Novel drone platform for integrating custom functionalities and accesories


Ariel
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I'm very happy to have found this forum. It looks like the perfect place to ask for a question regarding a possible drone business I have in mind.

I'm Ariel, a PhD student in the field of automatic control. As part of my research, I encountered the need of a platform easy to program and to expand/modify. And I think that idea is something worth building a product around. I want to make a platform based on a piloted or autonomous drone designed with hardware ports (for communication, power and external attachments) and a user-friendly communication API (using I2C, SPI, etc... for Arduino, python, C, ...) to be expanded with custom functionality very easily.

As an example, imagine you want to develop an AI algorithm that detects if oranges are ready for harvest using a new camera sensor that does not exist in any commercially available drone. Then, you have to develop your algorithm plus also develop the drone integrating the camera you want to use. Which may be even more difficult than the AI project itself and it needs a completely different set of skills. With the platform I propose, you would only develop the AI algorithm with your camera, and since the platform is specially designed to be expanded, it can be easily integrated with minimum effort and without loosing time on drone development, after all your idea/product is the detection of orange's readiness not the drone itself.

Do you guys know if something like this already exists? For the best of my knowledge the closest thing I can think of is the crazyflie, and although they grant full access to the programming environment, to implement new things you have to really enter deep into the code, where as I propose an API to interact between custom hardware and the drone. The idea that I envision is that adding new custom functionalities can be made as simple as the arduino platform has made it. Also, a key aspect that I want to develop is the possibility of autonomous flight and attitude hold control, for easy of piloting and operating.

In addition, do you consider this may be of interest? I guess it could be attractive for makers and the DIY community, with an easy platform to test projects on drones. But also especially to all kind of business  based on drones. My objective is they can develop their key gadget/product without having to focus on the drone control and manufacturing. What I believe can greatly help in reducing time to market and development costs. Have you found similar needs or similar problems?

If you have any comments please feel free to share with me, your inights can be very helpful for me.
Thanks for your valuable time, Ariel

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On 5/5/2021 at 3:17 AM, Ariel said:

I want to make a platform based on a piloted or autonomous drone designed with hardware ports (for communication, power and external attachments) and a user-friendly communication API (using I2C, SPI, etc... for Arduino, python, C, ...) to be expanded with custom functionality very easily.

On 5/5/2021 at 3:17 AM, Ariel said:

Do you guys know if something like this already exists?

 

Yes this already exists.

Nothing new here.  We, and others have been doing this since about 2010.  Once you get outside the Chinese toy drone bubble you'll see that just about all commercial drones have this capability.  

If you scroll about 2/3 down the FreeFly AltaX page you'll see a diagram of the expansion ports:

https://freeflysystems.com/alta-x

I've attached a few slides from one of our presentations which addresses much of what you talk about. 

1802640731_SLIDE12.jpeg.d1d9c9ee88da84818ef7a31f53cb0664.jpeg1256665752_SLIDE5_001.jpeg.e67bfb7c379196888a4ebefa05838b40.jpeg55019309_SLIDE7_001.jpeg.2d84e20afbfb1b0ca8d2c37e263b3dcb.jpeg1694632629_SLIDE9_001.jpeg.bdd26f3d488e9d5fcaf6ef250b2a0810.jpeg

 

On 5/5/2021 at 3:17 AM, Ariel said:

In addition, do you consider this may be of interest?

Yes.  Competition is always good and the UAV market has been dominated by DJI for too long.  Industrial inspection requires UAVs that are open and extensible and easily reconfigurable, Chinese off-the-shelf drones are the opposite and too tightly vertically integrated.  I've been in these discussions before, all of the DJI fanboys will point out that DJI has 70% market share, they must be the best.  No they're the most prevalent.  What makes the best drone  is one you can reconfigure to meet your requirements.  If you want to do just about anything with a DJI besides YouTube and Real Estate videos then you have to change your requirements to the limitations of the drone.  Which I think is where your headed with your post.

