Remote sensing of atmospheric gas concentrations is important in monitoring global greenhouse gas levels and industry monitoring. Monitoring is usually carried out via satellite sensing or laborious ground-based measurements.
With aerial measurement, a wider area can be measured efficiently, and repeat measurements taken of days, weeks and months gathering time-series data.
This spring, a study by QuestUAV and the British Geological Survey (BGS) used a custom QuestUAV Q200 airframe equipped with two sensors, one tuned for methane (CH4) and one for CO2. The sensors use an open-path gas mass spectrometer — a fiber-guided laser beam passed laterally across open atmosphere on top of the drone to a reflector and then back to the sensor itself.
Signals from the sensors were fed into a multi-core processing unit on board the drone. All readings were stamped with time and location provided by the standard GPS and flight units in the Q200.
The completed drone was commissioned in March. Over several months, trial flights were run over gas releases initiated manually on the ground over the test site. The recorded sensor data was processed immediately on return to base, and the data passed to BGS for analysis and appraisal.
The team plans to fine-tune the operational workflow and maintenance tasks for regular missions.
Topcon Survey Yanqing District with Fixed Wing Drone
A QuestUAV's Chinese reseller recently surveyed the Yanqing District, located North West of Beijing, China as part of a UAV demonstration. They were able to create a flythrough to show results. The team used QuestUAV's Q-100 DATAhawk drone to survey the area and processed their images using the Pix4DMapper software.
Beijing Topcon Business & Trade (BTBT) are a Positioning Business, which uses high-precision GNSS positing technology to achieve the automation of civil engineering construction and farming. Topcon supply a range of survey technologies globally including QuestUAV's Q-100 DATAhawk drone.
BTBT with QuestUAV's Stuart King and Q-100 DATAhawk
International Drone Expo is a 3 day event being held from 19th April to 21st April 2017 at the Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan. This event showcases products like Motor/Driver/Control technology, Propeller/Camera/ Imaging & Vision system/ Navigation & Guidance System/Sensor/Battery/, Simulation/Software/Materials/ etc etc. in the Automation & Robotics industry.
Jo Harris, female marketing consultant at QuestUAV wrote an article entitled “Drone Boys vs Drone Girls” on 21 Feb 2017.
SuasNews received a complaint following the publishing of the article complaining that the article was “flagrantly sexist, male-centric and benighted”.
The complainant went on the say “You owe your readers, both female and male, an apology for posting such a degrading article.”
The following is a statement from QuestUAV director Nigel King, defending the author of the original article “Drone Boys vs Drone Girls”.
Kerstin... "It was an ironic piece phrased in an unassuming way to show women's presence in the drone world."
DroneGirls Kerstin and Carla on PPK trials
DroneGirl Jess and Her Dad
Comment By Nigel King. QuestUAV Director
“Jo Harris, my marketing publicist, is a DroneGirl through and through, having been in the industry for five years now.
She was itching to write a piece on one of her favourite subjects; That woman have as much a right to a role in the drone world as anyone. (And by process of deduction that simply means as much as any man!).
I gave her my blessing. And then hid under the desk….
Now we have a saying here in the North of England. Jo Harris “isn’t backward in coming forward”. It means she is pretty outspoken. Most DroneGirls are.
In fact let me tell you a little about my female staff in general…… the “DroneGirls” of QuestUAV.
Kerstin Traut, international drone operative, the smallest of my DroneGirls, can throw me to the ground quicker than anyone I know. Donna can organise accounts better than a Ninja warrior can dispatch enemy heads. Heather is fearless, loves her bright red lipstick and tells me I don’t work hard enough. Actually so does Jess, my grandaughter (part time worker). Jo Harris looks after a family of five and still manages at least four days a week at work. Carla Taylor took one look at the picture of the guy that wrote the complaint and went “he’s cute’ and promptly sent a Linkedin invitation to him. Between them they do a hundred different jobs including, yes, drone stuff.
Don’t you love it that kind of variety and uniqueness? I do! Life wouldn’t be the same around here.
So, who was to know that Jo and her DroneGirl colleagues, in all their feminine uniqueness, would be then hailed as (I quote)
“Flagrantly sexist, male-centric and benighted”, degrading their own feminine uniqueness in a “demeaning”, “sexual” and “callow” way.
For real? Having read the complaint, the members of the pink flight-line naturally looked at each other with that “very confused” look. And then took great interest in the writer of the complaint… Believe me, it’s a dangerous situation for a bloke to be in the middle of.
