I like to spend my time in the field actually flying and not spending hours plugging things in.

Here is the latest upgrade to my Ground Station which provides a single wire from my antenna to my laptop.

All I need to take to fly is the antenna, laptop, plane and an XBox controller.

A single USB cable goes from the laptop into the case on the back of my XBee Patch antenna.

This cable goes into a USB hub.

Plugged into the Hub is:

  • Xbee for Telemetry
  • XBox 360 PC interface which turns an XBox controller into a wireless joystick.
  • WinTV usb capture dongle

Also in the case are my 5.8 Ghz Video RX. I have put the antenna connector on the outside of the case so I can either use a small rubber duck antenna or connect it to my 5.8Ghz patch antenna which also fits on the stand with a short extension cable.

The Video RX outputs to the USB capture card which sends live images over the same USB cable as Telemetry to my APM planner where I overlay the picture.

There is a 2200mAh LiPo which provides power to the video RX. So I don't have to keep opening the case, there is a charger inside the case with a power input on the outside so I simply plug in a power pack to charge it up, or connect it to a power cable I have in my car.

The second photo shows it with the antenna on and you can see the power switch for the Video RX.

The stand it is mounted on is an aluminium commercial speaker stand so it is light, extremely durable and folds up very compactly to sit on the back seat of my car.



On the other side, you can see the long USB cable that enters the side of the case and runs to my Laptop. The Video RX charging connector is underneath.

The tray holds my notebook so that I can use the mouse while holding my plane.

The 900Mhz patch antenna is 14dBi so you don't have to point it directly at the plane unless you are on a long distance mission. The whole center piece swivals and the patch antenna also tilts up and down for more precise alignment.

This setup is for my new Ritewing Zephyr which has almost finished construction. Once its done I'll post pics of it and hopefully I'll get around to making a video of the whole system in operation.

Below you can see the GS being used in the field prior to the latest upgrade (shows the laptop stand in action).


Thanks to Michael for adding Elevon mixing to the Joystick control in the APM planner. That was the final piece of the puzzle to getting this up and running.













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Comment by Scott Plunkett on October 18, 2011 at 1:30pm

WOW - super elegant and very nicely done.  Combined with a tracking mechanism for that antenna would be truly superior.  I am very curious about your experience with the XBox controller on the GCS.  When you get around to your next write-up, please share more about it, and how you use it.

Comment by Toby Mills on October 18, 2011 at 1:33pm

@Scott. I don't use manual control much, this is a drone setup so manual control is only used for flaring the landings. The XBox controller is fine for this. I've done a lot of ground testing and one flight and it worked fine. I'm still using my RC TX as a backup for now. The XBox controller is not a finely tuned accurate control mechanism but it does work well enough for minor tweaks. Over XBee it also gives you fantastic range that you cannot get with out amplifiying your RC TX (expensive and goes against my thoughts on what a  drone should be).


Comment by Toby Mills on October 18, 2011 at 1:38pm

Tracking is my next goal, I managed to kill my ardustation so will probably look to using another APM board connected to USB and reading outputs from the APM Planner. The problem is that this is quite a heavy setup, I'd also like to have both my 900Mhz and 5.8Ghz patch antennas on the same tracking head so that will be big and heavy. The readymade RC kit I have is not up to the job.

Comment by Helldesk on October 18, 2011 at 1:50pm

A nice and compact setup, just as it should be! The less there is to set up, the fewer the chances for overlooking something important in prepping for flight. What kind of endurance are you expecting from your Zephyr by the way?

Comment by Toby Mills on October 18, 2011 at 1:58pm

I'm using two 4S 3700mAh batteries in the zeph so its a reasonably heavy build (2kg).

Most of the people with Zephs are running them flat out for FPV and with batteries around this size they seem to get about 30 to 40 minutes.

As I won't be going for any speed records I'm hoping for at least an hour, but I'm pretty sure if I take it easy I might be able to get it out to 120 minutes. I'll be happy with an hour though. I'm running a big 12 x 7 prop but I've left enough room to put an even bigger prop on if I need to squeeze out some more endurance.

Comment by Michael Oborne on October 18, 2011 at 4:59pm
Toby, just a fyi, i plan on implementing an output for the planner to control antenna tracking on an old 1280 board i have. my antennas arived today.
at this point in time i will try outputting in nmea and will add a custom "home" message so it can track correctly.
Comment by Toby Mills on October 18, 2011 at 6:33pm

Brilliant, this would be great. Let me know when its ready. I have a spare APM which I'm assuming should also work so I'll be happy to help where I can and also test.

Comment by I.S. on October 19, 2011 at 12:21am

I'm really interested as well in using an Arduino Mega1280 for Ant tracking.

That would be really nice.

Comment by Dimitri on October 19, 2011 at 4:24am

me too :) Do you have xbee pro or xbee xsc ?

Comment by Alex on October 19, 2011 at 6:09am

@Michael Oborne

I too would love to have antenna tracking, but I would think it would be more usefull to also be able use something like a USB servo controller like on HK GCS?  As not everyone has an old APM1280


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