Articles for January 2016

The future of no-fly-zone geofencing (from Wired)

Smarter geofencing features are coming to drones like the 3D Robotics Solo and DJI Phantom series. In both cases, the GPS-driven safety features are driven by a company called AirMap. 

From Wired:

PARKER GYOKERES KNOWS what he’s doing with a drone. A retired US Air Force photojournalist, Gyokeres now runs his own aerial photography business, and has flown photo and video missions for clients as varied as Wu-Tang Clan, the Department of Defense, and Nike.

But once in a while, Gyokeres’s DJI Inspire drone won’t take off. There’s nothing wrong with the UAV, and there’s nothing he can do about it. It’s the work of built-in geofencing software, invisible guardrails that stop pilots straying into restricted areas—mostly no-fly zones like airports, but also entire cities like Washington, DC, public areas like Tiananmen Square, and, apparently, decommissioned blimp bases.

“I went to a job in Massachusetts, and I went to arm the vehicle, and it wouldn’t arm because it was on the perimeter of an abandoned Navy airfield.” Gyokeres says. Naval Air Station South Weymouth in Abington, Massachusetts—a former Navy airfield that served as the home of blimp squadron ZP-11 during World War II—hasn’t been in operation since 1997. Still, the “No Fly Zone” feature in DJI’s A2 Flight Controller system had it tagged as off-limits. And because the system’s no-fly zones are hooked up to a geofencing system, Gyokeres’ mission was auto-grounded. That canceled flight is a good example of how drone geofencing systems work, and where they can cause problems.

In these early days of the drone craze, automated geofencing systems have been put in place by manufacturers including 3D Robotics, DJI, and Yuneec to curb reckless flying. In the most basic sense, geofencing can prevent a drone from taking off or entering restricted airspace based on its GPS coordinates. Geofencing is appealing because recent history shows drone pilots can’t be trusted to stay out of trouble. Drones have interfered with firefighting operations, been spotted by airline pilots around airports, and even crash-landed on the White House lawn. (That last one led to a blanket ban on flying drones in the nation’s capital.)

And with drones quickly filling our skies—the FAA predicted a million would be sold last holiday season alone, and the civilian UAV market could be worth nearly $4 billion in less than a decade—finding a way to make sure they all behave responsibly is increasingly important.

While it’s understandable that drone manufacturers and regulators want to err on the side of caution in terms of safety, these early geofencing systems are prone to errors and confusion. “These things aren’t necessarily bad, because the market isn’t mature at this point,” says Gartner research director Brian Blau. “The devices are only in their infancy, and we’re confident that over the years, some of these issues are going to get worked out—specifically around no-fly zones.”

That resolution may come very soon. In the next year or two, geofencing systems in many high-end drones will get more accurate, more dynamic, and more communicative. They’ll also start to work with lower-end drones—machines that don’t even have GPS. Down the line, geofencing systems could also help power safe autonomous flight, paving the way for those delivery drones Amazon and Google really want to deploy.

The Problems With Current Geofencing Systems

Most early systems, such as the DJI “No Fly Zone” feature that launched in 2013, were developed by the manufacturers themselves. And while it was relatively easy for these companies to hard-code no-fly zones into drone software based on areas that are always restricted (like airports and the White House), it’s harder to keep drones consistently updated with new and changing restrictions. The FAA is constantly setting up temporary no-go zones: airspace over live sporting events, wildfires, presidential motorcades, things like that. Not only did primitive geofencing systems spit out false positives like that old blimp base, they wouldn’t know anything about newly closed areas.

Another hiccup: Right now, geofencing systems are only found in higher-end “prosumer” drones, ones that require substantial skill (and money) to operate. Their pilots tend to be professionals, often with FAA permission to uses drones for commercial purposes like aerial photography, videography, and cinematography. These are the folks who tend to be most aware of airspace restrictions and the nuances of flying responsibly. Meanwhile, geofencing systems don’t come with cheaper, toy-like drones, whose controls are more likely to be in the hands of kids or inexperienced operators. In other words, these geofencing systems can limit the very pilots who are more likely to fly responsibly.

