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,


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  • I had doubts when I made the first sketches of the basic design, but it turned out to be just fine. I'm fat, I'm nearly 21 stones, but it's still very comfortable even for me. The bloke in the picture is actually one of my young colleagues, Gabor, who is skinny and he has the tray set a bit too low this time, nearly at the belt line, whereas such belly boxes should normally be at the upper belly level, nearly at the height where your elbows are.

    The batteries are already positioned under the downlink video screen, that gave the set the best balance imaginable. The chrome handle is also deliberately placed there, because apart from lifting the set from the Peli enclosure at the heavy point and carrying it around, it also helps keeping your garments away from the screen.

    As for tilting your head down being uncomfortable, well, it's just a question of personal preference. Our customers usually buy these sets for professional multirotor systems, where flight times are still only measured in tens of minutes, not hours. For long range fixed wing systems I also prefer looking at a tilted screen, just as our inverted Peli 1400 based telemetry case shown somewhere in an earlier blog entry. Since that unit already has a high quality built-in frame grabber, it's also used as the long range alternative video downlink...

    If there was a choice of real direct sunlight readable tablets anywhere at any decent cost, thickness or weight, I would gladly switch the two functions, having the telemetry part horizontally and mounting the FPV monitor in the fold-up section. However, right now the only available transflective solutions are really only fine for video downlink, whereas the tablet still needs at least a little tilt and a narrow hood, even though it's an extremely high nit and high contrast type itself.

    (corrected due to typo)

  • Is it only me seeing a big problem with a screen directly on your belly?

    I would not want to tilt my head that far down, especially for a longer time.

    Considering some operators not being as sportive as the guy in the picture, i would hate to see only part of the screen with the rest hidden in the belly.

    I would rather put the heavy stuff like the energy part to the belly and all screens as high as possible -> much more ergonomic.

  • Moderator


  • FAQ... Many people asked me this in PMs and e-mails: If there are three RF modules in this system (RC, AV, TM), where is the third antenna?

    Well, it's a 2.4GHz PCB type antenna hidden in the right vertical hood element of the telemetry head, covered by a thin piece of plastic. You can see it quite clearly in the second photo with the two plastic screw heads sticking out to the right, of course, only if you already know what to look for... :-)

    Because the head is made entirely from G10, and there's enough frame clearance from the tablet here, nothing really blocks the antenna in this position.

  • The keyboard/touchpad combos from iKey are great against coffee, too... :-) If you want just a full size coffee-proof and washable keyboard, the K310 from Logitech is also a good bet, and it's way cheaper than industrial gear.

  • Ah, OK.  I'm not so concerned about full waterproofness.  I'm building out a 6x12 cargo trailer as a command center. ;)

    I just need good enough toughness.  Actually, I mostly need it to be coffee proof, which is what brought down my last computer.  Coffee on the Surface keyboard won't hurt the main unit. ;)

    Apparently MS will be announcing new generations of Surface soon.  They might use the new processors.

  • To Rob_Lefebvre: Here's an example where we use the large 10"-12" format new Pentium Core M tablets or their OEM entrails:


  • Yes, it does fit in the very same case as all our control trays, either right above the dual field charger as a double decker, or on top of the empty space on damper ended stand-offs, so there's ample room under it for flight batteries and other accessories.

    We've considered the Surface Pro 3, just as about two dozen other high-end tablets, but nearly all of them have thermal issues when embedded in a waterproof case. Instead of the i3-i5 based devices, we now opt for the new Pentium Core M types, which are at the very same performance level, but with about a third of the TDP/SDP of i3s and i5s. We still modify their passive cooling system with a heat pipe arrangement, but now we can forget about the fan. They're installed in our standalone telemetry stations of the same 1400 format, and in our Atex/industrial line.

  • Does it fit in a single Pelican case with the charger? Pull out the controller, and have access to the charger below?  If so, that's brilliant.  Very nice work as always.

    FYI, you might save yourself some headache by considering the Microsoft Surface tablet PC.  I recently picked one up as I had to replace mine, and so far I really like it.  Available in 10" and 12" forms, very nice screen, though it also needs a matte screen protector.  I got mine with the i5, 8Gb RAM and 256Gb SSD so I can compile right in the field in the same time it takes at home. :)

  • MR60

    Really nice package, I like it. The price tag though makes it difficult for mainstream users, as I see that it is already difficult for a profesionnal customer to pay this price for a drone; but your price is certainly understandable due to the efforts and work implied.

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