Their accuser is, it seems, a MALE drone business owner, unable to identify Jo’s sense of humour OR identity as a the DroneGirl who penned the article (Two pictures of her were in the article).
When I asked Jo for a statement on the validity of the complaint Jo said in typical Jo Harris simplicity….
DroneGirls Heather, Carla and Jo
Our Pink DATAhawk, icon of the QuestUAV DroneGirls
The complainant has since requested to withhold his complaint from being published but has demanded an apology from SUAS news on behalf of the rest of the world.
Well, truly, to anyone who has been offended (only one that we can make out so far) we offer our genuine apologies. There is no offence made at all. We hope that any reader can read between the lines of humour to the real message that each DroneGirl is a professional and rightly treated (and paid) as such.
My message to Mr Fox is; “Do you really want to take these DroneGirls own self expression and competence out of their own hands and protect them with some faux grandeur that you want to call anti-feminisim? If so I suggest you go and find a woman who doesn’t want to have a door opened for her and then don’t open the door for her. Just don’t try it on here. It’s not welcome.”
Kerstin, DroneGirl, also had something piercing to say.
“I’ve travelled the world, operating complex UAVs all over the world and done missions that Luke probably cant even dream about. I’m not an arrogant person. I know about my knowledge and my skills and therefore this article isn’t sexist at all. I feel like I am a professional UAV operator and this article was just an interesting way to show our take on DroneGirls in the industry. It was an ironic piece phrased in an unassuming way to show our presence in the drone world.”
Papa Mamadou came from Senegal on a mission to learn how to operate the QuestUAV Surveyor Pro on his Grand Cote mines. A great character, full of smiles and fun, he braved the roughest of English weather and Storm Doris to complete his training with us.
Some quotes from him both in English and his native French tongue.
“Wonderful good great I enjoyed my time"
"Javoue vraiment davoir passer d’excellent monments avec l’equipe QUESTUAV. Cetait une occasion pour moi de decouvrir northumberland et decouvrir aussi lhospitalite anglaise. Du professionalisme et de lexcellence chez Quest UAV et lhistoire ne fait que commencer sachant que nous avons un grand chemin a parcourrir ensemble.”-Papa
QuestUAV Releases New High Performance (HP) Wings for DATAhawk
With an increase in surface area of around 22%, out new HP wings are having a significant boost for users where high altitude and/or turbulence are key factors to overcome. The image shows the new (HP) wings in black and the standard wings in grey.
The wings are a straightforward retro-fit with no changes required to the standard DATAhawk.
The wings increase the ceiling of the DATAhawk to 10000ft and beyond and have the effect of reducing the stall speed; a benefit in turbulent conditions. The wings also improve launch capability in light winds.
For more details including pricing contact sales@questUAV.com.
KAZ Minerals operate a large operation at Aktogay in eastern Kazakhstan, with an open-pit mine and on-site concentrator - Aktogay Open-Pit Mine
From this autumn KAZ Minerals surveyors have begun to use a Q-200 Surveyor Pro UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) in Kazakhstan. The UAS (also known as a "drone") greatly improves the efficiency of geodetic work, makes the results more accurate and increases the efficiency of developing the site.
The essence of the UAS at first glance is simple: traversing the sky above the survey site along with a neatly planned flight-path, the UAS takes numerous sensor images along with accurate location data for each image. Previously, surveying of this sort would require a lot of effort and resources on the ground - today this is many times faster.What's Involved
Sengeldy Bijanov, Senior Surveyor for KAZ Minerals at the Aktogay mine site
"Surveying services have remained in their current form for decades. Technology developments are continuously being placed in the hands of ordinary surveyors, we are no exception. Originally working one way, we have moved on to electronic tachometers and then with another step into GPS technology. And today begins our work with drones. Very quickly the UAS can obtain very detailed images. Usually, if a company needs aerial imagery a plane is employed, but this is very expensive and cannot always be used for this reason."
"Surveying in Aktogay today is mainly a photographic career. The work of the surveyor forms the basis for all further work in developing the mineral resources. Spatial geometric measurements are taken of the earth's surface, which are then used to develop and display the plans, maps and profiles required for mining and exploration"
How often do you collect imagery?
“Daily. To create the planning framework in which each location is shown on the plan, with further work performed by our engineers, planners and geologists. We also perform daily inspection surveys of the ore collected from the mining operations. To this end we have a team of experts trained, 8 at this stage - all fully trained to be able to fly and manage the UAS.”
Who performed the initial training?