It’s worth noting, though, that these systems aren’t intended to be the end-all, be-all of drone safety. Geofencing is supposed to help, not to be relied upon. “It’s a last resort,” says Gyokeres. “If the drone is shutting itself off, I have bigger problems. That means I’m not paying attention to where I am and what’s going on around me.”

The FAA agrees. It acknowledges the value of building flight restrictions into drone software, but wants drone pilots to take responsibility for their actions. And while no-fly-zone data is based on its official restrictions, the FAA doesn’t endorse any particular geofencing system (it suggests using its apps and resources instead, to be sure you’re getting the most accurate info). “An aircraft operator, whether the aircraft is manned or unmanned, is responsible for knowing the rules and flying safely and responsibly at all times,” a spokesperson says.

Automating a Better Geofencing System

Despite the FAA’s tepid interest, a Santa Monica-based company called AirMap wants to help advance the entire idea of drone mapping. It’s playing a major role in the next-generation geofencing systems used by DJI and 3D Robotics. DJI’s AirMap-powered DJI GEO system is currently available as a public beta, while 3D Robotics has a closed beta of its Solo app with AirMap’s service built in.

AirMap, which launched less than a year ago, wants to do more than just provide drone maps. Its ultimate goal is to become an automated mission control for a world of drones.

AirMap’s key strength is the breadth and timeliness of the information it delivers. Along with permanent flight restrictions and international airspace information, it can keep a drone equipped with temporary flight restrictions and no-fly zones that are less well documented. “We get our temporary flight restriction information directly from the FAA, except for the information that the FAA does not publish,” says Greg McNeal, an AirMap co-founder. “We’ve created our own proprietary algorithms to publish [those] ‘unpublished temporary flight restrictions.’”

These “unpublished TFRs” usually apply to sporting events in stadiums that seat 30,000 people or more; the FAA doesn’t list all those off-limits sporting event in its official notices. The ways a UAV reacts to encountering a no-fly zone—automatically landing, or just warning the pilot—is up to the individual manufacturer.

Unlike first-gen geofencing systems, AirMap's dataset includes information about temporary flight restrictions (TFRs), such as the airspace above Super Bowl 50.Unlike first-gen geofencing systems, AirMap’s dataset includes information about temporary flight restrictions, such as the airspace above Super Bowl 50.  AIRMAP

A second advantage for AirMap: Its information meets the standards that apply to data systems used by airline pilots. “It’s called a DO-200A certification standard,” McNeal says. “When you’re dealing with flight safety, you can’t rely on crowdsourced or open-source information.”

That doesn’t mean no one can send a geofenced drone into a no-fly zone. DJI’s GEO system keeps things like the airspace above prisons permanently locked, but lets users with verified accounts request permission to bypass some flight limits. “In a wildfire area, we want to help keep drones from interfering, but we also want to enable firefighters to use drones to do their job more safely and effectively,” says Brendan Schulman, DJI’s head of policy and legal affairs. “The verified account provides a measure of accountability in the event that something happens that later warrants an investigation by authorities.”

The Future of Geofencing Systems

In terms of drone safety and pilot awareness, smarter geofencing systems are just the first step toward a more secure airspace. The FAA, pilots, and drone manufacturers all tend to agree that if more and more drones are taking to the sky, there needs to be a communication system that makes sure they’re buzzing around in a reasonable and responsible manner.

Accurate and up-to-date airspace information is just part of that puzzle, according to Gyokeres. He envisions a near-term future with a seamless flow of data between drones, airline pilots, and local and federal agencies. “My vision for the future, I think this could work,” Gyokeres says. “Before I leave I’m going to file my flight plan on my phone to the FAA. I’m going to give them my pilot number, where I’m going to fly, how I’m going to fly. Then I’m going to get out there, turn on the drone, and the drone is going to talk to the airspace system. It’ll say ‘this is an autonomous UAV at this height, at this distance, in this location.” Ultimately, it’s about communication. “I think a lot of the problem is that the FAA doesn’t know what the hell we’re up to.”

