the 3-axis joystick, follow focus, iris and axial/zoom speed controls on top of the usual shutter and video start/stop functions.

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A handy kit to control APM/Pixhawk vehicle systems

Dear All,

Thank you for your compliments and your general appraisal of our previous station builds. We've received dozens of e-mails and PMs both congratulating on our development in this field, but also asking for advice and help in DIY and semi-professional builds of similar field gear. There are no trade secrets here, we still know didley-squat, but we are always keen to learn, so please, feel free to contact us if you think we can help. 

As a general message, most of our critics were encouraging us to come up with something more ready for general consumption, rather than just showcasing $$$$$ custom builds. We have had very much the same idea for a long time, but building up know-how, tooling and part sourcing for even limited series production takes quite an effort, especially from such a small team as ours.

Well, here you are. This is something that we think was really missing from all the available control equipment out there. It's a modular GCS that caters for both autonomous and FPV flight operations in general. It's based on the handiest of Peli case formats, the 1400.


The stations and controllers we've seen so far were either built into an enclosure, or they were hand-held consoles with bits sticking out and wires hanging about, regardless of whether they were carefully designed or just DIYed together for practicality.

The plus side of installing any field gear in a rugged industrial enclosure is that it doesn't need a case to carry it around, and it can be all up and running without too much field installation work. The minus side is the added weight and the extra dimensions of such a system. Hand-held controllers on the other hand are nearly always delicate pieces with the joyticks and toggle switches prone to bend or break off, not mentioning the LCDs, which are the flimsiest parts of all instruments.

3689630776?profile=originalThat is why I always thought that a truly portable and lightweight controller must be self-contained, yet wearing a second protective skin that fits it like a glove. For this to happen, first you have to pick the right glove, then fit the instrumentation right into it. This is mostly because it is nearly impossible to create really tough enclosures in small series, whereas we already have some idea of how to build the internal container.

The current system is made up of two Peli 1400 enclosures, one of them being the telemetry computer, the other containing the direct FPV control tray and all small accessories, like antennas and cables.

The telemetry case

This is our custom rugged industrial computer outfitted specifically for UAV operation. We have been making various versions of it for hazardous areas and other serious field applications, but now it's part of our UAV control gear. The features:

  • Self-contained weather-proof PC hardware with removable BT keyboard/touchpad combo
  • Separate active USB subsystem and power block for extended peripheral operation
  • Rugged USB connections on top for high power WLAN modules, telemetry and 3-4G modems
  • Optional modem integration within the same enclosure
  • Optional AV RX and frame grabber integration for downlink video overlay
  • Windows 8.1 operating system
  • Both capacitive touchscreen and Wacom® tablet digitiser functions for accurate waypoint definition
  • 11.6” WXGA (1366x768) IPS panel with 600 nit sunlight readable screen, auto brightness adjustment
  • Scratch resistant Corning Fit Glass, optional low reflectance 3M gloss or matte additional armour screen protection
  • Battery life: 10 hours max. with all guns blazing
  • Intel® Atom™ Z2760 Dual-core CPU @ 1.8Ghz
  • 2GB RAM
  • 64GB internal SSD, internally expandable with 64GB microSD, or through USB
  • WLAN 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth V4.0
  • 2MP Front Camera
  • GPS, G-Sensor, Light Sensor, Gyroscope, E-compass, Hall sensor
  • Combined charger for both PC hw and the USB subsystem (PCM protected)

As DroidPlanner already looks like a viable option for full blown autopilot programming and telemetry with APM/Pixhawk, we also build this with cheaper Android Tegra hardware to very similar physical specifications. The screen is then a 10" 1920x1200 IPS panel with the same 600 nit brightness, although the Android type doesn't have a Wacom® digitiser, there's only the touchscreen. However, we install a capacitive stylus in the holder for similar reasons, namely for more accurate points and less smudges on the screen, but it also helps when you're wearing gloves.

