Pretty much everyone these days knows that some companies can launch thousands of drones in the air and perform a breathtaking show with light and moving animation. This is an incredible piece of engineering, but  in attempt to do something similar one should consider technological, personnel and logistical capabilities of a worldwide corporation.

At Geoscan ltd, we decided to create our own droneshow on a budget using our already developed platform called Pioneer. Originally this quadcopter kit was designed for educational purposes. It is distributed to schools and technical communities to get students familiar with this kind of robots. The platform itself is modular, programmable and easy to assemble and use. 1300 mAh battery gives it solid 8 minutes of flight time. Equipped with GPS and LED modules, it turns into a perfect unit to run any kind of airshow imaginable.

Firstly, the animation is designed in any 3D editor. After that it is converted into multiple Lua script, which are uploaded to each Pioneer before takeoff. Despite we don’t use some expensive tech like RTK, there’s never been any serious issues during the flight. In the air each drone acts independently according to its pre-loaded trajectory, using GPS coordinates for orientation and barometer for altitude control.  There’s also a safety mode, which allows switching the whole swarm in manual control mode and landing it in case something goes wrong.

The first test flights took place in august involving 5, later 10 drones. Two months later, ten dozens of buzzing lights performed a breathtaking show on the Black sea coast. Having main troubles sorted out, we are currently improving animation capabilities and hope to launch 200 drones simultaneously by the end of 2018. You can learn more on our webpage  https://www.geoscan.aero/en/pioneer/. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions regarding Pioneer drone.

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Comment by Federico Rossi on November 13, 2018 at 4:56am

Hi, this looks amazing, congrats.

I have some questions on what regards to light shows.

What is the maximum number of Pioneers that can be used in an indoor light show? I understand the indoor positioning system uses ultrasound for drone positioning with a range of 10x10x4 m which would be the max size of the cube containing the drones. How many Pioneers that cube can contain safely? And what is the minimum distance between drones?

Are the shapes in the show, and the transition between shapes pre-programmed in the drones? Or are they controlled in real time by the computer in the ground?

Also, I understand the Pioneer can be programmed either graphically (blocks) or through full code. What is the language being used to program the Pioneer in full code? Does it allow other languages and which ones? Is there an SDK included with the Pioneer?

Finally, I saw the basic hardware can be extended through "shields". Does the Pioneer allow for developing custom shields in its factory design?

Thanks in advance for your attention.

Best regards.

Federico.-

Comment by Shevelev Ilya on November 13, 2018 at 6:26am

Thank you Federico!

Indoor positioning system is capable to provide precision of about 5 cm, so a safe distance between two drones is 10 cm. As for quantity, there is no strict limit, but keep in mind that ultrasonic signals should reach each drone from at least 3 corners, so there should not be any interference. We would not recommend using  more than 20 Pioneers at once.
All quads a programmed before the show using Lua, a lightweight cross-platform script language. We use PioneerStation - something ilke Betaflight configurator for Pioneer  - to update its firmware, upolad mission plans and change the flight parameters.  Operator controls the takeoff moment and can switch to manual control in case somethig goes wrong to safely land the swarm.
And you're perfectly right, a lot of different modules can be connected to Pioneer and work with it. The kit is designed for creators, so If you would like to develop your own extencion module, we could even provide thech support for you.

Comment by Federico Rossi on November 13, 2018 at 7:05am

Thanks for answering so quick.

Just a few more questions.

I saw the main light module is placed at the bottom of the Pioneer. Is it possible to include a second light module on top as a shield? What would be the impact in terms of consumption and duration of the show?

What is the wireless communication the Pioneer uses for communicating with the ground station in the indoor setup?

For outdoor setup it seems the Pioneer used a wireless m-bus chip, is this correct? Does the Pioneer have WiFi built-in too and which one (2.4GHz, 5GHz)?

I am passing along this information to my team today to discuss next steps.

Thanks again.

Best regards

Comment by Shevelev Ilya on November 13, 2018 at 7:17am

If you install any module on top of Pioneer it will dratically affect positioning accuracy, as the responsible module is also situated there. You can add some lights, but, of course, it will reduce the aereal time depending on its power consumption. The drone is fully autonomous,with flight plan uploaded it doesn't need ground station at all. The only connection is established with flysky FS-A8S (popular receiver for radio controlled vehicles), this is true bouth for indoor and outdoor flight.

Comment by Federico Rossi on November 13, 2018 at 7:42am

Got it. Thanks Ilya.

Comment by Federico Rossi on November 13, 2018 at 10:58am

Hi Ilya, one more question. Does the Pioneer support RTK GPS? I mean for the outdoor version. Thanks.

Comment by Federico Rossi on November 13, 2018 at 12:50pm

I forwarded the information you provided so far to the team at our company.

We are interested in acquiring 20 drones for indoor light shows and also explore the capabilities of the Pioneer for outdoor ones.

We would like to know more about the Pioneer and the related ecosystem before proceeding with the purchase.

What is the best time tomorrow with you for discussing the details? We are in Argentina, GMT-3. I will send the invite for a call accordingly. We can do the call either through Meet (Google) or Skype. Andres Larriera (Business Development), Joaquin Diaz (software) and I (hardware enthusiast) will participate in the call.

Last questions from me on the hardware part:

- Does the base board support a custom WiFi shield?

- Does the base board support RTK GPS?

- What is the processing power in the base board?

- Can the base board be programmed through other SDKs than Geoscan's? What about other programming languages like C, C++ or Python?

Thanks.  

Comment by Shevelev Ilya on November 14, 2018 at 2:09am

Federico,

We are ready for Skype call today from 10 AM to 11 AM, your time. Please contact me by e-mail for futher discussion.

My e-mail: i.shevelev@geoscan.aero


As for your question, the stock board has a Radiocraft 868 MHz modem . This is used for wireless PC connection along with USB modem and allows to upload a mission plan or firmware update. This can also be used for getting RTK correction signals, this option is currently in a testing stage.
There are also SPI and 2 UART ports on it, which provide communication with navigation modules. With GPS or indoor positioning module installed, you still have one spare UART , so it can be used for any other kind of connection. For now we are testing Raspberry Pi integration, and it works perfectly.

The main board controller is STM32f405, you can easily look up any necessary performance specs.
There’s no SDK yet, but ROS and MAVLink interface will be supported soon, so your abilities to program Pioneer will be much wider.

Comment by Federico Rossi on November 14, 2018 at 3:25pm

Ilya, thinking about the 10x10x4 m cube. Can this size be increased with higher power ultrasonic transmitters?

Comment by Shevelev Ilya on November 15, 2018 at 2:51am

Federico,

It is possible to increase the cube size with higher power ultrasonic transmitters. 

But we have not tested this option yet. 

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