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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.

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

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Wing for Sale

We've now got the web shop liveThey are built-to-order so delivery is quoted at 4-weeks but we can probably get one out to you faster if you need us to.


Thursday, 16 July 2015

Staff development

Attracting and retaining the best possible employees is critical to the success of any company and Worthington Sharpe is no different. Here are some photographs of our two newest recruits busy at work.

This is Fergus, listening carefully to instructions on his first
day at work.

Dougal, on the left is in charge of quality control. Anything
that does not meet the strict requirements is knocked to the floor.
Meanwhile Fergus is busy organising the tools and equipment in
a manner befitting an operating theatre. "Tidy desk, tidy mind"
as you'll often hear him muttering to himself.

We offer flexible working but do expect our staff to work
overtime if required. To make the long hours easier to endure
we provide comfortable (if somewhat cramped) sleeping quarters.
The slightly terrified expressions that you see here have nothing
at all to do with the working conditions at Worthington Sharpe.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Minimal Input for Maximum Output

Sometimes people are initially surprised that with today's touch screens, gesture recognition and virtual reality, we have developed something that is, well, a bit like a mouse. However, despite it's rather humble nature, the computer mouse is extremely well suited to fast, accurate input and all-day use.

It reminds me of an quote from the game developer John Romero that I read in a gamesindustry.biz article some time ago and that I think goes far beyond just gaming:

Really the best optimal design for games is minimal input for maximum output - that's the way that games work best. When you watch people playing with a mouse and keyboard, you see them barely moving their fingers and hands but on screen you see crazy movement and all kinds of stuff.

Perhaps his predictions about virtual reality might not turn out to be totally accurate, but I certainly follow his way of thinking with the "minimal input for maximum output".

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The Wing with CAD software

We've finally managed to get the Wing working with 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs.

It has been tested in PTC Creo 2 , Creo 3, and Autodesk Inventor, and it should work with most 3D design software applications.

When I've got few spare minutes I'll get some demo videos uploaded.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Wing for UAV Control

Things all got a bit more real on Monday when I took a trip down to Norwich to meet Elliot Corke of Hexcam. Hexcam operate UAVs (Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles, often called drones) for aerial photography and video work. I wanted to speak to them about using the Wing to operate the aircraft.

Some of our earlier engineering projects around a decade ago were on UAVs and the industry has moved on massively over the last few years. It is being approached from two sides: the hobby side of things, where there is still a lot of interest in piloting; and the industry side, where there is simply a job to be done and a UAV is the most practical solution for example in aerial mapping or search and rescue.

The level of autonomy has now reached a stage where it is extremely impressive. Take for example these flying robot rockstars. In many situations you can programme an aircraft to take off, complete its mission, then return and land, all by itself.

Our plan was to use the precision pointing of the mouse for the plotting and adjusting of the way points, and the 3D functions for manual aircraft control as required, or for camera gimbal control.

We already had the Wing working with the DJI and Ardupilot ground control software but we had only got as far as getting the sliders to move about in the calibration stage.

I had only really expected to open up discussions about the possibilities with Hexcam and have a look at how they operate but we managed a bit more than that; we plugged the Wing into the Hexcam laptop, calibrated it, and headed to their flight test site to see what would happen.

The Wing with Hexcam UAVs
The Wing with Hexcam UAVs

We had already used the Wing with the Heli X5 simulation software and so had some idea of how it would behave. Nonethless, we were delighted by how well the Wing performed in the field. With the standard twin-stick transmitter as a back-up Elliot took hold of the Wing and started flying. The throttle was mapped to the z-axis, which wasn't ideal but nevertheless, Elliot was soon more than comfortable with the Wing and was manoeuvring the aircraft adeptly. Elliot pilots UAVs for a living so he's certainly a lot more skilled than most for this sort of challenge, but he even let me have a go.

Elliot using the Wing to fly a quad copter
 Throttle control would be better handled via the scroll wheel, rather than the z-axis but we didn't manage to sort this out prior to the test. Thinking ahead to increased autonomy, using the scroll wheel to dial in a height is likely to be an intuitive means of controlling the altitude of the aircraft directly.

UAV control was one of the main drivers right from the start of the Wing project so this was a big milestone. We're now speaking to a few people to try and get a demo rig put together. We want to be able to use the Wing to simply point and click on the map in order to direct the aircraft, while manipulating the 3D capabilities of pitch, roll and yaw to control the camera. Exciting times lie ahead.

The day seemed surprisingly clear of technical problems until the way back. The train driver announced there would be a delay as one of the train doors wouldn't close. A short while later there came another announcement 'Don't be alarmed at the lights going out, we're going to try re-starting the train.'