A Drone By Any Another Name

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

For over a decade before I joined the Circuit Cellar team, I was Chief Editor of a magazine that covered embedded computing technologies used in military systems. At that publication, I naturally wrote and edited a lot of articles about UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). Just as am now, I was very particular about terminologies and what they represent. And one word I quite adamantly wouldn’t allow used in that magazine was “drone.” Back then I didn’t like the term for a number of reasons. First, drone is a word that implies mindlessness or lack of intelligence. To me that didn’t feel right when covering military UAVs, because they typically embedded massive amounts of computing. Large military UAVs like the Global Hawk even had full backplanes of FPGA-based boards to do processing of imaging data and other functions. A second reason is that within the defense electronics industry, UAV was the term preferred over drone. Drone was what the unknowing, non-industry public called them—the word used for them in news stories. Most news stories using the word drone were—often justifiably—bad news.

So, for those reasons I banished any use of the word drone in that publication—at least I did before a change started happening in drone world. It’s important to understand that there are very few areas where the defense industry is ahead of the commercial industry. One exception, however, is UAVs—for many years the defense industry was way out ahead of the commercial world in UAV technology and development activity.

But around 2014 or 2015 a shift happened where biggest growth area for drone technology became dominated by commercial/civil unmanned platforms. Within that the largest chunk is the huge number of small hobbyist kinds of air vehicles. But as commercial uses blossomed for drones—ranging from film making to agriculture to construction and more—the drone market morphed toward a multi-billion-dollar market.

With that trend happening, I softened my stance, and I did start using the term drone when referring to consumer and commercial drones. And I knew that the defense electronics industry in this day and age has to keep tabs on the consumer technology market, because that’s where the rapid innovations happen. It’s too soon to tell what impact the rapid growth of the commercial/consumer drone industry will have on the defense side of drone technology. And since most (but not all) military drones are fixed-wing and commercial drones are mostly (but not all) rotary-wing, they may continue down separate paths. But it will be important for the defense industry to keep its eyes on where commercial drone technology is going.

Interestingly, this transition from defense to commercial also played out in the tradeshow realm. When I was at that military publication, the AUVSI Unmanned Systems show was a key event that I attended every year—this was even before they shifted to the new name Xponential and then to AUVSI Xponential. That show was dominated by companies marketing to the defense UAV market, along with all the defense primes (their customers). But in the 2014/2015 time frame, that show transitioned to where the number of consumer and commercial drone companies exhibiting began to be in the majority, and that’s been its direction ever since. While that wasn’t a positive trend for me when I was covering defense technologies, it’s very much welcome for me here on Circuit Cellar.

I have to be honest, writing about consumer and commercial drones is way more fun than covering military drone technology. As I’ve said before in this column, drone technology fascinates me partly because it represents one of the clearest examples of an application that wouldn’t exist without today’s level of chip integration driven by Moore’s law. That high level of integration has enabled 4k HD video capture, image stabilization, new levels of autonomy and even highly compact supercomputing to fly aboard today’s commercial and consumer drones. I’m looking forward to attending this year’s AUVSI Xponential event in Chicago, and next month I’ll be sure to share with you my thoughts about what I saw there. And as far as my objections to the word drone? Clearly, I’m over it.

This appears in the April 345 issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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Drones and The Wright Stuff

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

Commercial and consumer drones are among the most dynamic areas of embedded system design today. The industry that Circuit Cellar covers—and is a part of—is a vital enabler of these markets. Drone designs continue to leverage advances in processor/chip technologies, sensor innovations and power solutions that make up the heart of a drone’s electronics.

More than most areas of embedded system design, drones must be looked at within the broader perspective of issues beyond technology—in particular the many safety and regulatory issues surrounding them. After all, drones have to operate within the same air space as manned aircraft. And unlike the automobile industry, for example, the drone industry is relatively new with a regulatory landscape that’s still evolving and with many safety issues still to be resolved.

