Historically, QuestUAV has worked hard to foster and support research outside the direct product areas the company R&D department often focus on. This can mean levels of involvement from working in partnership with other institutions and organisations, to sharing data and equipment with individuals or groups.
One current data-provisioning and equipment-sharing relationship is with a Newcastle University PhD student and one of their supervisors, Dr Nigel Penna. The project is entitled UAS trajectory improvements for ground control and is sponsored by EPSRC. Flight survey data from a suitable QuestUAV drone forms part of the data used by the project. Dr Penna was kind enough to answer some brief questions to give a better understanding of the project aims and requirements.
Tell me about the project
We’re interested in seeing if we can position UAVs to cm level without any ground control or base stations. It’s called PPP: precise point positioning. Usually, a longer time span of GNSS data are needed for this compared with relative post-processed kinematic (PPK) positioning.
What stage of development are you at?
We’re at the early stage, what we want to be able to do is to show is it feasible. We’re collecting data, processing it and comparing it to our base station PPK positioning to assess the PPP positional quality.
How long have you been on this project for?
It’s a PhD student project that started in 2014.
How much time and money would be saved using PPP instead of PPK?
Basically it negates the need for a GNSS base station on the ground, which does not have to be set up (in a secure site) and operated. Hence the user does not need to spend money on their own base station and will save any time spent setting one up. Exactly how much time or money saved is difficult to put a value to – given it will depend on the manufacturer, type and quantity of equipment normally purchased and what the overall end use would be.
How soon could PPP become commercial?
If we can prove that it works, then with the right software there is no reason why it can’t be done soon. We’re currently working on testing and enhancing the scientific software developed by a Chinese University to make it more robust. The problem at the moment however is that there is only one journal paper that hints at the feasibility of PPP for UAV positioning and therefore a lot more research and testing needs to be done in this area before it can be used routinely by industry.
Given that the hardware exists, and that’s what you’re trialling, is it possible for data collected by our hardware today to still be processed in the future should the software become available?
Yes of course, there is nothing wrong with the hardware that we are currently trialling with the PPP software. The main issue in terms of hardware is the length of time in which the aircraft is airborne. But currently there is no need for the hardware itself to change.
What do you see as the scope for Newcastle University and QuestUAV working together to get a solution for PPP?
It’s always very useful for us to have a company like yourself being able to come to us with an industry problem. We’re always aware of academic problems but not always industry and therefore by QuestUAV coming to us asking for a solution, we’re able to keep up to date and get access to data that could lead to new industrial practices and methods, i.e. an instrumental change.
The problem at the moment is the software, the product itself (the hardware) is there and therefore the scope for this research partnership depends on the software being available.