The word drone has received some undeserved bad press in recent days. The truth is that drones and UAV’s provide some unique and amazing opportunities to solve real world issues and make a significant changes in the world.
Eric at mkme.org has long been involved in the remote controlled aircraft (R/C) hobby flying fixed wing aircraft, helicopters and quad rotors.
In recent months the technology & components needed to transform these aircraft into valuable tools has become cheap and plentiful. Thanks to many open source initiatives such as GPS, navigation, autopilot, video recording, and video transmitting have become readily available and easy to utilize.
In 2014 Eric created his first drone type aircraft for search and rescue type missions from a $70 hobby air frame. The model was given full GPS navigation and autopilot control capabilities with HD video recording and live first person view (FPV) video down-link via 5.8 GHz transmission.
The aircraft can also be used in aerial mapping roles and missions now that open-source software has been released enabling the “stitching” of the images and videos into full high detail topographic maps.
After investigating the possibility of a smaller & faster air-frame for “scout” type missions, Eric began testing the FT-Versa flying wing aircraft. This air-frame is made entirely of dollar store foam board (3 sheets) and a few 3D printed parts. The total cost of the air-frame (without electronics) is under $10 and can be built from scratch by anyone in a matter of a few hours.
The Versa Wing has proven itself to be an amazingly reliable and durable model. It was outfitted with HD video cameras as well as 5.8 GHz live video down link. An on screen display (OSD) provides the pilot with GPS location, navigation, altitude and speed information enabling the operator to quickly deploy a mission anywhere safely.
All custom parts, code, and files associated with the aircraft are shared open-source with the world in hopes of developing the technology further. All videos are contained in an YouTube Airfcraft/Drone Playlist.
A custom ground station and video receiver was needed to support the aircraft and video feeds. A modular and easily portable ground station was made which includes the video receiver, battery power, LCD display, power monitoring, DVR video recording, FPV Goggles for the pilot and other support materials. This was also shared via YouTube videos
We also tested out some aircraft lighting solutions and prototyped LED beacon and strobe systems for increased visibility and control of the aircraft. This code was actually found online and modified slightly to suit our aircraft. It requires only a basic Arduino micro controller, LEDs and current limiting resistors
Upcoming projects will include an Arduino based fail-safe system and code which will control the autopilot system in the event of radio link problems and any other issue. The autopilot system and related electronics are under ongoing improvements to increase functionality, increase safety and increase performance. They will be shared via the website, YouTube and GitHub as they are developed.
Eric used a DJI Phantom 3 Standard for aerial video and mapping work. So far the quadcopter is working perfectly well and will be included in several videos.
.ResQ Project is born!
This open source project investigates using AP beacon packet sniffing to locate people such as lost hikers, campers and even poachers in game preserves. This works anywhere- as long as wifi is enabled on the targets phone. The hardware detects the beacon frames from their cellular phone, records the GPS coordinates for use later. 2 flavors are made: one hand-held portable and the other airborne carried by plane or drone.
I was inspired by the constant stream of search and rescue operations on the television show “North Woods Law”. Each week they struggled to find lost people in the remote/rugged areas of Maine U.S.A. These areas often have no cellular service but in almost every case the target people had cellphones on them and working. As I live in Canada- we have a surplus of these situations in our vast wilderness as well. I theorized I could use an external 2.4GHz antenna to receive the AP beacon frames from those phones ad capture that data.
This hardware can be embedded in to any very small drone or RC aircraft. It can also be attached to existing manned aircraft already participating in the search.
Using small drone aircraft (like the Nano Talon I use here) gives all the advantages such as flight condition tolerance, height, terrain, time of day etc that drones have over manned aircraft. They can also be sent on the full way-point mission without human intervention and tracked live from any ground station.
If you are interested in collaborating on upcoming projects please contact us via the methods on the mkme.org About page.