MILK FACTORY

A bright sunny Sunday could not be wasted. So I took the microdrone UAV over to the local trading estate. This was an ideal place for built up area training, roof survey practice etc.

I must say that it was another frustrating flying session, with a number of the common issues appearing together which in front of a customer would be unacceptable.

Milk Factory

The Milk Factory

The MDCockpit application repeatedly stated and indicated a problem with the downlink. This has been an issue from early flights in training.

The location was open – weather dry and clear. During startup phase in training session, the MDCockpit application minimised to tray (6 times) Audio warning stated “Disconnected”. Reopening the application was not possible. Selections from the tray menu would not restart the application. Tried to use help on the application. Could not get it to open help. Only a laptop reboot allowed it to open.

During training the base station was not used for charging batteries therefore I am unsure if this is normal. On connection of a battery for charging and selecting on the base station all lights come on at the same time. Switching on and off does not work. Disconnecting the battery and leaving for a few minutes before reconnection often allows charging.

FRUSTRATION DAY

August approaches and we had originally planned to be demonstrating to potential clients in August. This has slipped to the right until we are confident we can provide a professional support service to our clients.

We took the microdrones MD4-200 system to our usual training area to continue to fine tune our operating procedures and service provision. I needed also to get to grips with the goggles supplied with the equipment.

I rapidly came to the conclusion we should have left the kit in the box and stayed at home. We had a number of what are becoming standard occurrences when attempting to use the equipment.

The microdrone MDCockpit application repeatedly stated and indicated a problem with the downlink. This has been an issue from early flights in training. Removed the extension lead from the antenna – no change. 

The plan was that by now we would be demonstrating the set up to potential security companies. If the kit continuously looses the fee paying picture and is heard to warn of a string of warnings, RC, Antenna etc the service looks flakey. I need to rethink if this is suitable for event security monitoring if the video is so hit and miss. There might be an upgrade or modification to improve this.

During set up of the microdrone, the video camera was found to have detached from the main front support plate. Plate pushed back on and appeared to restick.

Yet again I attempted use of the goggles – The aim was to use them for distance control to indicate direction and imagery targeting. Hopeless is the only way to explain the use. The image is more flakey than the laptop downlink as it functions intermittently. Sacked trying to fly and returned to the office..

On return to the office to recharge all power cells I had problems with that too. During training the base station was not used for charging batteries therefore I am unsure if this is normal: On connection of a battery for charging and selecting on on the base station all lights come on at the same time. Switching on and off does not work. Disconnecting the battery and leaving for a few minutes before reconnection often allows charging.

On the second battery charge of this morning, connection of battery for charging and selecting on – nothing happened. No lights on the charger. Disconnection and reconnection – No effect. Mains power or battery power to the base station – No effect. Looked for fuse or trip – No clear maintenance cover. Looked for technical instructions – None apparent.

Connecting the charger to a portable power pack in the wagon works ok. Fault must be between the power output from the base station and the power input to the charger when in the base station.

Spoke to the microdrone MD4-200 uppliers MW Power Systems Ltd and I explained what I had found so far and that I suspect a trip or fuse between ground power and charger. They said this had happened to another team and explained how to open the ground station and replace the fuse.

This highlights the requirement for technical information on how the system functions for first aid operator fault finding.

CAEN HILL LOCKS

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Caen Hill Locks

We took a trip out to Caen Hill Locks to see if we could obtain some images of the long line of many locks from the air. Unfortunately it was not as bright as we would have wished and there was a slight mist, but we sent the microdrone off anyway. The images obtained were not great but we again learnt from the experience.

During set up of the microdrone, the video camera was found to have detached from the main front support plate.

Plate pushed back on and appeared to restick. I did not risk flying with the camera. Wait to see if it stays fixed.

During this session, the MDCockpit application minimised to tray. Reopening the application was not possible. Selections from the tray menu would not restart the application. Only a laptop reboot allowed it to open.

On the ground the MDCockpit application repeatedly stated and indicated a problem with the downlink. This has been an issue from early flights in training. Removed the extension lead from the antenna – no change. Moved the base station away from vehicle – no change. Flying at height seems to reduce problems.

