Well it is has been an interesting few months with many developments in the world of UAVs. The corn and soybean harvests are well underway here in North America and I have a bit of time to look back on the past 9 months.
We spent a few days in Washington at AUVSI. Civilian use was a hot topic and agriculture use was being promoted at a number of booths. With this in mind I would urge the industry to take not of Robert Blair's very good article on how to proceed into the ag sector.
|AUVSI 2013 wall to wall boys toys|
Even without anything new from the FAA with regards to commercial use we are starting to see the lines being drawn. A number of companies have come out this year with forward looking statements regarding their intentions to get into the precision agricultural market.
These entities range from companies that provision pilots for military surveillance to companies that have been dealing in the hobbyist equipment market. I am not sure which are going to make the biggest impact gaining traction in the sector but what I do know is there are a lot of people making some wild claims about the ability of their systems.
It is really a time for "buyers beware"! If you are interested in using a UAV you need to understand your application and work backwards from that to see if an unmanned system can solve your problem. Be very skeptical regarding manufactures claims about their ability to produce accurate orthophotos especially on the low end. Their is accuracy and their is accuracy! Unless you are putting out ground control if the system does not come with accurate IMU, RTK GPS and a metric camera you need to understand where the process fails and if you can live with it.
We have learned a lot this year about flying multi rotors and what needs to be done to build them so that they last and are reliable. We will be applying these lessons over the next couple of months to a newly designed airframe. The Octane UAV which we have been flying for three years now is starting to show its age a little. Nothing wrong with the frame but the autopilot and its lack of a temperature compensated IMU is becoming noticeable on our demo version.
During the year we have learned a lot about video transmission systems and their various quirks. We started the year with 5.8ghz systems for video transmission as it sat nicely away from both the RC rx/tx 2.4mhz and the 900mhz telemetry channel. Needless to say we found that carbon fiber is hugely successful at attenuating signal and one CF structure between the tx and rx along with "shadow" from the props (also CF) resulted in less than desirable image quality and range. A small selection of the
antennas we have tried out during the year to find the best combination of performance and functionality. In the end we have moved to 1.3ghz which brought its own issues. The biggest problem is that there is a significant impact on the UAV's GPS unless the video transmitter is properly "filtered". We have also noticed that if servo leads get close enough to antennas servo jitter is apparent.
Between now and the end of the year I suspect that there will be a couple of new developments and some cold weather flying of our new multi sensor delta wing which I cannot wait to get in the air. 2014 is starting to look like it will be a great year of aerial mapping with new RTK GPS units and just maybe a LIDAR and some exotic electro-optics and parachutes to boot.