UPDATED! UgCS SkyHub v.3

Onboard computer to enhance capabilities of commercial-off-the-shelf UAVs and support diverse sensor integrations

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UgCS SkyHub Explained

UgCS SkyHub 3rd generation

UgCS SkyHub is an onboard computer designed to enhance the capabilities of commercial-off-the-shelf UAVs for industrial purposes and to support diverse sensor integration.

The 1st generation version of the UgCS SkyHub hardware was developed in 2017 to integrate a low-frequency GPR system with DJI M600 Pro drone.

Since then its functions have been constantly improved, added support for more types of drones (DJI M300 and M210 series as well as Pixhawk-based drones with ArduCopter and PX4 firmware), extended connectivity possibilities, more computation power, and supported sensors (GPR, methane detectors, magnetometers, metal detectors, echo sounders, etc.)

How it works

As of today the functions of UgCS SkyHub are:

  • Implementation of True Terrain Following for DJI Drones to automatically keep constant elevation over the surface using real-time data from radar or laser altimeter.
  • Implementation of Grasshopper mode, when a drone is flying between waypoints at a safe altitude and descends in waypoints to a set altitude to make measurements (using NDT sensor, echo sounder, etc.) or to drop a parcel or seismic sensor.
  • Data collection from sensors like GPR, methane detector, gamma radiation counter, etc. which don’t have an internal data logger. Data is recorded in CSV format as well in the formats compatible with specialized software for sensor data processing (SEG-Y, NMEA-0183, etc.)
  • Data fusion from Payload and Autopilot telemetry. Data without coordinates (non-geotagged) is in most cases useless. UgCS SkyHub uses positioning information from the drone to geotag sensor’s data.

UgCS SkyHub can supply NMEA coordinate stream to an external sensor. Some sensors have internal data recorders but require an external GPS receiver. UgCS SkyHub may substitute GPS receivers for such sensors.

Support for an external detector of obstacles to interrupt the flight and save the drone.

WEBINAR - Revealing the capabilities and sensor integration of UgCS SkyHub 3

Discover the almost endless capabilities of UgCS SkyHub 3 for sensor integrations, flight control, and data processing/fusion. We will discuss the current range of integrated sensors and share some future plans.

  • UgCS SkyHub 3 revealed
  • Sensors
  • Flight modes:
    • True Terrain Following and Grasshopper)
    • The laser altimeter is back!
  • Some future plans:
    • SDK
    • Universal driver.

UgCS SkyHub compatibility

UgCS SkyHub is compatible with all popular commercial-off-the-shelf enterprise drones and platforms:

  • DJI M300 RTK
  • DJI M600/M600 Pro
  • M210/M210 V2/M210 V2 RTK
  • Drones based on Pixhawk autopilot with ArduCopter or PX4 firmware like
    • DroneBase X4-1000,
    • Hexadrone Tundra,
    • SkyFront Perimeter,
    • Avartek Boxer hybrids, and many others.

For DJI drones UgCS SkyHub utilizes the standard connector for an onboard computer and uses DJI Onboard SDK to communicate with the drone.

For Pixhawk-based drones, UgCS SkyHub uses the Telem port of the autopilot and MAVLink protocol.

Power for UgCS SkyHub is provided from the drone’s main battery, and input voltage may be in the range of 12…60V covering all possible variations from relatively small drones like DJI M210 and up to heavy lifter drones with 60V internal power circuits.

Image: DroneBase X4-1000 integrated with GPR and UgCS SkyHub

Endless integration capabilities

The UgCS SkyHub 3rd generation has multiple communication ports and channels to support virtually any sensors:

  • 1x Fast Ethernet interface
  • 2x RS-232 ports
  • 4x UART ports
  • 4x GPIO (general purpose input-output) pin pairs
  • WiFi
  • Bluetooth
  • 2x USB 2.0 ports that, can provide power up to 3A to the USB-connected sensors

Power for sensors

UgCS SkyHub eliminates the need to have a separate battery or power circuit for the sensors. Every connector with communication ports has pins with +5V and +12V covering 99% of power requirements for the sensors.

One additional power connector is configurable and may output 9, 12, 15, 18V with 5A load maximum.