Acting FAA Administrator Daniel K. Elwell offered some insights on these subjects in his keynote address at this year’s InterDrone show early last month. He drew parallels to the high-level of safety that’s been achieved in commercial aviation to what the goal should be for drone safety. “Aviation is the gold standard,” said Elwell, “The safest form of transportation in the world. That’s not a position we’re about to take a step back on. I’ve heard this argument a few times: Back in Orville and Wilbur Wright’s era, people were willing to risk their lives for the birth of a new form of transportation. Now that we’re on the cusp of aviation’s next great era (drones), shouldn’t we be willing to accept some of the same risks in the name of progress? Folks, there’s a really simple answer to that question: No.”

“Manned aviation already learned those lessons. We paid that price. We’re not going to do it again. And the public wouldn’t let us, anyway.” Elwell made the point that with drones, you’re not starting from scratch like the Wright brothers. “The FAA has spent six decades working with airlines, manufacturers and countless others to get where we are now. And we’re ready to use everything we’ve learned so that the drone industry can reach its full potential as quickly as possible.”

Elwell went on to list some of the progress along these lines in the FAA and Department of Transportation. “We’re building flexible, responsive regulatory processes that can keep up with all your creativity while ensuring safety isn’t compromised,” he said, “We’ve automated how drone operators get permission to fly in controlled airspace. We’re laying the groundwork for a comprehensive Unmanned Traffic Management System. We’ve authorized low-risk small drone flights, and created a performance-based waiver and exemption process to allow more advanced operations.”

Another key effort is the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program launched last October by US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. The initiative partners the FAA with local, state and tribal governments, which then partner with private sector participants to safely explore the further integration of drone operations. In May of this year, the USDOT selected 10 state, local and tribal governments as participants in the UAS Integration Pilot Program. Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into the national airspace.

According to the USDOT, the 10 final selectees will work with the FAA to refine their operational concepts. Over the next two and a half years, the selectees will collect drone data involving night operations, flights over people and beyond the pilot’s line of sight, package delivery, detect-and-avoid technologies and the reliability and security of data links between pilot and aircraft. The data collected from these operations will help the USDOT and FAA craft new enabling rules. These will include rules for complex low-altitude operations and improving communications and addressing security and privacy risks.

In Elwell’s keynote he cited a fun story about the pilot program’s first test that happened just recently in Blacksburg, Virginia. A Project Wing drone delivered a popsicle to a two-year-old boy, just six minutes after the order was placed. “It was historic—the first beyond visual line-of-sight residential drone delivery in the United States,” said Elwell, “It was the ‘Mr. Watson, I want to see you’ for the 21st century. But to little Jack, it was just cool. In his words: ‘Airplane brought me a Popsicle!’ These are important steps forward—steps that bring drones closer to just being a routine operator in our airspace.”

This appears in the October 339 issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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March Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The March issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is coming soon. And we’ve got a healthy serving of embedded electronics articles for you. Here’s a sneak peak.

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Here’s a sneak preview of March 2018 Circuit Cellar:

TECHNOLOGY FOR THE INTERNET-OF-THINGS

IoT: From Device to Gateway
The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the most dynamic areas of embedded systems design today. This feature focuses on the technologies and products from edge IoT devices up to IoT gateways. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines the wireless technologies, sensors, edge devices and IoT gateway technologies at the center of this phenomenon.

Texting and IoT Embedded Devices
Texting has become a huge part of our daily lives. But can texting be leveraged for use in IoT Wi-Fi devices? Jeff Bachiochi lays the groundwork for describing a project that will involve texting. In this part, he gets into out the details for getting started with a look at Espressif System’s ESP8266EX SoC.

Exploring the ESP32’s Peripheral Blocks
What makes an embedded processor suitable as an IoT or home control device? Wi-Fi support is just part of the picture. Brian Millier has done some Wi-Fi projects using the ESP32, so here he shares his insights about the peripherals on the ESP32 and why they’re so powerful.

MICROCONTROLLERS HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE

Designing a Home Cleaning Robot (Part 4)
In this final part of his four-part article series about building a home cleaning robot, Nishant Mittal discusses the firmware part of the system and gets into the system’s actual operation. The robot is based on Cypress Semiconductor’s PSoC microcontroller.

Apartment Entry System Uses PIC32
Learn how a Cornell undergraduate built a system that enables an apartment resident to enter when keys are lost or to grant access to a guest when there’s no one home. The system consists of a microphone connected to a Microchip PIC32 MCU that controls a push solenoid to actuate the unlock button.