“Fully qualified trainers from the UK, direct from the manufacturer of the Q-200 system. The first teams have been trained and now, if necessary we can receive further technical support remotely from the UK.”
Who spearheaded the initiative to buy a UAS for this service?
"The idea came from our chief surveyor, Gavin Cheshire. He is constantly looking for ways to introduce new technologies and new solutions, which can be used at different sites in a range of countries. A number of drone systems were evaluated and compared, before settling on the Q-200 Surveyor"
Drones are a fairly young technology, but they are already available widely - from military use to toy units for teenagers. The UAS you use was created specifically for industrial operations?
“Yes, this is a special Q-200 Surveyor UAS from QuestUAV. The company was founded in 2008 by the CEO, Nigel King - himself a former military pilot and Air Force instructor. They have developed different models, introducing models for civilian purposes - for example, agriculture and large area surveying.”
Reasonably expensive as a package with all sensors and sets of spare batteries
Training and Operations
Operation is probably different to a standard copter?
“Yes, training is not simple, it is very detailed and takes days. The UAS is not just a gadget with a remote - there is a laptop-based station with special control programmes installed on it. Flight trajectory and all flight data is displayed and so on. Another important moment is launch - everything needs to be timed, observed and adjusted for - wind speed, direction, hand position, etc.”
How have your colleagues found the training?
“The theory is supported by the practice. Already there is noticeable progress.”
And you learned how to operate it? I would think that at first, all hands would shake at the thought that you could cause these expensive devices to fall?
“Yes (laughs), but in that case repairs and spare parts can be ordered again, for delivery directly from the manufacturer in England.”
Briefly, tell us about the characteristics of the drone.
“Speed - about 1 km per minute. Maximum range - 55-60 km. One flight can last up to an hour. This is important for large areas and for areas that are difficult to organise flights around. For example, a panel of heap leaching (leach pit) - when they initially have their ore load laid you could get inside to start surveying, but today everything is acidic and direct ground access is severely limited.”
What will be the next technological leap, I wonder? What do you see next?
“I don't know, it will most certainly be possible to do everything without leaving the office. Prepare and pre-program everything, the aircraft itself will still fly and collect the data, process the results and here you are.”
Esengeldy Bijanov was interviewed by Almas Sadykov
7 Tips for Successful Drone/UAV Operations in Cold Environments
Whatever the application around the world, be it mining, engineering, research or agriculture, in general terms small mapping UAVs are being increasingly utilized to observe the Earth’s surface in great detail - to monitor change over time. The analysis of this data enables better decision-making, resulting in increased efficiencies and cost savings to its adopters.
To do this efficiently and effectively in many locations, the technology and its users must be capable of operating all year round - effectively in either hot or cold environments. In this article we will look at some of the capabilities and disciplines required to operate in cold environments.
Cold sub-zero temperatures, wind-chill factor, snow and frozen solid ground are just some of the factors that make UAV operations in cold environments one of the most complicated tasks. Combining cold ops with a demanding flight schedule ? It does not get tougher than this.
To operate in cold environments, there a number of crucial operational factors to consider:
1. A well-trained and disciplined crew is worth their weight in gold:
Freezing temperatures and wind chill will significantly reduce the efficiency and performance of the team and equipment.
A well-trained, well-rehearsed and experienced team who understand the effects of low temperatures on both the crew and the equipment is key. Training, crew preparation, cold ops risk assessments, and equipment preparation for cold operations will best prepare the team and develop efficient workflows and procedures to mitigate risks to the mission.
Live mission simulations at the training site will pay dividends in understanding performance of UAV and crew in low temperatures - remember training is the best insurance policy as it focuses on learning new skills in a safe environment where there is the space and opportunity to safely make mistakes.
Live ops has limited scope for learning and focuses on data acquisition rather than UAV team building, cooperation and efficiency.
For crews, at zero degrees everything takes twice as long to complete, compared to +10°c operations. At -10°c everything takes at least four times as long. Crew roles and organisation becomes critical in the fight to prevent UAVs becoming cold-soaked during pre-flight preparations.
Remember – a well-trained team, combined with a well-planned mission will result in a safe and successful data collection.
2. Battery Performance
Small Mapping UAVs, on-board sensors, ground control laptops and transmitters are predominantly powered by Lithium polymer batteries (LiPo). It’s a fact, LiPO batteries are susceptible to performance issues when operating in cold environments. To combat this issue, many UAVs now use temperature sensors to warn the operators when a critical external temperature has been reached, triggering safety mode and disabling flight. Whilst this is a great safety feature, this presents a huge issue for businesses and research institutions that have time critical data requirements in cold environments.
