James's Posts (5)

Sort by

UAVs at DSEi London 2011

3689424400?profile=originalDSEi is the world's largest fully integrated security and defense exhibition, or at least that is what the website says. The claim is bold, but with over 1300 exhibitors from nearly 100 countries, the claim looks on paper to be valid. Once inside London's ExCel conference center, you certainly get the feeling that the promotion literature is true; the place is huge and completely packed with exhibitiors, armoured vehicles and display stands.

I have been before and this year a curious realisation struck me: Drones. What had previously seemed like the preserve of the bigger companies like Boeing or LockheedMartin (showing off their remotely controlled/autonomous helicopters and aircraft), is being more and more taken up by the smaller, niched companies as well. UAVs in particular featured prominently, from the large types rivaling the Westland Lynx helicopter parked outside, to micro-sized quad copters and everything in between. Foolishly I had not taken a camera, so I apologise in advance for the lack of quality photographs, but I still had my iPhone, and at least I managed to get some shots!

I'd like to start by talking about quads... Just about every major manufacturer had one on their stand, usually about the same size (call it between 15" and 18" between opposite motors) and all boasted roughly the same sorts of features. Yes, you got GPS and HD video, but the battery life is still only roughly 30 minutes, so the performace is still roughly the same as the ones that people on this site, me included, build ourselves and use. All have the same mission though, to safely observe over the visual horizon, be that a house, a ridge or in woodland.


One company, more usually known for making soldier field kit, showed off a range of three to me, the smallest being a baby FPV version (HD of course) that was barely bigger than my hand. The control unit and two quads fitted neatly in a small daysack and weighed barely anything. Want something bigger? How about one that had two HD cameras (down and forward)? They had that too in a form factor that was not much larger than the peewee version. Need more payload? How about a Y6 with external camera mounts? Apparently they had a bigger one that could lift 9 pounds (!) bt it was too big to fit in their stand. 


Ok, so quads aren't your thing. One Itialian company was demoing a roughly 2m flying wing with a gimbled camera mount in the drone arena (it was tethered to the ceiling and transmitting imagery back to the "troops") but I was drawn to a small, black UAV with short, stubby wings. Constructed mainly from carbon fibre, it's weight was low, but it had an endurance of about 2.5 hours. The main draw was it's portability though, as the wings were designed in such a way that they could be rolled around the body allowing the entire UAV to be transported in a three feet long tube not much wider than about five inches, roughly the size of a modern light anti-tank weapon. When deployed, and it flight, it would look like a crow, albeit a fast one!

I also got to meet people from the team that produced the printed airframe that I, and others, posted on here a few weeks ago: 3T (http://3trpd.co.uk). In addition to a "fresh" airframe hanging from the ceiling, the one from the news item was on display in the corner of the booth, running a test program to move the control surfaces in sequence. I asked about the construction and was told that it is primarily bayonet-type fixing, but there are only four sections in total and the control surfaces are built in to the individual sections; no gaps, no joins. If you break a section, you simply print out another and clip it on. Fixing appears to be so last year.


I was actually quite surprised by it, not in the least because the airframe's skin is actually quite rough. I'm used to EPP foam or film coverings and these are by and large quite smooth surfaces, but this was almost furry, like sharkskin. There was no denying the performance though. If you haven't seen the film, please do so. It is a testament to what is capable NOW and a glimpse of what could be possible in the future. (New Scientist Article)

That brings me on to 3D printing. Strolling away from the 3T stand, I saw what looked like printed sections of wings. A quick chat later and I found out that they were single section wings with a square-section honeycomb reinforcment. The wing flexed a little rotationally, but was very solid up and down and weighed almost nothing. The quality was also very good, the only way I could tell it was printed was by the sharkskin feel to it and slight pixellation (for want of a better word) on some of the thin parts of the wing. Given that the wing was about two feet in length, I had assumed that it must be two sections joined, but the printer that had made it could apparently handle component heights of up to 900mm and a maximum width of 900mm. Following the pointed finger, I looked across and saw a pump manifold appearing before my eyes. I've wanted a Makerbot for a while now, but I am going to have to apologise to Maker Industries. I _really_ want that printer. It might look like a cupbard crossed with an oven, but I'm sure I could find a place for it in my workshop!

The big driver for every company I spoke to seemed to be simplicity. The concept of de-skilling the use of these recon vehicles seemed to be at the forefront of everyone's designs. Our own HappyKillmore is doing a good job with the GCS, but soldiers just need a rugged tablet that they can use to both tell the UAV where to go and then display the video back. Controls are more Playstation than Star Trek now, and the unit costs are coming down as the core technology becomes smaller and cheaper. Reapers and their kin might still be the preserve of the military and their friendly nations, but the time of the prosumer UAV is here and, to be honest, I think that there is very little between us and the big boys when it comes to a lot of things. They might have access to newer, smaller technology, or better composites, or faster prototyping facilities, but that trickles down. It's only a matter of time.

