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World's Smallest Autopilot To Heighten UAV Disaster Response

posted 30 Sept 2013, 06:43 by Mpelembe   [ updated 30 Sept 2013, 06:44 ]

Dutch-based engineers have created what they says is the world's smallest auto-pilot attachment for unmanned aerial vehicles, a technology that will greatly expand their value in firefighting, building reconaissance, and search-and-rescue missions. It's called the Lisa/S autopilot and it's about the size of a postage stamp.

DELFTTHE NETHERLANDS  (TU DELFT) -  Until now, the application of micro-sized UAVs has been limited by their capacity to stay aloft for extended periods.

Bart Remes, project manager at the Micro Aerial Vehicle Laboratory (MAVLAB) at the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), says he and his team have solved that problem

with the lightweight Lisa/S, the world's smallest autopilot mechanism.

"Now we designed Lisa/S, this is the smallest open source autopilot in the world, it only weights 2 grams and it's 2 by 2 centimetres, and it's the lightest open source pilot in the world, which is very unique," said Remes.

Comparing it to its predecessor Lisa/M, Remes says the new device is computationally and electrically superior.

"The previous autopilot was Lisa/M, it's much bigger and much heavier, and this is only the autopilot, so it doesn't have GPS which you still have to connect and it doesn't have telemetry, you also have to connect telemetry to this big autopilot and now we have integrated all this, telemetry, GPS and everything on this small PCB. The only thing you have to connect is the servos, or the motor of your aeroplane and you are done. You have automatic UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle)," he said.

Remes says the smaller and lighter autopilot would allow small flying robots to fly longer, fit into narrower spaces, and carry heavier payloads, such as cameras.

He says he wants to make the system open source, so it can be used and adapted by the public at no cost.

He told Reuters his aim is for every firefighter to have one such micro-aircraft fitted with a mini video camera in the pocket, ready to fly it into collapsed buildings to check for survivors, without having to risk their lives.

"At the fire, they take out UAV and let it fly and have a nice overview of the situation on the fire front, which can save lives. Also, when a house is collapsed after a disaster, earthquake or something, now people have to be sent in to search for the survivors, but you can send very small lightweight UAV's in the building. If the UAV is lost, no problem, you take a new one, but if a human life is lost, that's a bigger problem," said Remes.

Remes's group wrote software from scratch to fit the small module, and communicate with the ground station and radio control simultaneously. The radio receiver/datalink technology that the team used is known as SuperbitRF, alongside open-source paparazzi software.

"This small piece that's on the top of autopilot is replacing RC transmittor and WIFIdata link, so now you can connect with this small piece of hardware to USB dongle in your PC for the ground station, so you have Google Earth there to say where you have to fly to and to your normal RC transmittor, so that you can also take it over, or fly it in normal RC mode. That was the main development we had to make on bits, on software, the rest of the autopilot is running normal paparazzi open UAV software."

Lisa/S can be implemented on quadcopter- and helicopter-style UAVs. Remes believes that within two years micro aircraft could be widely available to everyone for aerial filming of their holidays.

From January 2014, Remes says Lisa/S will be available to consumers..