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International UAV TURKEY Competition

TUBITAK, The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, is organizing an international UAV competition, UAV TURKEY between 21-25 September 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. 

High School and University Teams will be welcomed to the competion. 

The goal of the UAV TURKEY competition is to demonstrate the utility of UAVs for civilian applications, particularly in the applications that will help people in any emergency such as fire or accident. In this competition, participating teams will develop a UAV (either fixed or rotary wing) that possibly helps people in any emergency case by quickly and accurately transporting equipment to predetermined places in the competition area.

The competion has two categories: Group 1 Fixed wing electric powered UAVs, Group 2 Rotary wing electric powered UAVs.

UAV weight limit is maximum 4 kg take-off gross weight including payload.

The application for the competition has already started on January 25, 2016. Please find below other critical dates:

  • Application ends: 29 February 2016
  • Submission of conceptual design report: 26 March 2016
  • Announcement of the qualified teams: 15 April 2016
  • Submission of detailed design report and flight video: 22 July 2016
  • Announcement of the qualified teams for the competition: 18 August 2016
  • Competition: 21-25 September 2016 
Rewards below will be given seperately for two categories. Please note that the rewards may change according to exchange rates.
  • 1st: 20,000 TRY (approximately 6,250 Euro or 6,750 US Dollar)
  • 2nd: 15,000 TRY (approximately 4,700 Euro or 5,100 US Dollar)
  • 3rd: 10,000 TRY (approximately 3,125 Euro or 3,400 US Dollar)
Honorarium reward will be given to 9 teams: 2,500 TRY (approximately 780 Euro or 850 US Dollar).
The international teams who attend to the competition will get 5,000 TRY (approximately 1,550 Euro or 1,700 US Dollar) as a travel and accommodation support. 

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Why are some ESC's only rated to 3s or 4s Lipos ?

Here is a bench test I have done to find out if a 2s to 4s Afro ESC’s can run on 6s.

ESC’s  and Label Specs

Afro Slim ESC 20amp 2- 4s battery afro_nfet.hex firmware

Afro Bec ESC 30amp 2- 4s battery afro_nfet.hex firmware

Afro HV ESC 20amp 2- 8s battery afro_nfet.hex firmware (control)

ESC component specs taken from the manufactures data sheets.

Afro Slim 20amp 2-4s:

5v MCU supply regulator LM78L05 Max input 30v Max load 100ma

NFets FDMS8018 Max Voltage 30v, Continuous Drain @ Ta=25°C = 30amps

BC817-40W 6CW max Voltage 45v 500ma

All components are rated up to 150°C

Afro bec 30amp 2-4s:

5v MCU supply regulator LM78L05 Max input 30v Max load 100ma

NFets FDMS8018 Max Voltage 30v, Continuous Drain @ Ta=25°C = 30amps

BC817-40W 6CW max Voltage 45v 500ma

All components are rated up to 150°C

Afro HV 20amp 2-8s:

5v MCU supply regulator LM78L05 Max input 30v Max load 100ma

(But this LM78L05 is fed from two DAR transistors that take the HV voltage and step it down to 12v, their Max voltage is 40v) this is why I think the Afro HV was de-rated from 12s to 8s.

NFets FDMS86540 Max Voltage 60v, Continuous Drain @ Ta=25°C = 20amps

 (If the 5v MCU supply was by-passed and you fed the MCU with 5v from another source the Nfets are rated at 60v) So I would assume the ESC will run at 12s with a new 5v supply for the MCU.

All components are rated up to 150°C 

Test equipment:

Power supply 60amp 24v power station

Amp and Watt meter Turnigy 130A

Tarot 4114 motor with 15 x 5.5 prop fitted

Test meter with temperature probe

Motor stand with weight scale attached for thrust readings

Servo tester for PMW control 



Apply a constant 24v supply to a power meter then to an ESC to measure amps drawn with the esc connected to a standard motor and propeller running at 50 % PWM throttle controlled by a servo tester and run for 10mins whist monitoring temperature, amps, watts and thrust.   