Sadly, I missed out on the "My other vehicle is unmanned" bumper stickers that were being given out, but I do have a copy of "Unmanned Systems" magazine to read through.

Read more…

UAVs and 3D printing - A match made in heaven?

Have just seen the following article on The Register:




Ok, so it is a touch pricey (£5000), but not so long ago, 3D printing was silly expensive. Then came RepRap and the others.


More information from New Scientist: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20737-3d-printing-the-worlds-first-printed-plane.html?page=1


dn20737-1_300.jpgI have to say that it looks quite nice too.

Read more…

Flight testing - Well, learning to fly

3689407823?profile=originalSince my last post here, I've been patiently waiting for HobbyKing to get more Turingy 9x radio systems in stock. Alas, they sold out of Mode 2 before I could get an order together with a friend at work, so I went for a mode 1 when he placed his order and laid plans to break out the tools and change things over.

However, after a short wait, the assorted kit we ordered arrived and I have now started flight training in a borrowed 4ch trainer like this one.

The weather over the last few days has been pretty much perfect for soaring and the training is going well; I've gone from piling the plain into the ground on launch, to actually being able to hold position reasonably well, turn downwind and back into the wind and use ailerons to correct from gusts. I even landed for the first time today (landed rather than crashed that is!)


Here's a pic of both planes prior to the flights. Mine is the one with black tape all over the nose.

However, all that is secondary... My APM has been waiting for its chance, and with the shipment from HobbyKing we finally got hold of an airframe that has space to spare for the second LiPo and the APM board. The last few components should be available from toolboxes or the local model shop (servo extension cables to connect to the APM) and we should be good to go. The only thing we need from that point forward is a Windows laptop for waypoint programming. Oh, and a camera system. And decent weather.

Read more…



I was not able to find anything about this ont he blog so far, but as I was browsing Hackaday this morning, I saw a link to the Vicacopter site. http://vicacopter.com/vika1.php

It looks very similar to the ArduCopter, but seems to only have 2 accelerometers rather than the three that we use, so with the magnetometers, it has 8 DoF. Other than that, details look pretty scare.

Hackaday have film of it doing some skywriting on their post: http://hackaday.com/2011/01/17/tri-rotor-helicopter-with-full-autopilot/

Read more…

Getting started - First steps into the UAV world


As a total newbie into the world of electronics hardware and software, I took the big step a few months ago of deciding to build myself a UAV. Actually, I decided to build myself a quadcopter after seeing what was to become the ArduCopter on Hackaday, but the dream changed and the desire for payload carrying overcame my initial desires.

Anyway, I ordered myself an Arduino board and set about going through the learning examples, having mixed success with my progress (more with software, less with hardware - I am truly useless with electronics after failing to learn even the most basic parts of it at school) until I finally decided to bite the bullet and buy the ArduPilotMega board and the oilpan from the UK's only stockist (or so it seems) http://www.coolcomponents.co.uk. A bit of soldering later (even I can't mess that up) and I had the basics working. I even managed to get my Mac to upload the code and talk to the system via the CLI. A few weeks (and another pay day later) and I had a complete MediaTek GPS system in my hands from across the pond. Another bit of soldering and my initial payload package was pretty much complete.

Then, a bit of luck! One of the new starters at work is into FPV and offered to donate one of his old airframes to my cause. Yes, it's battered. Yes, the nose is held on with black tape and the wings have clear tape reinforcing the [slightly broken] main spar. It might also have resin holding the tail section on, but it is still an airframe and it comes with servos and an ESC.

So, what next?

Well, I have another heli flyer from work lending me an old six channel analog radio system when he can find it, and I need to source LiPos and a prop, but the most important thing I need to do is to try and fit the bits of the APM into the airframe. My current thinking is that it might involve a little bit of cutting, some hollowing out, and maybe the creating and attaching of a new nose section lovingly made from new foam. I'm also going to be spending a lot more time with the APM code, learning how to code it, and seeing if there is anything I can do to make it better. Already I have some ideas for a new airfame and some extra features, but that would take a lot more experience of coding than I have now to put together. I have time though, and I am learning. I just need to _not_ kill the APM chip, like I did the other day with the one on my Arduino dev board.

I'm hoping that this blog will serve as a memory to how I get on with the build, the initial testing and the more advanced things that I hope I will end up doing with the project. With any luck I'll be able to update it regularly with more successes than failures.

Read more…