3689630814?profile=originalThe Bluetooth keyboard/touchpad combo is a fully sealed industrial beauty from iKey, and it is removable from the tray when not needed, just to be replaced by the pilot FPV tray or the cameraman's tray for a seated operator. There's of course our customary mounting plate installed at the bottom of the telemetry case for a tripod or dashboard mount.

The FPV control tray

This prototype again is set up for APM/Pixhawk operation, hence the rotary flight mode switch. The payload layout and the controls are configured for full function camera control, including absolute and relative pan-tilt micro joystick and tilt pot, separate focus/shutter, zoom, video start/stop switches. We've built a very flexible CAD model of the controller, just to be able to accomodate many different control layouts for the individual client.

3689630795?profile=originalThe current features:

  • Self-contained direct RC vehicle controller with integrated 2G4 RC TX and 5G8 AV RX
  • 8ch or 16ch OpenTX RC hardware with standard 2-axis joyticks, client specified switches, pots and other controls
  • FrSky TX module built in, all other PPM compatible RC TX modules, including LR types are optional
  • Direct sunlight readable transflective 10" 1024x600 monitor with matte screen
  • Frame buffer protection against bluescreening
  • Built in black box SD card based DVR with external remote controller
  • Integrated folding brackets for cross-over type harness mount or neckstrap (total weight: 1880g, little over four pounds)
  • Min. 5 hours of total battery endurance with 55Whs of PCM protected Li-Po power
  • Omni RC TX antenna with vertical or horizontal polarisation, omni AV RX antenna with circular polarisation (RHCP)
  • High gain directional antennas for both RC TX and AV RX are mountable and optional

These controls are only standard dustproof types, but we can also make the entire tray IP 65-67 level waterproof, just as the telemetry PC is right now. Conversely, we can also supply the telemetry case with no IP, but since it has a slightly different industrial lineage, it seemed like a waste to dumb it down...

Since many videographers and film crews work with two or even three cameraship operators, we're also making additional modules available for this system. We've already designed a cameraman's version with a 3-axis joystick, large follow focus hand wheel, iris control knob, gimbal speed controls, etc.

3689630836?profile=originalEven though there's an awful lot of electronic and RF gear under the hood here, there's no sign of signal interference, nothing, it just works. It's also very solid mechanically. The side flexibility in the CF folding brackets is just perfect for a cross type harness fit, while keeping the tray absolutely firm on your belly, thus providing a stable "desk" for precise control of the sticks.

3689630648?profile=originalThe ergonomics behind the different screen installation is due to the fact that you can only work with a transflective or reflective screen in the horizontal position out in the sun. There is no way for any high nit screen to match the impact of direct overhead sunlight at such a straight angle. For the telemetry console the more upright 114-117° angled position of the screen makes it possible to use the body of the enclosure as a hood, which in turn makes the use of high nit IPS screens in a deep recess possible.

Certainly, we could install a Windows or Android tablet in place of the transflective screen in the FPV control tray, but currently there are no such tablets available at any reasonable price in the market. Apart from their cost, the few rugged pieces like the Panasonic or the Getac tablets are already quite heavy, and they still need extensive customisation for UAV field operations, which would make them even heavier and bulkier. We've seen some high nit tablet integration attempts for similar control tray assemblies lately, but they only look good and work until they meet their match, the Sun.

We've been using and installing quite a number of different transflective screens for direct sunlight operations. This FPV tray can take any size of them between 5.6" and 10.1". Naturally we wanted to see whether we can install the biggest one in the prototype and it works...

There are, of course, many possible further variations and evolutions to this system, some of them already thought of by us, some of them will come from you, I'm sure.


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APM/Pixhawk compact GCS build

This is one of our earlier designs, however, we've built this very version for our APM/Pixhawk user clients. Notable differences are the customary rotary flight mode switch and the aerial video/stills specific line-up of the toggle switches. All direct remote camera functions from zoom, focus/shutter, video start/stop, etc. can be implemented by using the very same line of toggles, which include 2-3 position, SP-DP spring loaded and lopsided spring versions.

