It's been a week that the ground station survey is online and it received 82 responses. Not a whole lot for a forum like diydrones, but most companies only manage to interview 5-10 people. So the results of this survey should be considered a valuable resource.
In this analysis, I won't highlight the points that seem inconclusive, because they didn't get convincing results. Convincing is when there's more than 20% difference between disagreement and agreement. Before you complain about these definitions, the full data is publicly available at this link, so you can reinterpret the data any way you wish:
- 52% states they use the GCS as a backup mechanism for controlling the aircraft. 26% controls the aircraft mostly through the ground station and 25% does something different.
- 76% says that their ground station allows them to do what they need.
- 56% vs. 30% says you need training to be able to use a ground station.
- 61% vs. 19% says that they are impacted by unreadable screens in sunny weather.
- 30% vs. 15% thinks the PFD is indispensible, but 60% is neutral. This could indicate people do not really care about the PFD being on screen during flight? Some people would probably complain here, because when you're in the plane you can be subject to loss of orientation and this would therefore require the PFD to be installed? Except for uav's, where the IMU doesn't get confused like humans do. In the case it *does* get confused, the reading is not reliable anyway, so you can't really use it then. For multirotors the results will be catastrophic, for fixedwings you need to be a good model pilot. So it's an interesting question to be asked that perhaps PFD's are only sensible in the config and setup stage to confirm correct IMU sensing?
- 65% vs. 10% says that speech and audible functions are indispensable. That is a convincing majority and this makes sense, given that a large number of users are both pilots and gcs operators or a mix thereof.
- 59% vs. 13% thinks that they shouldn't be forced to move the waypoints individually, but somehow do this at a higher level of conception.
Then some interesting statistics:
- 40% operates their uav as a one-man show and about 50% is a 2+ team. 16% claims to have rigidly defines roles.
- In the control question asking how the roles are defined, we see the 40% plus another 20% ( of the 2+ people teams ), where the pilot seems to get the entire say and control over the GCS. That comes close to the expectation.
- 45% is happy with the way how their GCS is supporting in all phases of flight. 21% needs to learn about these options more and 34% thinks there's room for improvement.
- In cases of events that their craft needs to go out of the way, 43% claims to be able to do this between 2-30 seconds. 20% takes over manually instead. 37% says they either don't need it, will take too long or haven't tested this in practice.
- About 80% has ever only controlled 1 UAV by the GCS at the same time. 10% 2, 8% 3, and 4% 4-6. This is however a bit tricky to analyze, because this type of swarm control is an active area of research and not all GCS's allow for more than one uav at the same time to be controlled.
- 40% plans the flight with the customer indoors prior to the flight. 24% does this in the field in detail and 35% does most of the planning themselves, sometimes with a bit of gesturing by the customer. None of these styles listed are considered "best" by the way, because they highly depend on the industry area you're active.
Then, to find out a bit more about respondents:
- 30% has 2-4 years in total related to modeling, uav's, aviation or the entire field.
- 34% has less than 2 years experience.
- 34% has more than 4 years experience.
Then the open question, where people can complain, add, or write some additional notes about the use of GCS's in general. Reducing them categorically:
- General complaints about use in the field: screen readability, portability and making things easier for non-technical users, clipping on transmitter, dust on touch-screens, bulky mouse/pc, etc.
- Switching tools depending on the environment: MP for inside, DP for outside, AP not used.
- Permission settings on which GCS or user can control what.
- The ability to keep mission-related stuff together, including cached maps, logs, etc.
- User customization of screen elements (make them larger? placement, etc. ) and saving those customizations. Saving the last-known context, so you go straight back into the last thing you were doing.
- Different views in the GCS for different roles: pilot, engineer, payload operator. Implies more instances.
- POI, ROI and Follow me functions using flight data (specify less, better defaults?)
- Run the GCS without having the uav connected yet, so less dependent on having the actual connection to the uav and being more agnostic on establishing the actual connection ( craft discovery? USB event trapping? fixing baud rates? or trying most likely baud rate and then if failure occurs, allow user to modify it? )
- GCS should be inspired by game designers and figure out what's really needed on screen. More flexibility in defining the display.
- GCS should be usable on iOS and touch-input devices with care taken about incorrect touches ("are you sure y/n?")
- More (scripted?) automation on events. Think HDOP < x, battery (already there), etc.
- Better payload and auxiliary control through GCS.
- interfaces in 3D, better visualization for planning missions and landings.
- Integration with R/C controls.
- Make it easier to use for crash analysis and to figure out what went wrong.
- Pre-flight check including parameter verification. Sounds like people actually want a "good" file on the GCS and then prior to flight verify the settings on the device are actually those ones. Peace of mind!
- Manually constructing the landing procedure is too difficult.
- Slow startup on more limited hardware in the field. Should be faster.
One comment attracted my interest, so I'll post it here in full:
GCS is broad term. I will speak specifically to DroidPlanner 2 and Mission Planner respectively. The fist offers limited functionality with regards to critical pilot info. ie HDOP. It seems like a tool built for the newbs to enjoy playing with technology rather than understanding the dynamics of UAV flights. Don't get me wrong it's a beautiful fluid interface, just wish I had full parameter control (w/o bugginess) and the ability to add certain reads to the display. MP is a robust toolbox that I bring out to the field because I trust it 100%. My wish is that UI/UX would be rethought. For example, I like to verify parameters before flight. At the moment this is too many clicks away and buried under heavy mouse behavior. If I could, I would integrate a customizable pre-flight check function into MP that would bring up in series specific parts of MP that give me peace of mind prior to take off. Dronedeploy is thinking about this with their system, but in a bit too controlled manner with not enough info. I've voiced some of these things to a local crew here who's developing and browser GCS. http://www.flyroutinely.com/
So these are the results of the survey... thanks all for participating, they did give me some interesting insights into what lives in the mind of the uav operators. I hope this survey contributes to making existing ground stations better, so we can make future flights safer and make our operators better informed about the status and intention of our aircrafts.