When it introduced its first miniature autopilot for unmanned air vehicle use in 1994, MicroPilot (Hall 4 Stand C18d) was hardly prepared for the subsequent explosion in demand for ever-smaller UAV platforms. Today, the Manitoba, Canada-based company has more than 750 customers in 65 countries and manufactures the world’s smallest auto-pilots and associated software, as well as accessories and customized UAV training and integration services.
The autopilot devices are so small they fit in the palm of a hand and weigh only 28 grams (one ounce). They have GPS waypoint navigation with altitude and airspeed hold, and are completely independent in operation, meaning that the UAV can take off autonomously or can be used with bungee or hand launch.
The autopilot has an open architecture and is fully integrated with three-axis gyros and accelerometers, and these and the GPS, pressure altimeter and pressure airspeed sensors are all on a single circuit board. The system, despite its size, has extensive data logging and telemetry capabilities. A UAV configuration wizard and installation video simplifies the set-up process.
The company’s Horizon ground-control software provides a user-friendly point-and-click interface for mission planning, parameter adjustment, flight monitoring and mission simulation. It runs on a Windows computer or laptop and has video support, giving the user access to critical information in real time. Up to eight user-defined sensors can be configured and displayed in three different formats.
MicroPilot is now bundling together its airside and groundside UAV system components into a comprehensive UAV autopilot package, MO2128LRC. The “LRC” stands for long-range communications and refers to the system’s most significant benefit, an integrated, redundant, long-range data communications link allowing greater operating range and flexibility (taking range out to 11 nm from the ground operator). Using standard off-the-shelf modems, it adds radio-control information to the existing ground- control system data link and a second, redundant data link, reducing possible failure modes. In the event of both an autopilot and communications failure, a failsafe “watchdog” timer activates a parachute.
As many customers in the agricultural, energy supply and resource management sectors can testify, automated UAV systems can provide a reliable, robust and low-cost alternative to helicopters and light aircraft when aerial surveys and checks need to be carried out. The type of UAV used can be fixed-wing or a mini-rotary-wing device.
The operator simply launches the UAV, which is small enough to be carried to the site in an automobile or pick-up truck, It will then embark on the preprogrammed flight pattern, sending back sensor images and/or data, with full facilities for recording and archiving, for easy recall, before returning to the takeoff point. This can be achieved autonomously from takeoff, though the operator can intervene to change the flight pattern if need be. It is a simple concept that has become a popular reality and can be acquired through MicroPilot subsidiary CropCam.