Worthington Sharpe website

Follow by Email

Thursday, 24 August 2017


Command and Control of UAV Swarms

In many drone applications it would be beneficial to simultaneously operate a swarm of multiple aircraft. While there have been demonstrations of swarms involving up to 100 drones, there are few examples of use in practical scenarios.

It is likely that one reason for the is the difficulty of effectively organising and controlling the swarm using standard transmitters and laptop computers. An alternative approach to commanding and controlling a swarm using the Wing control device and Wing GCS Ground Control Station is presented here.

Control of a drone swarm presents interesting challenges that, are poorly met by conventional human interfaces. The Wing's unique six-axis capabilities offer a great starting point for the control demands. Furthermore, the Wing GCS can be fitted with the telemetry systems required and a powerful computer to handle multiple video feeds.

We're currently working on our next model of the rugged ground control station hardware and are looking for collaborators on the software side.

Wing GCS Swarming Features

Combined mouse and joystick functions

  • The Wing incorporates a high resolution mouse sensor and standard mouse buttons and scroll wheel.
  • This is ideal for point-and-click tasks such as defining multiple waypoints. Alternative input methods such as touch-screens suffer from a lack of precision, user fatigue, and problems with unintentional command input.
  • Integrated joystick functions allow seamless transition from global control of the swarm or individual control of a single aircraft or sensor gimbal.
Combined mouse and joystick functions
Wing UAV Control Functions

24” Outdoor viewable screen

  • Display is much larger than most UAV ground station displays and is ideal means it can be used for accurate waypoint manipulation of multiple aircraft display of several camera feeds.
  • The screen’s brightness and large viewing angle make it practical to use even in direct sunlight, typically a major problem with conventional laptop or tablet computers.

Secondary Joystick & full-sized keyboard

  • An integrated secondary joystick enables independent control of the camera gimbal or panning the map view.
  • The full-sized waterproof keyboard provides usability similar to a desktop computer.
  • A six-position rotary switch can be configured for changing flight-modes and six three-position switches are fitted for user-definable functions.

Component Storage Bay

  • The large component bay can be configured with a powerful computer such as an Intel NUC or HP Z Series workstation. More than one computer can be fitted.
  • Space is available for multiple aircraft telemetry systems and Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) systems.


In order to illustrate the potential benefits, a number of different mission planner and piloting operations are discussed below.

Global Swarm Control

  • Mouse functions can be used to define a boundary for a simple grid search pattern.
  • Keyboard short-cuts or the scroll-wheel can be used to define grid spacing.  The numeric keypad can be used to set altitude.

Command of Drone Sub-Groups

  • Right-button menu or keyboard shortcut to assign commands.
  • Mouse functions offer necessary precision and speed for selecting aircraft and assigning different waypoints.
  • Right-button menu or keyboard shortcut to assign commands.
  • 24” screen allows large area to be displayed in detail.
  • Pitch, roll & yaw functions or secondary joystick used for view manipulation.

Command of Individual Aircraft or Manual Piloting

  • The mouse functions can be used to select an individual aircraft then pitch roll yaw and throttle functions used to pilot lead aircraft.
  • All this can be done seamlessly without having to change input devices. 


An integrated approach to the human interface, ground control station hardware and the software is required to realise the full potential that drone swarming offers. If you would like to work with us on either software development or flight testing, or if you have an application in mind, then please get in touch. wing@worthigntonsharpe.com

Friday, 17 March 2017

European Robotics League

The European Robotics League comprises of two indoor robotics competitions, ERL Industrial Robots and ERL Service Robots, and one outdoor robotics competition, ERL Emergency Robots.

I was delighted to be asked if Worthington Sharpe could be involved as a competition sponsor. We will be providing a loan of the Wing GCS Ground Control Station for the outdoor Emergency Robots competition.

ERL Emergency Robots Competition
Emergency Robots is a civilian, outdoor robotics competition, with a focus on realistic, multi-domain emergency response scenarios. Inspired by the 2011 Fukushima accident, the ERL Emergency Grand Challenge can only be overcome when land, underwater and flying robots successfully cooperate.

The teams have enough to  worry about and the provision of a single human interface and Ground Control Station for control of all vehicle types including UAVs (drones) Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and ground robots, and will allow a selected team to focus on the cognition, intelligence, and autonomy of the robots.

