Providence Demonstrator

A UAV system controlled via a cellular network

by Anton Lidbom & Efstratios Kiniklis

Subject Operations, Rescue, Search, Support
Status Finished
Results Working Prototype
Owner Type Students

The rapid development within the field of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is making these systems a viable alternative for numerous operations. Mapping, surveying and search/rescue missions are some of the applications where the attributes of an UAV are appealing. Also, they are superior in both response time and the need for manpower compared to piloted aircrafts. These are some qualifications that attract organizations such as the Swedish Sea Rescue Society, hence, they have taken an interest in the idea.

By the use of UAVs, obtaining information about an accident at sea could be achieved within minutes of a distress call. By having UAVs on standby close the coast, these could automatically launch, travel to a destination and stream live footage back to a rescue station. This information could then be useful for the rescue party to ease decisions such as; what boat to use, equipment to bring and how many crew members that are needed. This project aims to develop such as system, capable of autonomously travel to a location and simultaneously stream live footage from the UAV back to a ground station.

The system in this project is implemented on a Flying Wing plane model, which essentially only consists of two wings. This flying wing is manuevered using two control surfaces, known as elevons, together with a Direct Current (DC) motor. These surfaces are controlled by an onboard autopilot. The autopilot is capable of autonomously fly the airplane by the use of sensors and sending commands to the servos and motor. It is the main component needed to perform an autonomous mission. An autopilot usually operates together with a ground control station (GCS), which works as a command center for the UAV. From this software a user is able to rerieve information about the plane during flight and can also send new commands or set new missions. With an autopilot and a ground station, the system is equipped with the functionality it needs to autonomously fly to a location.

Besides being able to reach a destination, the goal with the project is also to obtain live video footage from an accident. To achieve this a video system is implemented in the plane which uses a camera with pan, tilt and zoom attributes. These features are necessary in order to compensate for the UAV being in constant motion during a flight. The camera itself is encapsulated within a glass dome to decrease the generated aerodynamic drag. The focus of the camera can be controlled from the ground station, allowing the user to direct the camera towards point of interest.

What is unique with this UAV, is that all communication with the ground station is handled using the cellular network. This feature allows the plane to travel anywhere and be controlled from anywhere as long as both sides of the communication has an internet connection.

Results from testing within a simulation environment shows that the autopilot is able to autonomously control and fly the plane model. However, the real tests with the constructed plane does not show the same performance. The UAV is not stable enough to perform a complete autonomous mission, but is however capable of flying shorter distances. The likely reasons for this are that the plane is too heavy and either needs to be reduced in weight or a larger DC motor is required. Another possibility for the unstable flight performance, is that the plane is slightly tail-heavy. A tail-heavy flying wing results in stability issues

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