At QuestUAV, we believe that the users must be able to dictate their own flight schedules in all environments. By implementing strict procedures and guidelines, the operators are able to get full performance from their UAVs in cold climates. Understanding the technology, the environment, utilizing a combination of on-board climate monitoring sensors and thorough pre-flight and in-flight checks, flying at sub-zero temperatures is an everyday reality.
Mobile ops vehicles need to prepared for safe transport of crew and equipment - all organized for efficient and rapid deployment. A 300w 12volt inverter is essential as power supply backup. Aircraft set-up/configuration correct for mission - Example: corridor mapping ‘point and click plan’ – use the gimbaled sensor Q-POD for the Q-200. This enables vertical mapping of the target whilst the UAV is in a bank - the UAV will bank on planned turns and in high or gusty winds. For Grid Plans – use the non-gimbaled sensor Q-POD, more robust and simple to use.
Keep UAV in Warm controlled environment (out of wind), vehicle or heated ops tent. Use spare LIPO and camera battery for pre-flights, insert fresh pre-warmed fully charged batteries prior to launch. Keeping batteries in coats or near heaters in vehicle can help to keep them warm. Ailerons hinges - Exercise ailerons pre start, ensure free moving and not ridged from severe cold. Remember at high altitudes the temperature will be colder – falling -1 degrees per 400ft)
Monitor flight time and battery voltage, if battery drains rapidly due to insufficient pre-warming, recover UAV and solve the issue. For example, replace freezing batteries with pre-warmed batteries and resume mission.
Out in the field, transport, mobile ops set-up, crews, efficient workflows, tools and spare equipment, documentation etc. are critical. Experience will continuously inform and advance operational capability, as long as crews adhere to their training.
Make sure all spotters are well briefed, including full safety card procedures, locations and telecoms etc.
Crew preparation - Trained, fully briefed on all stages of the mission, on-time and kitted out for cold ops.
Use all available resources including additional spotters if you can.
Re-evaluate risk assessments in cases of crew and spotter changes.
Desk Study, Risk Assessments, 48hr Checks and UAV Base-Checks must be fully understood and systematically completed and documented. All crew fully mission briefed, crew roles and hierarchy firmly established. Remember last minute crew changes carry high risks that require teams to either mitigate the risks or potentially cancel the operation.
Remember your operations documentation and video your missions for post flight analysis and crew training – it is very important!
4. Field-serviceable technology.
Spare and repair equipment is essential for all operations. Remember in cold operations the crews will have limited ability to repair on-site, however spare components are required to succeed. Landings are tougher on a cold UAV airframe, most materials become more brittle as temperatures fall - causing increased risk of damage through the fracturing of cold materials. Sustained exposure to the cold whilst handling equipment and fine electronics can lead to rapid crew inefficiency or incapacitation. In cold environments, field repair capability is limited. Normal tapes no longer adhere and glue repairs don't set. Airframe EPP foam will experience shrinkage, wing surface laminates will slightly wrinkle and increased prone to cracking. EPP becomes solid, doesn't compress and therefore transmit increased landing shock through the UAV. Gimbals become tighter in the EPP body.
Remote operations in cold environments require task specific spares. Pack cold ops spares.
A good sized vehicle is important for UAV pre-start warmth, crew protection, UAV ops, keeping batteries, laptop and transmitter warm, carry spares. Alternately use a 4m x 4m heated operations tent kept at 10°c (Electric or gas radiator heaters)
5. DATA – what it's all about!
After all the fixation on the array of aerial data collection vehicles available on the market, weeks spent scrutinizing specifications and deciding which one fits your needs, essentially UAVs are there to carry a sensor to capture accurate, quality data. So what about the all-important DATA and how can cold operations affect it?
Usually, there is less light available at all stages, resulting in small flight windows. Also, remember low light will have a negative effect on your image quality.
In addition, unbroken snow can prove problematic when processing your data - similar to difficulties with mapping water bodies.
For the operations team, everything must go right to be safe and successful - make sure they understand and follow all cold-weather procedures.
6. Flight Planning.
Assess target area and weather. Visit site if possible, carry out full desk study and 48hr checks. Calculate flight time, factor in potential loss of endurance due to flight plan altitude, temperature and weather.
Avoid planning a downwind position of UAV at end of flight, batteries will be low and fighting against wind will not help.