ESC                                                         Amps Draw                         Watts                    Temp                   Thrust 

1st Afro slim 20A                                5.65                                        133                         47.1C                     1114g

2nd Afro BEC 30A                              5.68                                        134                         53.8C                     1160g

3rd Afro HV 20A                                 5.3                                          125                         46.0C                     1111g


It Appears as if the Afro Slim 20amp and the Afro Bec 30amp ESC’s are capable of handling the use of a 6s battery as a power source, according the specs of the components provided by the chip manufacturer,  the temperature of the components was very similar and the amps drawn the same. So if you wanted to hide the ESC’s in the arms of the Multi-rotor (provided cooling holes for air was allowed for) then this will be fine and they will run on 6s power.



Slim ESC wiring was upgraded to suit a higher amp draw and the use of 6s batteries, (although the original wiring fitting is 20amp rated so should be fine for most Multi-rotors) the other component’s on the boards were not investigated, so no information on them is known.

Use this info at your own risk.






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Six Trends Driving the Commercial Drone Market in 2016 and Beyond

This post also appears in sUAS News ‘The Market

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” – attributed to Yogi Berra

I was recently asked in an interview to discuss four or five trends that I see as major drivers in the commercial drone industry today and what manufacturers and service providers might focus on in the future. That sounds simple enough for an industry analyst, but sometimes predictions are as hard as trying to determine where that quote came from. It’s not an exacting science, but it’s certainly better than palm reading.

That said, here are six trends I think will drive key opportunities and challenges for drone manufacturers, service providers, and investors for 2016 and beyond. They are:

  1. Fidelity
  2. Sensors
  3. Mobility
  4. China Incorporated
  5. Virtual and Augmented Reality
  6. Competition


One of the major trends we are seeing in the commercial drone industry is the desire for more fidelity – that is, better image and video resolution…

Continue reading here:

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APM:Plane 3.5.0 released

The ArduPilot development team is proud to announce the release of the 3.5.0 version of APM:Plane. There have only been a few small changes since the 3.5.0beta1 release 3 weeks ago.

The key changes since 3.5.0beta1 are:

  • addition of better camera trigger logging
  • fixes to override handling (for users of the OVERRIDE_CHAN) parameter
  • fixed a pulse glitch on startup on PX4

See the full notes below for details on the camera trigger changes.

For completeness, here are the full release notes. Note that this is mostly the same as the 3.5.0beta1 release notes, with a few small changes noted above.

The biggest changes in this release are:

  • switch to new EKF2 kalman filter for attitude and position estimation
  • added support for parachutes
  • added support for QuadPlanes
  • support for 4 new flight boards, the QualComm Flight, the BHAT, the PXFmini and the Pixracer
  • support for arming on moving platforms
  • support for better camera trigger logging

New Kalman Filter

The 3.4 release series was the first where APM:Plane used a Kalman Filter by default for attitude and position estimation. It works very well, but Paul Riseborough has been working hard recently on a new EKF variant which fixes many issues seen with the old estimator. The key improvements are:

  • support for separate filters on each IMU for multi-IMU boards (such as the Pixhawk), giving a high degree of redundancy
  • much better handling of gyro drift estimation, especially on startup
  • much faster recovery from attitude estimation errors

After extensive testing of the new EKF code we decided to make it the default for this release. You can still use the old EKF if you want to by setting AHRS_EKF_TYPE to 1, although it is recommended that the new EKF be used for all aircraft.

Parachute Support

This is the first release with support for parachute landings on plane. The configuration and use of a parachute is the same as the existing copter parachute support. See

Note that parachute support is considered experimental in planes.