I need to go back here on a clear and sunny day the images will be great.

HOUSE FOR SALE

We responded to a call from a family selling their reasonably sized house. They had engaged the services of  a mast photographer for marketing images of their home and asked if I could take some more images from alternative view points with our microdrone UAV.

It was a great location and we took many photos. One of which is attached here.

Marketing Images

Marketing Images

This trip again highlighted the issue of the poor microdrone downlink quality. I was operating the drone and the client was viewing the image on the ground station and calling the shots. The location was not built up in any way and the image availability I would estimate at less than 50% on the ground station.

In this scenario the customer was patient but in a security environment that would be un acceptable. I need to devote some time to understanding the limitations and issues of the downlink.

A great microdrone UAV operating experience, delighful family and fantastic property.

ITS DAWNING

As it was sunny, I took the microdrone UAV out to the edge of Westbury. I went to an open playing field to try for pictures of the Wiltshire White Horse from the other side of Westbury.

The Wiltshire White Horse

The Wiltshire White Horse

Having taken some stills from a reasonable height it is beginning to dawn on me how the weather will play a restrictive part in the availability of this system to deliver fee paying imagery. The microdrones cameras are ok for marketing if it is very bright and clear; and for security and survey work the cameras may be ok but need a consistent image on the ground station.

This will be an imaging challenge!

COCKPIT CHALLENGE

We have taken the microdrone UAV out on the edge of Salisbury Plain behind the White Horse. The weather has been ok with it being bright and clear.  The wind was 0 – 4.2 m/s

Today’s challenge was to continue to gain experience with operating around structure that may require surveying. We also wanted to produce another video from the drone imagery to continue to gain experience with the video editing. The video is here

The Water Tower

The Water Tower

On 3 occasions during flight phase, the MDCockpit application minimised to tray. The application is useful to see the onboard imagery and more importantly to see the battery power levels.

Reopening the application was not possible.  Selections from the tray menu would not restart the application.  Only a complete system power down and laptop reboot allowed it open.

After connecting the laptop to external power the error did not repeat.  This might be a one off.  We will continue to monitor during training.

ROOF SURVEY

We carried out a remote imagery support service developement trial for structure surveys using our own house roof. Using the microdrone UAV during this task we identified serious faults which required trhe chimney to be rebuilt.

Roof Survey

Roof Survey

TOO CLOSE

Today we were developing procedures for operating the microdrone UAV for unpopulated and limited area tasks. We chose a mill in Somerset and the weather conditions were fine and clear but with gusty winds.

The location had high trees and the target house was very close to the trees.  Pilot error caused contact with a tree at height and the air vehicle lost control and fell through the tree to the ground.

This happened as a result of being within 5 metres of the tree line and with the wind speed increase, as soon as I went to steer the air vehicle away from the trees the GPS lock came off and the wind took the drone to the trees.

As part of operator training it is necessary to learn to operate in less than ideal (open) areas.  There was no risk to public or operator. The drone suffered minor damage to a blade and the vehicle body. The camera dislodged from its mount. I despatched the air vehicle for calibration checks at the suppliers location.

There were no trees hurt in the making of this mistake !!! Only operator pride and equipment tertiary structure.

Won’t make that mistake again in a hurry!

PORTCHESTER CASTLE

We continued developing task planning and task execution procedures today. We used the limited space of Portchester Castle as an ideal location.

Portchester Castle

Portchester Castle

Arriving very early and using the car park surrounded by trees gave us the ideal microdrone UAV take off and landing site with just the right amount of difficulty.

Using the car park we could fly high enough to obtain pictures with reasonable go at photos of the castle with the water as a backdrop.

This outing gave us a heart stopping moment though, with the drone in the air at height it wobbled and I lost control for a moment. I was operating above the tree line so the drone simply drifted. A coincidence maybe, but emergency services were parked up close by and were on their radio. I will have to keep an eye on that!

WOODHENGE

Developing task planning and task execution procedures. Today we used the open area of Woodhenge as an example task using the microdrone UAV for aerial imagery.

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Woodhenge

This was the first time I had operated the equipment with onlookers. I say onlookers there were dog walkers and picnickers as an audience.