Equipment Preparation - Full base checks. Use a shadow board.
Remote operations in cold environments require task specific spares. Pack cold ops spares and UAV in one vehicle.
Send planning documents to QuestUAV or your technology partner for pre-ops analysis.
7. Technology Partner
Finding the right equipment for the job is crucial. Understanding the equipment and your roles in deploying it are equally important. Harsh environment proven systems and accompanying workflows are a basic requirement and a technology partner that will support you directly is often overlooked and plays a pivotal role in successful application of the technology.
Mobile Operations - The Art of Chase Vehicles For Extended VLOS Missions
Whilst autonomous UAVs are incredibly useful for surveying, they are not totally "fire and forget" in operation - you need to have a flight team to manage the mission as the aircraft performs its flight plan. This is generally because of safety and other flight regulations - once launched the UAV itself is perfectly capable of flying its path and landing automatically.
These flight regulations, the world over, tend to include sections that define how far a UAV can fly from the majority of qualified handlers and remain in compliance. Within the UK - that distance in most circumstances is a VLOS one - Visual Line Of Sight - and extends to 500m. Missions over a larger area than that effective 1km in diameter around the flight team require multiple flights or a mobile operations team.
Planning, Preparation and Mission Modelling
UAV flight management already needs good training and certification and even in a fixed location requires very close attention when the mission is underway. When mobile, that requirement increases dramatically. Planning each stage of the flight is the best first step.
Make allowance for the chase teams to be slower than the UAV. Ensure you have a scout ahead of the main crew to watch for unexpected changes since the initial route checks.
Once the mission plan is in place, there is no substitute for modelling the chase process with the flight team to ensure they have good procedures for any eventualities that could arise. Safety is aided by sensible preparations - watching and listening to procedures for communication amongst vehicles and team members will help standard flight operations to become more second nature and leave the team more capable to meet the challenges of a changing situation during the real flights.
For The Road
Careful vehicle selection and preparation is needed to mitigate the risk of mechanical issues during the missions. Larger cars to carry spares and ancillary crew members are handy, but open-topped vehicles afford the flight team much better all-round views.
Good driving skills and well defined communications procedures are essential.
Roving tests with the chase crews and the flight team are important. Checking the route for GPS and telemetry interference gives the opportunity to observe the moment-to-moment conditions and plan ahead for any problem locations.
On The Road - Manage Mission Leg Distances
"Fly - loiter - fly" is the best mechanism when laying out a flight-plan - pick air locations for loitering the UAV that match ground points for temporary static pilot positions with good visibility for the next flight leg.
Keeping a contingency charge percentage in the UAV batteries during stage planning is important for normal missions - doubly so for mobile ops, where ground conditions for the chase/flight teams could necessitate an extended loiter.
Mobile Ops certainly has its hazards - but these can be mitigated and the advantages are longer range surveys with fewer mapping flights.
Important requirements are:
Fully planned, team-modelled and manageable flight legs - with dry-runs for all involved teams.
Capable vehicles and drivers - including wide visibility options for the actual pilot/commander crew.
Prior route runs to familiarise chase crews with ground conditions and to assess potential interference issues.
Good communication procedures - cover as wide a range of possibilities and test them thoroughly during dry-runs.
A gimbal is, simply put, a cradle that allows the object contained within it to rotate about a particular axis (backwards and forwards, or left and right, or side to side - known in technical terms as pitch, roll and yaw). Used for a sensor within an aircraft, a gimbal for any particular axis allows the sensor to continue to point directly at the ground, while the aircraft itself is manoeuvring around that same axis.
Without the gimbal, the sensor remains pointing out from the aircraft in whichever direction it was installed. Images taken as the aircraft moves about an axis will then be oblique instead of having all parts mostly parallel to the ground. This lowers the apparent resolution in the areas further away from the sensor in each image, as each pixel is covering a larger ground space at an offset angle, giving less for the processing software to work with for any given image overlap.
With the smooth, fluid movement of a gimbal, any small motions of the aircraft (including types of vibration) are countered - stopping most blurring issues. Extra gel is placed in QuestUAV gimbals, interspaced with the sensor mount, to reduce other non-axis vibrations to a minimum.
QuestUAV are one of the only fixed-wing UAV manufacturers to include gimballed sensors across the full range of aircraft. The value of having gimbals for your sensors and what they bring to your image collection missions is hopefully a little clearer now. Understanding the difference makes it difficult to consider aircraft without them (even if that means asking specifically for them to be added as an optional extra).