QuadPlane Support

This release includes support for hybrid plane/multi-rotors called QuadPlanes. More details are available in this blog post:…

Support for 4 new Flight Boards

The porting of ArduPilot to more flight boards continues, with support for 4 new flight boards in this release. They are:

More information about the list of supported boards is available here:

I think the Pixracer is a particularly interesting board as it is so small, and will allow for some very small planes to fitted with an ArduPilot based Autopilot. It is really aimed at racing quads, but works well on small planes as well as long as you don’t need more than 6 servos. Many thanks to AUAV for providing development Pixracer boards for testing.

Startup on a moving platform

One of the benefits of the new EKF2 estimator is that it allows for rapid estimation of gyro offset without doing a gyro calibration on startup. This makes it possible to startup and arm on a moving platform by setting the INS_GYR_CAL parameter to zero (to disable gyro calibration on boot). This should be a big help when flying off boats.

Improved Camera Trigger Logging

This release adds new CAM_FEEDBACK_PIN and CAM_FEEDBACK_POL parameters. These add support for separate CAM and TRIG log messages, where TRIG is logged when the camera is triggered and the CAM message is logged when an external pin indicates the camera has actually fired. This pin is typically based on the flash hotshoe of a camera and provides a way to log the exact time of camera triggering more accurately. Many thanks to Dario Andres and Jaime Machuca for their work on this feature.

Lots more!

That is just a taste of all of the improvements in this release. In total the release includes over 1500 patches. Some of the other more significant changes include:

  • RPM logging
  • new waf build system
  • new async accel calibrator
  • SITL support for quadplanes
  • improved land approach logic
  • better rangefinder power control
  • ADSB adapter support
  • dataflash over mavlink support
  • settable main loop rate
  • hideable parameters
  • improved crash detection logic
  • added optional smooth speed weighting for landing
  • improved logging for dual-GPS setups
  • improvements to multiple RTK GPS drivers
  • numerous HAL_Linux improvements
  • improved logging of CAM messages
  • added support for IMU heaters in HAL_Linux
  • support for RCInput over UDP in HAL_Linux
  • improved EKF startup checks for GPS accuracy
  • added raw IMU logging for all platforms
  • added BRD_CAN_ENABLE parameter
  • support FlightGear visualisation in SITL
  • configurable RGB LED brightness
  • improvements to the OVERRIDE_CHAN handling, fixing a race condition
  • added OVERRIDE_SAFETY parameter

Many thanks to everyone who contributed to this release! The development team is growing at a fast pace, with 57 people contributing changes over this release cycle.

I’d like to make special mention of Tom Pittenger and Michael du Breuil who have been doing extensive testing of the plane development code, and also contributing a great deal of their own improvements. Thanks!

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The SF11/C laser altimeter – awesome performance for $249

With a range in excess of 100m and able to measure over water, the SF11/C is the most cost effective laser altimeter for drones on the market today. Compatibility with Pixhawk and derivative flight controllers and its multiple interfaces including serial, I2C, analog and USB make the SF11/C the easiest plug-and-play solution for altitude holding, terrain following and safe landing.

The SF11/C was developed to handle the unpredictable real-world conditions that sensors face when attached to a drone. Environmental factors including vibration, wind, noise, temperature fluctuations and extreme contrasts in lighting from brilliant sunshine to pitch dark are all managed by the SF11/C, and whilst all this is going on, the SF11/C measures to rapidly changing terrain, giving stable results over wet and dry surfaces without producing false readings.

Tests conducted by the Center for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modeling at the University of St Andrews in Scotland demonstrated the abilities of the SF11/C over wetlands and open water. Their requirement for consistent results under these difficult conditions were easily met by the SF11/C, contributing to important conservation work.

An important characteristic of the SF11/C is its long measuring range. This is especially useful during changes of roll or pitch angle. Data from the IMU is used to correct for geometric effects during such maneuvers, but this only works correctly when there is valid measurement data from the laser. The long measuring range of the SF11/C makes this possible as you can see from the graph below.

The green line is the roll angle, the purple line is the barometric height referenced to sea level and the red line is the uncorrected, AGL altitude from the SF11/C. During tight turns the measured distance increases significantly but the long range capability of the SF11/C keeps the ground clearly in view. 