Automatic (True) Terrain Following | TTF

The necessity of automatic terrain following has multiple reasons:

  • for some sensors, especially geophysical, the distance between the sensor and target is critically important for successful detection (GPR, magnetometers, EMI tools),
  • some sensors require constant elevation of the sensor to gather consistent useful data (magnetometers, echo sounders),
  • safety of the flights at very low altitudes,
  • regulatory requirements (for GPR).

Distance matters (GPR)

Let’s look at a simple model of GPR signal reflection/propagation which takes into accounts only the distance between the GPR antenna and the target. We will not take into account signal attenuation, reflection from the interface between air and surface and many other factors – this model is to demonstrate the influence of distance only.

We will assume that GPR emits impulse in the form of a cone – it is a rough assumption, but, again, should be OK for our mental experiment.

a simple model of GPR signal reflection

GPR emits an impulse with energy E (the green cone in the picture above). Area of the flat horizontal part of the target is S, distance between GPR antenna and target is D.

When cone’s angle is α, the amount of GPR impulse’s energy that will hit the target (Et) may be estimated using the formula:

GPR formula

The only important thing here is that the amount of energy received by the target decreases as the second power of the distance between the antenna and target.

Next, the target will reflect a part of the received Et energy back. For simplicity, we will assume that the target will reflect almost 100% of energy (it can be a steel plate in dry sand). As the probability that our target will act as a focused reflector with direction back to GPR antenna is very low, the reflected impulse will form some cone (in red in the picture).

The receiving GPR antenna will get a fraction of the energy of the reflected signal, and it will be also decreased as the second power of the distance D. Let’s call the received amount of energy Er (energy received).

What will happen if the distance will be increased two times?

Et – will decrease 4 times (the second power of the distance increase!).

Er – will decrease 4 x 4 = 16 times compared with the initial values!

So, in ideal conditions, when we increase the distance between the GPR antenna and the target, the amount of energy received from the target will drop as the 4th power of the distance. In a real-world situation, this will be even worse as the resolution (in the horizontal plane) of the GPR also depends on distance, a more elevated antenna will receive more air reflections, etc.

What does this all mean for the GPR on drones? You should fly as low as possible as the probability to detect even shallow subsurface targets will decrease as 4th power of the antenna altitude.

Non-technical limitation

In many countries, there is a set maximum altitude of 1m for GPR antennas over the surface.
These countries are the US, Canada, the UK, most of the EU countries, and some others.

Because of that, the use of GPR systems on drones that can't follow terrain with an altitude of 1m - might be against the law.


Distance matters also for magnetometers
 

Magnetometers are passive devices; they measure the magnetic field at the point where the sensor is. They don’t have such a characteristic as “range”. The principle of detection of something (artificial objects, utilities, UXO, mineral deposits, etc.) is based on the analysis of magnetic field differences. If in some spot or area the magnetic field differs from the surroundings, that means that “something” can be there.

This spot where the magnetic field differs is called an “anomaly”. Unfortunately, the amplitude of magnetic anomaly produced by concentrated masses of ferrous/magnetic substances decreases as the 3rd power of the distance from the object.

We may illustrate this using an example of UXO detection. Hand grenade F1 at the depth of 30cm under surface is detected as a magnetic anomaly with an amplitude around 3.5 nT (nanotesla) using SENSYS MagDrone R4 magnetometer from the altitude of 0.5m. From the altitude of 1m, this target produces an anomaly with an amplitude < 0.5 nT and becomes practically invisible in real-life conditions.


Image of hand grenade and visualization of its magnetic anomaly detected from 0.5m AGL.
 

How it Works

The system consists of:

UAV
UAV

UgCS SkyHub is compatible with all popular commercial-off-the-shelf enterprise drones and platforms

UgCS SkyHub
UgCS SkyHub

Enables full drone's integration with sensors

Data-sheet
User Manual

UgCS
UgCS

Drone mission planning and flight control software for challenging conditions

ugcs.com »»

Altimeter
Altimeter

On-line altitude measurement during the flight and control of descent for sampling

Data-sheet

Diverse Sensors
Diverse Sensors

The onboard computer UgCS SkyHub support diverse sensor integrations

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