So on one hand you could be discouraged to find that there are quite a few UAV developers who have been doing what you suggest for more than ten years.  On the other hand you should be excited that there are a group of companies that understand the real need for a more flexible platform that can accomodate sensors and technology that haven't even been invented yet.  

On 5/5/2021 at 3:17 AM, Ariel said:

As an example, imagine you want to develop an AI algorithm that detects if oranges are ready for harvest using a new camera sensor that does not exist in any commercially available drone.

Depends on how you define "Commercially available drone?"   In 2016 we flew an HSI sensor over a vineyard and could tell you the the sugar content of every grape.  We also Flew the same sensor over a cranberry bog to detect an invasive weed.  Sensing what we were looking for worked great, the challenge was being able to map that information back to the crop with the necessary precision.  We got really close but when it comes to making data actionable close is only good enough for handgrenades...

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On 5/10/2021 at 5:28 PM, Chase Flynn | UAV Coach said:

Hi Ariel, 

Welcome to the UAV Coach Community Forum! I am not aware of a platform that allows for this level of customization. However, there may be someone else in this forum who can offer more information on this topic. Thanks for sharing, best of luck with your project! 

  - Chase 

Hi Chase,

First of all, sorry for the delay in my answer as I was some days ago from home. Thank you for the welcome and the kind words ^^

 

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On 5/11/2021 at 5:07 PM, Av8Chuck said:

Yes this already exists.

Nothing new here.  We, and others have been doing this since about 2010.  Once you get outside the Chinese toy drone bubble you'll see that just about all commercial drones have this capability.  

On 5/11/2021 at 5:07 PM, Av8Chuck said:

Yes.  Competition is always good and the UAV market has been dominated by DJI for too long.  Industrial inspection requires UAVs that are open and extensible and easily reconfigurable, Chinese off-the-shelf drones are the opposite and too tightly vertically integrated.  I've been in these discussions before, all of the DJI fanboys will point out that DJI has 70% market share, they must be the best.  No they're the most prevalent.  What makes the best drone  is one you can reconfigure to meet your requirements.  If you want to do just about anything with a DJI besides YouTube and Real Estate videos then you have to change your requirements to the limitations of the drone.  Which I think is where your headed with your post.

So on one hand you could be discouraged to find that there are quite a few UAV developers who have been doing what you suggest for more than ten years.  On the other hand you should be excited that there are a group of companies that understand the real need for a more flexible platform that can accomodate sensors and technology that haven't even been invented yet.  

Hi Av8Chuck,

What a great answer, thank you for taking the time to give such a throughtfull explanation. Indeed, I agree with you that prominent DJI and toy drones lack the customization options to make them really useful. As for the "hard" dron industry, is amazing to know that this customization i was talking about is the norm, it indeed shows me that there is obviously a market for this kind of devices. Thanks, as I am not so familiar with the more serious drone industry, that is great to know. Perhaps there may be also a market in blending this more serious customizable uav's with the "toy" scale and kind of prices? What is your opinion? For "serious diy hobbiest", for example, but not only constrained to that of course.

Again, thanks so much for your amazing answer, it is really encouraging. And sorry for the delay to answer you back as i was some days away from home ^^'

 

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On 5/18/2021 at 1:33 PM, Ariel said:

this customization i was talking about is the norm

Id stop short of calling it the norm, but it is a necessity.  

 

On 5/18/2021 at 1:33 PM, Ariel said:

Perhaps there may be also a market in blending this more serious customizable uav's with the "toy" scale and kind of prices? What is your opinion? For "serious diy hobbiest", for example, but not only constrained to that of course.

Pricing is a bit of a misnomer, people compare the price of a Mavic2Pro to a UAV than carry a LiDAR (10 pound payload) and say that US manufacturers can't compete.  Our smaller drones that can carry a couple of pounds more than a DJI M300 is about the same price.    

 

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