Ground station survey results

3689636090?profile=originalIt'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:

  1. 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.
  2. 76% says that their ground station allows them to do what they need.
  3. 56% vs. 30% says you need training to be able to use a ground station.
  4. 61% vs. 19% says that they are impacted by unreadable screens in sunny weather.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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:

  1. 40% operates their uav as a one-man show and about 50% is a 2+ team. 16% claims to have rigidly defines roles.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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.

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  • T3


    I place it here and not in your post where you show your nice design:

    It is good to have both discussions - this rather technical one and your design orientated.

    The major problem I see is the required Form Follows Function principle for different groups of users. 

    Looking forward to new UIs with a nice design AND improved usability!

  • WHAT THE hell is that design? it' sjust horrible!

  • Hi Thorsten,

    It's a first thought, someone with a better background in UX should be able to come up with something better. There's basically a number of different audiences that use the tools in different ways, so it makes sense to look for ways to adjust to them. In this case, I can also imagine that full-time gcs users want to have the full mission in view all the time, because they track the screen more than the aircraft. For these cases, one could add a slider that would allow people to specify how much time "ahead" the gcs should be drawing. Then you only get one leg at a time, which allows people who glance to get a very quick overview.

    Interesting also how further research comes up with new technical requirements. During flight execution, when the gcs crashes, it loses all its state. So if MP crashes during a flight, that can be disastrous for an ongoing mission, because it doesn't know what the drone is supposed to be doing. Also, it will request a lot of parameters on a reconnect. A telemetry failure is less of an issue, as that is handled by the driver.

    You could require that standalone graphical applications should never keep mission critical state in their processes, except state that is vital for their display efficiency (which may include copying mission data). The idea should be that the graphical app may crash at any time and that on restarting the app, you get straight back into the current mission.

    At the moment I'm looking into message queues for ground stations, so that it's in theory easier to substitute specific pieces of functionality with others. The gcs to users is then just a graphical client, displaying what's been determined by the collaborating processes and anyone with a bit of knowledge in python and other languages can change or substitute particular processes with their own (alerting systems, route calculators with a focus on SAR, dynamic mission management, integrate databases, route verifiers against specific databases like nfz's or whatever.).

  • T3

    Doug Walmsley just reminded me in a comment:

    Another security related feature that should be implemented in any GCSs is solar activity warnings. 


  • T3
    Hi Gerard,
    I really like your ideas for the photogrammetry surveys! "Anything that helps locating the current position" is welcome! Especially, when operating at the limit of line of sight. This is why I set the WP_YAW_BEHAVIOUR = 0, which is "never change yaw". So even if you are distracted for some seconds you know the orientation. I would love to see this implemented in mission planning in Tower (formerly DroidPlanner).
    IMHO health monitoring is very important. Most crashes of systems that used to perform well seam to stem from an increase in vibration - something came loose, bearings got old,...
    I once opened an issue for Droidplanner. I guess it was closed because same as you they thought some initial stats should be calculated on the flight controller first.
  • Hi Thorsten,

    I agree that there ought to be better ways to separate information about the flights depending on your role. At the same time the survey shows many teams are one-man shows, so the switch has to be quick and easy. You can't spend a lot of time reorienting yourself on the new tab. Perhaps a consolidated view with some segments would be good.

    The type of flight desires a different way to track the flight. If you fly a static mission like in a photogrammetry survey, you'd think of a pacman like mission style, where the uav eats the track of the predefined mission, leaving a track of a different color. Anything that helps locating the current position of the uav in that mission plan helps, for example desaturating the rest of the mission plan far ahead, leaving only its immediate context very visible (or up to next waypoint). In SAR missions, the plan is not that obvious, so an operator would probably benefit much more from having a "tail" following the aircraft of the last 5-10 minutes, so you get an idea where you've been and what's been done. Such things demonstrate that the type of mission generates different requirements on the UI.

    UAV health monitoring is another area of active research. I wonder whether the uav itself can collect this kind of health data, so it doesn't need to send the raw data through telemetry. Then it could just emit a couple of numbers about the last x seconds.

    The other thing is archiving and reuse of missions. It should be possible to wrap up a mission together with all the data and store it in a zip for processing at home, instead of gathering all this data yourself and choosing specific paths. Bit more like the iPhoto approach. A collection of previously flown missions is then helpful to quickly reinstantiate a new mission from an old one (but keeping that data separate again, of course).

  • Apparently the link to the spreadsheet didn't work. Here's a public link for viewing:

    Ground station survey (Responses)
    Form Responses 1 Timestamp,How do you use a ground station during flight?,Rate the following statements from 1-5 [My groundstation allows me to do e…
  • T3

    What just came to my mind is switchable UIs for different groups of users.

    For surveying other information is required compared to FPV, 3PF, SAR, etc. You do not need a "dronie" button - but it might be an additional selling argument. So the option to customize GUIs and/or the option to select between different GUIs would be good.

    What I am missing is the option to monitor important UAV parameters (like vibration levels) on the fly.

  • Moderator

    Thanks for creating this survey Gerard I think it will make interesting reading for GCS developers

This reply was deleted.