UAV Nav Systems Moves Into Consumer Markets

Jan. 17, 2013
Technology Editor Bill Wong talks with Guillermo Parodi of UAV Navigation about how their advanced navigation module will be impacting the consumer space.

UAV Navigation is known for their UAV navigation electronics. Their electronic flight information systems (EFIS) target the general aviation industry. Recently they delivered the compact AH01 (Fig. 1)IMU/AHRS/INS (Inertial measurement Unit/Attitude and Heading reference System/Inertial Navigation Systems) system. It is ideal for very small UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) but is suitable for a range of consumer devices.

GPS has revolutionized navigation but it has limitations when used alone including slow response time compared to local sensors and radio reception requirements. I spoke with Guillermo Parodi of UAV Navigation about how their technology will impact the consumer space and the kinds of challenges they expect to encounter.

Figure 1. The AH01 is a compact IMU/AHRS/INS system with an on-board Arm Cortex-M0 microcontroller.

Wong: Why would a company that designs and sells UAV avionics enter the consumer electronics market?

Parodi: UAV avionics and motion processing technologies have a lot in common. There are more and more similarities between the increasingly sophisticated motion analysis embedded in consumer electronics and the attitude and flight control devices that form the brain of UAVs.

Wong: Now breaking into a new area of business, beyond avionics, what segment in particular will your products target? Consumer electronics, handheld navigation devices, etc? Who will these potential customers be?

Parodi: We are now targeting products in navigation, automation and sporting goods, but the range of exciting new applications in consumer electronics is extremely wide.

Just to give an example, INS (Inertial navigation Systems) drop-in technology is directly applicable to navigation systems, either wearable or in cars. Replacing GPS receivers with GPS-INS fusion devices adds direction and attitude information to the positioning data. Location receivers become smarter, more accurate, proactive and helpful- even in difficult situations such as a round-about, rapid speed, and direction changes or poorly mapped areas.

Wong: What type of navigation systems does UAV Navigation currently deliver?

Parodi: We deliver the following avionics and motion processing devices:

  • IMU/AHRS/INS: AH01 and AP04OEM2
  • Full autonomous flight control systems: AP04 and LCAP

They are used in avionics and the inertial navigation where GPS may be unavailable. When used in another context, like sports or any consumer device, the same functionality is used to analyze 3D motion, not of a plane, but of a running shoe, glove, portable device.

The AP04 and LCAP include IMU-AHRS-INS device and Air Data System that tracks data like static pressure, and GPS support. They also include a Flight Control CPU that handles vehicle stabilization, autonomous flight control, payload control. The AP04 and AP04OEM2 units can act as the main or only computer in an UAV.

All our systems rely on MEM sensors. The AP04OEM2 and AP04 have been designed to extract as much performance as possible from any single system. The AP04OEM2 is also used in extreme motor sports events, such as RedBull air races telemetry or camera stabilization and motion analysis in MotoGP races.

The AH01 and LCAP have been designed to have as much performance that could be achieved with mass-production. In the case of the AH01, this means usability and pricing in consumer electronics type of products.

Wong: What is the functionality of the AH01?

Parodi: The AH01 is an IMU/AHRS: It includes 3D accelerometers, 3D gyros, and 3D magnetometers. They are connected to an ARM Cortex M0 CPU that processes the data and delivers the attitude, including heading, and Inertial Navigation data.

Wong: What are the host requirements for the AH01?

Parodi: Minimally the AH01 is fully autonomous and performs all the IMU-AHRS-INS calculations. This means a simple CPU with a UART will do for controlling it.

We have an evaluation system and customer examples with an AH01 connected to an ARM CPU with embedded flash memory for program and data storing, powered with battery and connected by Bluetooth. An option would be to include a GPS receiver.

Wong: Where is the AH01 being used now?

Parodi: In our own LCAP avionics systems, in electronic flight instruments, both in production.

Customers are also using it to design stabilization devices and sporting goods devices that will appear in 2013.

Wong: Where is this industry going with new technology? How will the use of UAV's benefit new technology?

Parodi: First generation attitude sensing technology has played a key role in the success of consumer products such as smartphones, gaming consoles or some sporting goods. Clever solutions exploited the ability of sensors to provide simple attitude or single event information steps, hits.

We are now able to go beyond single sensor, single event processing and analyze in real time the complex motion of a hand, a running shoe or the fall of a device or body.

Wong: What part of your developments will be most valuable and set UAV apart from competitors who specialize in a market you are trying to break into?

Parodi: Our inertial navigation know-how can be directly translated into true motion technology. The flexibility, accuracy and detailed analysis capabilities of our motion processors, even in highly dynamic situations is a key differentiator. We have also brought down the cost of motion technology, achieving consumer-electronics pricing with MEM sensors without sacrificing performance.

Wong: What lies ahead, which new applications can we expect in the next two to four years?

Parodi: We are reaching the point where it is economically feasible to replace single sensor by a fusion of multiple sensors. Beyond this point, we expect something very interesting will happen when we start merging this information with wearable devices and "superposed reality" on users' vision. The sporting goods market, which has already benefitted from first-generation motion technology, may very well evolve into an exciting personal coaching, self-improvement era.

Wong: Going back to the UAV market, what are the latest trends there, how is this market influenced by advances in electronics?

Parodi: MEM sensors and microelectronics are also changing the UAV market. Technology transfer works both ways. Extremely sophisticated attitude and navigation technology can now be embedded in micro unmanned. The price drop of low-power processors and MEM sensors is a direct consequence of the advances in mobile communications.

In some cases the distinction between hobby and professional UAV is blurring. This is in turn putting some pressure on the capabilities of embedded flight control software. Being able to fly in difficult situations such as GPS outage or high dynamics will become increasingly relevant in the professional applications.

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