Introducing the E386 Mapping Drone


Our goal at Event 38 is to build products that make aerial data collection for mapping as easy as possible. For a while now, our team has been focused on creating a better autonomous landing solution. At the moment, recovery of a fixed-wing drone requires either a large area for autonomous landings or an operator comfortable with taking manual control.

The two biggest concerns with any autonomous landing solution are:

  1. Onboard sensors tend to drift over time. If there’s a barometric pressure change during a long flight, the drone will develop a discrepancy between its measured altitude and the true altitude above ground level.

  2. A descending drone picks up a lot of speed as it dives toward the ground, but slow speeds are desirable for safety and soft landings.

After much research, development and testing, our engineering team has built a solution that enables a drone to descend rapidly while minimizing forward speed and flaring precisely before impact for a soft landing every time. This makes autonomous landings possible in extremely confined areas, surrounded by tall trees or other obstacles.

Today I’m very excited to share with the DIY Drones Community that this capability is available in our new E386 mapping drone, available as of today! The E386 has a fully customized landing algorithm which incorporates precision laser altimeter data with the ability to fully reverse the motor’s thrust. See it in action below.

Descent gradients as high as 60% are possible when landing with a headwind. The overall size of clear space needed to land the E386 is just 65 x 25 meters. The E386 knows exactly where the ground is and exactly where it needs to flare, every time. Precision flaring not only protects the E386 body from impact damage, but it allows the E386 to touch down as soon as it achieves a safe speed.


The E386’s landing setup procedure is completely streamlined and only requires you to define the landing runway’s beginning and end points. Mission Planner then shows you where the E386 may touch down given various wind conditions, as well as its minimum projected altitude along its dive slope.


The E386 also comes complete with a full year subscription to the Drone Data Management System™ Professional Tier. The Drone Data Management System™ is a cloud-based set of tools that store, analyze and share data collected by any drone. DDMS™ automatically creates a geotagged orthomosaic and tiles large maps to be viewed quickly in Map Viewer, our online map tool. The entire processing workflow is automated from geotagging to DEM, NDVI, DVI and more analyses.

DIY Drones members who want to add reverse thrust landing to their planes will soon be able to! We're currently working on generalizing our dive algorithm to work with other aircraft. Once it’s ready, we’ll submit it to be included in the master ArduPlane codebase - special thanks to Tom Pittenger for his help on this! We'll also post a tutorial here about setting up the parameters as well as hardware and operational recommendations. We plan to continue to iterate on this technique to improve landing accuracy and to make the updates available to E386 and ArduPlane users as they become available.


Questions and feedback welcomed! Feel free to leave a message in the comments or to tweet me @mJeffTaylor.




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  • great work!

  • Hi Tom,
    It's part of a larger commercial project that is not currently open source, however I can give you some pointers and will follow up with a PM. I'd like to contribute back to arduplane.

    Our work is still at the prototype stage. I don't have any good footage just now, but will attempt to get some.

    First thing to think about is that a small drone landing has far more in common with an aircraft carrier landing than a normal light plane airport.

    The two key points about aircraft carriers is they always point into the wind and the planes must always hit a special point on the deck.

    For most small belly landing planes, there is no reason to emulate a runway, they can come in from any direction to suit the wind, but should aim for a single point (the landing waypoint). With that in mind, the reverse thrust is just a way to control the planes forward momentum so it meets a precalculated descent slope that ends at the landing point. Of course sometimes it adding pretty, if you go too slow, you stall. That's where the hours of tuning come in and my expertise ends. Thankfully most flying wings are tough!

    I'm sure the event 38 guys have a cleaner way! If you have ever seen a sensefly ebee land, it's exactly what they do, reverse thrust for braking and land into the wind (where possible)
  • Developer
    ... Or show us here, now. :)
  • Sweet! Thanks Tom for the info and all the hard work! 

    I'll be sure to keep a lookout for it to use on the X8 fleet that needs all the help it can get to slow down for landings!

    James, you'll need to show me how your reverse thrust works on your wing when we meet next! 

  • Developer

    no ETA, it's a WIP. However, I'd really like to see it in the next Plane Release. Fingers crossed!

  • Awesome stuff.

    I particularly like the Mission Planner additions for better situation awareness when landing and of course the reverse thrust capability that makes it more relevant. 

    Is there an rough ETA for it going to master?

  • Developer

    Hi @James! Part of the generalization is making it work on on flying wings. Would you be willing to share your code so we can see how you did it? I'm sure it'll help with bringing this to master sooner.

  • Really like what you have done. I also have reverse thrust auto landings working with a flying wing and it makes a huge difference to the accuracy of the landing. It did take a lot of tuning to produce a safe and reliable glide slope (I'm targeting 20 degrees on the final approach). You also need a reverse capable ESC, I'm using blheli firmware because it's so ready to setup, but Simonk also supports reverse.

    It will be interesting to see how you can generalise the code, tuning it to the airframe was our most time consuming task.
  • Moderator

    Amazing work Jeff! Thanks for sharing

  • looking good Jeff

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