We have developed a small GSM telemetry module that connects easily to a Pixhawk FC.
I think the cellular network and IP based telemetry is the way to go for most prosumer/commercial drones. It allows you to forget about transmitting power, frequency, antenna polarization, etc.
We are designing Airstring to be as Plug&Play and possible and it connects right into the Pixhawk's telemetry port.
Once you start your drone, Airstring gets it online and you can access it via internet through regular apps like Mission Planner and Tower from any internet enabled device.
You can find more information on our website http://zcopters.com/airstring/
We are just finishing the details on the Kickstarter campaign and we will release a lot more infos and videos.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the project! Please comment and contact us
I'm in. Form factor is good, and here in Switzerland, we are blessed with 4G almost everywhere. Just make the price sensible.
As other have said - needs a killer app, and video is the most obvious. A micro HDMI in, with a built in gstreamer feed would be perfect. A simple java interface for configuring the unit's destination IP and a means to update firmware and software would round it out.
@Jose Alberto Soler, personally I quite like the idea of having a GSM telemetry on a drone. From a PPL pilot perfective, if the data could be uploaded in real time to a map-based website, I will then have live information concerning the altitude and location of the drone, which will help me not only track the location of the drone, but also help me make the necessary change in course or altitude to avoid a mid-air collision.
In addition, an ADS-B receiver could be used along with it, for improving the overall safety in the airspace.
@jose Understood you don't need high bandwidth, low latency connections for drone monitoring.
The point I am trying to emphasize is that the market for such 2G GSM modules specific to drones is small. Groups running fleets of drones are limited to mainly commercial enterprises. We've had the DroneCell available for many years. I don't think its a matter of being easy to plug'n'play for adoption, but that it's a niche product. 3G/4G with video would improve market acceptance, but still it's niche product.
The are other concerns for hobbyists as well, since putting GSM tech on a UAV requires a regulatory approval. In Canada you need an Industry Canada Approval for add cellular tech to a drone.
Hope those points help. Good luck with your Kickstarter.
i think it is a good solution where the drone just needs to be tracked and monitored. but not where an uplink command is to be given. something like a linear path for surveillance.
I'd also recommend selling the product with a disclaimer with no promise of functionality as it is cellular network dependent, and further that you can't be held liable for loss of aircraft/damages etc. Maybe contact a lawyer just in case? Also invest in 3/4G if you can...and then preferably with video! ;-)
Idea is good and we have seen discussion and products popping up on many locations. Problem with 3G/4G telemetries is that there are no guarantees that data will go trough or with enough bandwidth especially on rural areas.
All telecom operators are expecting that their customers are on ground level so their antennas are pointed downwards which means you will loose signal rather quickly when flying higher altitudes.
On city and mountain areas it is easy to go above 200m altitudes but country side you loose often signals on altitude of 200m and beyond some areas even below that.
According one close friend of mine who is working on 3G/4G etc development. He comment is: do not use mobile networks for anything that is time-critical, video is ok, telemetry maybe not that good.
What ever you do, be careful and prepare for signal losses.
@Tom I know the forum and have been looking for a product like what we have built for more than a year now. If it existed I would just have bought it :D
@Bill About the wifi setup with better antennas.. well it's the problem we are describing. You can't use high power because 1 it's illegal 2 it will interfere with the rest of the transmitters. To improve the gain of your antennas you would need to make them directional which implies having a gimbaled antenna on the drone or an antenna tracker on the ground or both. And you would still only have connection in LOS. A smartphone is way more practical
GSM has its limitations but you don't need low latency or high bandwidth to monitor and control your drone. We might imporve the throughput in future versions because it's nice to have, but that is not the priority. Priority is reliability and ease of use.
About the GSM being shut down in the US, that is relevant to us and we will look into it. Thanks for the tip!
@Randy That is exactly what we have in mind. Substituting, or complementing, 56k radios. Also, there are many added benefits of having your drone online vs point to point connection. Those will become apparent in the finished product.
Making it easy to use is quite a challenge, because there are many things that change between networks, environments, etc. but we too believe it makes all the difference. Nobody wants to spend an hour configuring IPs before flying.
@Jose. I almost forgot to mention that in North America (US & Canada) the aim is to turnoff 2G GSM in 2017. eg. Jan1/17 for AT&T http://www.rcrwireless.com/20160324/carriers/att-shutdown-2g-gsm-ne...
Looking at a 3G for 4G module would be a better bet for a long term product
Looking good, Best of luck. I think if you've got a plug-n-play solution even with bandwidth that is only equivalent to a 900mHz radio (i.e. 56k) people will want them and so you'll sell a good number of them. I agree with some of the other comments about how we need higher bandwidth to allow video to be sent but still, what you're proposing is a good step forward.
Plug-n-play makes all the difference. By the way, you might want to offer various connectors because of the variety of pixhawks (and clones) out there. So the DF13 for the older 3DR variety, whatever hobbyking uses and finally the new standard (that Phillip can fill you in on).
The problem with GSM is that its low bandwidth, high latency connection. The idea that it supports BVLOS operations is great, except you need to be in an Urban or near major trunk roads to get signal, where BVLOS operations are much moe restricted by regulations, make such a solution impractical as a commercial product.
What would be better and more useful is an LTE module that can carry high bandwidth digital video. But you still have the same problem with location and range (don't forget mobile antennas point at the ground and not to the skies)
For long range drone comms, a solution that uses better antennas and power setups will be a winner. Especially if somebody can get that working with WiFi standard equipment and power levels (Hobbyist), or licensed frequency with more power (ie. you need a regulatory body to give a commercial license, hard but not impossible)
It's silly to claim "Unlimited Range" for mobile comms, really it's "Extended Range" based on mobile coverage.
I also think the other challenge is that the module will be $100 so it's comparatively an expensive option for most.
I'm going to guess that this is board its based on http://www.seeedstudio.com/depot/Xadow-GSM-BLE-p-2560.html?cPath=84... for $19