Researchers build the world's smallest autopilot for micro aircraft (w/ Video)

August 26, 2013, Delft University of Technology

Researcher Bart Remes and his team of the Micro Aerial Vehicle Laboratory at the TU Delft faculty of Aerospace Engineering have designed, built and tested the world's smallest open source autopilot for small unmanned aircraft. A smaller – and lighter – autopilot allows these small flying robots to fly longer, fit into narrower spaces or carry more payloads, such as cameras. That makes them more suitable to be used in for example rescue operations. Remes: "Our aim? Make MAVs so small and light that every fireman can fit one in his pocket."

The world's smallest autopilot

The world's smallest autopilot for micro aerial vehicles – small flying robots that can be used in safety and rescue operations – is called Lisa/S. It weighs 1.9 grams, more than 30 grams less than its predecessor. The autopilot measures 2 cm by 2 cm. Bart Remes, project manager at the Micro Aerial Vehicle Laboratory at TU Delft: "We programmed new software, Superbitrf, that keeps the autopilot connected to a ground station and a normal RC transmitter at the same time." This combination of functions made it possible to miniaturize the autopilot. Making the autopilot smaller and lighter allows a micro aerial vehicle to stay up in the air longer and carry heavier cameras and sensors. This makes it easier to use MAVs in for example search and .

Open source

The research team have chosen to develop Lisa/s open source to make it possible for users to test it and come up with suggestions for improvement. Making all the details available online also helps to make MAVs easily accessible for all. Remes: "Our aim is to make MAVs as commonplace as smartphones and laptops. Farmers can use MAVs to inspect crops for example. Our dream is that every fire fighter carries a MAV in his breast pocket to use for inspections of collapsed or burning buildings without having to go inside."

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1 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2013
I notice they are using brushless motors, which is good, but they are using a standard Li-Ion battery pack, which is a bit out of date. I wonder why they don't upgrade to the newer Li-Polymer battery? They can't be working with off-the-shelf hardware if they are still using the old batteries, since all the current micro-drones use the Li-Po packs, which run at a different voltage than the Li-Ion packs.

They could also reduce the weight of their frame quite a bit, simply by buying one of the super-light hobby grade drones on the market for under $50.

Here's one that I fly:


Notice the carbon fiber booms that the motors are mounted on. This quad already has a built in 3-axis gyro and 3-axis inertial stabilizer (they call this 6-axis, which is an industry standard misnomer, but oh well.)

There's a version that comes with first person view real time video camera flying.
not rated yet Aug 26, 2013
That company also makes a slightly larger quad (but not much larger) that has a built in sonic obstacle avoidance system, but it's a bit crude in the most current version I've seen. It tends to over-react, but I'm sure that's something you could fix if you got into the programming.

The biggest obstacle the guys in the story above are facing is gonna be limited flight time. Even with a totally stripped down quad that doesn't do anything but fly around (no camera or anything) you are lucky to get more than 10 minutes of flight. You get a bit more than 15 minutes, and maybe 20, if you go up to a bit larger size, but that makes it harder to carry around, and it's not going to fly into small spaces. The larger the drone, the more prop wash it creates, so it'll suck itself up into over-head surfaces or it'll want to side-slip off of edges like a table-top from ground effect aerodynamics. Smaller drones are much more manuverable in small spaces, not to mention safer to work around.

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