More details about the SF11/C can be downloaded from the website. The SF11/C is manufactured by LightWare Optoelectronics (Pty) Ltd based in South Africa. LightWare has been designing and manufacturing laser altimeters for the drone market for 5 years and is committed to providing high quality products to the industry. The official distributors in the USA are Parallax and Acroname.

Special thanks go to the dev team for their contributions to the driver software and Tridge for his tireless and occasionally incendiary flight testing ;). 

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Autonomous Exploration and Inspection Using Flying Robots

Hi all, 

We recently released this video on autonomous exploration and inspection. Have a look!


The robot employs its visual-inertial navigation system in order to localize itself in the environment and simultaneously map it and 3D reconstruct it. Based on the newly proposed “Receding Horizon Next-Best-View Planner” the robot computes the next best step for efficient volumetric-exploration of unknown spaces. This is achieved by predicting a sequence of next-best-views via sampling-based methods and information gain approaches, executing only the first step and then repeating the whole process in a receding horizon fashion. Once full volumetric-exploration has been achieved, the robot starts focusing on the surface reconstruction of objects of interest in the environment.


A. Bircher, M. Kamel, K. Alexis, H. Oleynikova, R. Siegwart, “Receding Horizon “Next-Best-View” Planner for 3D Exploration”, IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation 2016 (ICRA 2016), Stockholm, Sweden 

The paper is accepted and will be presented at ICRA this year. 


The code is to be open sourced and will be available once the paper is presented but also before. Send us an e-mail if you have interest already and we will update you once it is out. 

Previous relevant work (but at the problem of optimized inspection while known a geometrical model of the structure):

A. Bircher, K. Alexis, M. Burri, P. Oettershagen, S. Omari, T. Mantel, R. Siegwart, “Structural Inspection Path Planning via Iterative Viewpoint Resampling with Application to Aerial Robotics”, IEEE International Conference on Robotics & Automation, May 26-30, 2015 (ICRA 2015), Seattle, Washington, USA .


Hope you like it!

Kostas Alexis

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UgCS as a viable alternative to DJI Ground Station

Worried about losing possibility of flight planning for DJI on PC? At the beginning of this year DJI will discontinue their PC mission planning software Ground Station due to Google discontinuing their Google Earth API. Along with that, there has been a recall of DJI 900 MHz radio links.


UgCS does not rely on Google Earth API, we have our own map engine and you will still be able to use desktop mission planning for your DJI drone using UgCS in the comfort of office prior to the trip to a field. That’s right, with UgCS the drone does not need to be connected and turned on to plan the route. Just turn your drone on, upload the flight plan you have created and take off.

Both – 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz datalinks work just fine with UgCS, no worries about your equipment becoming obsolete.

Currently the following DJI drones are supported in UgCS – Phantom 2, Phantom 2 Vision+, Naza-M V2, A2, Wookong-M. By using our Android app “UgCS for DJI”, available on Google Play, you are able to use desktop mission planning for DJI Inspire 1 and Phantom 3 as well. 

With UgCS you are able to control multiple drones simultaneously and even save your pre-set missions for later use. UgCS features a 3D map, user-friendly interface, waypoint actions, area scan and circle mission types and click & go functionality as well.

For map making and surveying there are many camera presets, which can be selected, and then the camera parameters are automatically used for calculating area scan missions. UgCS also comes with an in-built image geotagging tool. To help with map precision feel free to use your own map sources in UgCS or cache maps to go out where there is no connection.


UgCS allows the import of custom 3D buildings and terrain elevation models. It has in-built no-fly zones and the possibility of adding your own custom no-fly zones. UgCS works on Windows, Mac OS X and Ubuntu.


UgCS covers most of functionality of DJI PC Ground Control Station and adds a lot of useful functionality on top of that making it a wise choice once Google Earth API stops functioning.


Download UgCS here:

For a quick overview you can check out the video of UgCS features:

Safe flights,

UgCS Team

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