The direct RC TX in the tray is based on the OpenTX architecture, so installing a third joystick wasn't an issue. The user has the choice of mapping the camera pan-tilt functions on the small extra joystick, or just keeping this function on one of the original sticks with a mode switch.

Of course, this station is only rugged for transport, as the controls are not IP types, but we can still say from experience that a light rain doesn't do it any harm. :-)

Those of you already familiar with our GCS designs know, that we nearly always use Peli cases upside down for a reason. For one thing, the body of the box can act as a sunshade for high nit monitors. Even more important, the control tray should be as shallow and flat as possible to avoid the extra strain on your wrists, when working for more than just a few minutes with a console. This, and the fact that a higher console panel position makes it impossible to use such an upright set properly seated at a field desk, as then your knees wouldn't fit under the desktop...

With this framework we had to modify the original top loader Peli case to achieve an ergonomic fomat by replacing the top handle with a fold-down type under the tray. Although the station is perfectly stable on any flat surface, we have also included a tripod mounting plate right in the COG of the open case.

That handle between the monitors is not ornamental, as nothing really is in our builds. In addition to protecting the monitor panels as a hard internal barrier, because the body of the station is constructed as a single block, you can pull out the whole entrails by this handle after removing only 4 screws. Otherwise you would have to shake it out... :-)

The LCD panels are 7" 1280x800 high nit IPS types, so they are very much sunlight readable even without the natural shade of the recess they're mounted in. We were thinking about mounting matte protectors from 3M, but the high resolution would always suffer, even with the highest quality hazy films. Also, the stock surface of the panel already has a low-reflectance coating, so we've left them glossy.

The current PC hw is an Intel Core i3, so Mission Planner under Win7-8 works straight from the box. Because this motherboard can drive two monitors, you also have the choice of using both screens as an extended desktop with the downlink video in an overlay/window (the frame grabber is already in there). Otherwise you can use one screen for the PC, while displaying the direct video feed on the other, as both LCD controllers have composite and digital inputs.

The original version uses a broadcast quality 10bit TBC for a smooth video feed, but that TBC is way out of production, even though we still stock quite a few of them. The new stations have an SD card based DVR in the same spot on the front panel with an automatic TBC still in the loop inside.

The internal LiFePO4 packs are fully balanced and protected from overcharge, overdischarge and short circuit. At around 300Whs of total capacity the station has a battery endurance of at least 8-10 hours. The internal charger accepts DC voltages between 12V and 30V.

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Our latest GCS build, The Beast

GCS build highlights

  • Intel Core i3-i7 PC hardware for Win7-8 or Linux operating systems, 2-328Gb RAM, 60-256GB SSD, Gigabit LAN, 4 external USB 2.0, optional 3.0, WLAN, etc..
  • Dual 10” 1920x1200 600nit IPS panels with low reflectance gloss or matte surfaces
  • 300-460Whs of fully managed LiFePO4 battery, balanced cells, protected against overcharge, overdischarge and short circuit,
  • external charge and power supply from 12-30V DC, optional rugged external AC-DC PS
  • iKey OEM waterproof industrial full size backlit keyboard and touchpad with solid tactile feedback
  • individually sealed customised modular application panels with the required set of controls in ergonomic arrangement, all with IP65-67 level protection, including:
    • 2-3-axis precision joysticks with hall effect or pot sensors
    • round or square pushbuttons (even latching types)
    • 1-3 or even 6 position toggle switches in various configurations including spring return and lopsided spring types
    • rotary switches for flight mode and payload selection
    • slider, lever and rotary pots
    • status and indicator LEDs
  • min. IP67 or MIL-DTL-5015 external connections for RF boxes, antenna trackers and other accessories
  • 2 external USB connectors on top for RF modules (“rabbit ears” for telemetry modems, high power WLAN or 3/4G), 2 panel USB connectors, other external connections optional
  • TBC (Time Base Corrector) on downlink video feed
  • optional solid state SD card based DVR for mission record and debriefing
  • overall protection levels: IP65 open and operating, IP67 closed for transport, full IP67 optional
  • black G10 or carbon fibre panels with white or high visibility yellow labels on all functions


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