We are in the process of developing a new version of the Wing GCS. This will comprise the same general layout and major components, but with a modified case design that is more robust and waterproof. A rendering of the new design in progress is shown below.

Wing GCS (Ground Control Station) for UAVs/drones
Our proposed Ground Control Station

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Increase in FAA Authorizations Granted Via Section 333 Exemptions

My last post discussed the growth in the number of commercial UAV operators in the UK. I also wanted to look at the way things are moving in the US.

Things were slow to get going as but the FAA is now getting through it's back-log of what are refereed to as  Section 333 Exemptions. As with the UK data, the published list of operators shows an increasing growth rate.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Increase in the number of UK UAV Operators with CAA PFAW Certificates

Commercial operators of UAVs in the United Kingdom have to obtain what is referred to as a Permission for Aerial Work (PFAW) certificate from the Civil Aviation and they publish a list of Small Unmanned Aircraft (SUA) operators.

In The number has been increasing rapidly from just over 200 operators in May 2014 to 1702 operators as of 20-May-2016. I thought it would be interesting to plot the trend.

I'm no statistician but I thought a curved trend-line fitted better than a straight line as the rate of growth appears to be increasing. The average growth so far this year has been at a rate of around 80-per-month.

It is likely that there is a bit of a bubble effect reflected by the media attention given to UAVs / drones, but nevertheless it doesn't look like things are easing-off just yet.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Skytech 2016

Many thanks to everyone who came to see us Skytech 2016 at the end of January. I hope you enjoyed the exhibition and spotted some promising opportunities.

It was our second year at the event and it was particularly interesting to see how quickly the UAV industry is developing.

Our Wing GCS Ground Control Station has moved on quite a bit too since we launched the product last April. Here are some photographs of the latest build.

Wing GCS (before we've fitted the aerials)

Wing Control Device

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Ground Control Station (GCS) Update

We've been getting a lot of interest in our Wing GCS, the Ground Control Station for Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, or drones), so I thought it was time for an update.

The system was launched at Skytech back in April 2015 and and we're now getting ready for Skytech 2016 on 27th and 28th January at the Business Design Centre in London. 

The latest build, shown in the photograph below, was for a customer in Crete.

The Latest Wing GCS

Every Ground Control Station is custom built, and we develop and refine the design each time we build one. Most of the changes have been internal: improving the aluminium frame, strengthening the screen supports, and modifying the laptop mount. The more noticeable changes included a better keyboard, twin aerial mounts and a larger capacity battery. There were also some customer-specific requests such as fitting the Piksi Real Time Kinematics (RTK) device from  Swift Navigation for centimetre level accuracy.

If you can make to Skytech, please drop by. It would be great to meet new people at the event and to see some of the people who have helped us to get the Wing GCS to this point.

Friday, 16 October 2015

ROV Control

ROV control typically involves the manipulation of one or two joysticks and range of other input systems. The Wing's joystick functions naturally lend themselves to control of the thrusters in the same way as a standard joystick. 

Some people have concerns over the unfamiliar mouse-like form, but in practice it feels just as intuitive to use as a standard joystick.

Pitch Control

Roll Control

Yaw Control

The Z-height can be used as a rate adjustment to temporarily increase the sensitivity of the thruster speed for finer control.

Things get particularly interesting with the mouse movements. Controlling an ROV with a mouse is not something you see very often and the advantages might not be immediately apparent.

Human-machine input often works best when the type of input matches the type of response required: A foot pedal works well for controlling a car speed where the further you press the pedal, the faster the car goes. A joystick however is not very good for cursor control as you have to move the joystick to accelerate the cursor and then wait for it to get to you target.

The manipulator arm arguably is more similar to the second of these categories You want the arm to move to a point in space, the speed at which it get there is less of a concern.

There are some systems available that use what is essentially a miniature version of the manipulator arm and this directly translates to the arm position. It's just what is needed in a lot of situations but can be tiring to use for long periods and is expensive.

An alternative approach is to map the manipulator arm to track a target defined by the Wing's mouse cursor. All the operator needs to do is to move the cursor to the target location while the arm's control system adjusts the arm until there is a position match. This is just in two dimensions of course, but the scroll wheel provides control of the reach.

Wing cursor target control for ROV manipulator arm