Posture Corrector Leverages Bluetooth
Learn how these Cornell students built a posture corrector that helps remind you to sit up straight. Using vibration and visual cues, this wearable device is paired with a phone app and makes use of Bluetooth and Microchip PIC32 technology.

INTERACTING WITH THE ANALOG WORLD

Product Focus: ADCs and DACs
Makers of analog ICs are constantly evolving their DAC and ADC chips pushing the barriers of resolution and speeds. This new Product Focus section updates readers on this technology and provides a product album of representative ADC and DAC products.

Stepper Motor Waveforms
Using inexpensive microcontrollers, motor drivers, stepper motors and other hardware, columnist Ed Nisley built himself a Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machines. In this article Ed examines how the CNC’s stepper motors perform, then pushes one well beyond its normal limits.

Measuring Acceleration
Sensors are a fundamental part of what make smart machines smart. And accelerometers are one of the most important of these. In this article, George Novacek examines the principles behind accelerometers and how the technology works.

SOFTWARE TOOLS AND PROTOTYPING

Trace and Code Coverage Tools
Today it’s not uncommon for embedded devices to have millions of lines of software code. Trace and code coverage tools have kept pace with these demands making it easier for embedded developers to analyze, debug and verify complex embedded software. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest technology trends and product developments in trace and code coverage tools.

Manual Pick-n-Place Assembly Helper
Prototyping embedded systems is an important part of the development cycle. In this article, Colin O’Flynn presents an open-source tool that helps you assemble prototype devices by making the placement process even easier.

January Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The January issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is coming soon. And it’s got a robust selection of embedded electronics articles for you. Here’s a sneak peak.

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Here’s a sneak preview of January 2018 Circuit Cellar:

 

                                     IMPROVING EMBEDDED SYSTEM DESIGNS

Special Feature: Powering Commercial Drones
The amount of power a commercial drone can draw on has a direct effect on how long it can stay flying as well as on what tasks it can perform. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines solar cells, fuel cells and other technology options for powering commercial drones.

CC 330 CoverFPGA Design: A Fresh Take
Although FPGAs are well established technology, many embedded systems developers—particularly those used the microcontroller realm—have never used them before. In this article, Faiz Rahman takes a fresh look a FPGAs for those new to designing them into their embedded systems.

Product Focus: COM Express boards
COM Express boards provide a complete computing core that can be upgraded when needed, leaving the application-specific I/O on the baseboard. This brand new Product Focus section updates readers on this technology and provides a product album of representative COM Express products.

TESTING, TESTING, 1, 2, 3

LF Resonator Filter
In Ed Nisley’s November column he described how an Arduino-based tester automatically measures a resonator’s frequency response to produce data defining its electrical parameters. This time he examines the resultsand explains a tester modification to measure the resonator’s response with a variable series capacitance.

Technology Spotlight: 5G Technology and Testing
The technologies that are enabling 5G communications are creating new challenges for embedded system developers. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest digital and analog ICs aimed at 5G and at the test equipment designed to work with 5G technology.

                                     MICROCONTROLLERS IN EVERYTHING

MCU-based Platform Stabilizer
Using an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), two 180-degree rotation servos and a Microchip PCI MCU, three Cornell students implemented a microcontroller-based platform stabilizer. Learn how they used a pre-programmed sensor fusion algorithm and I2C to get the most out of their design.

Designing a Home Cleaning Robot (Part 2)
Continuing on with this four-part article series about building a home cleaning robot, Nishant Mittal this time discusses the mechanical aspect of the design. The robot is based on Cypress Semiconductor’s PSoC microcontroller.

Massage Vest Uses PIC32 MCU
Microcontrollers are being used for all kinds of things these days. Learn how three Cornell graduates designed a low-cost massage vest that pairs seamlessly with a custom iOS app. Using the Microchip PIC32 for its brains, the massage vest has sixteen vibration motors that the user can control to create the best massage possible.

AND MORE FROM OUR EXPERT COLUMNISTS:

Five Fault Injection Attacks
Colin O’Flynn returns to the topic of fault injection security attacks. To kick off 2018, he summarizes information about five different fault injection attack stories from 2017—attacks you should be thinking about as an embedded designer.

Money Sorting Machines (Part 2)
In part 1, Jeff Bachiochi delved into the interesting world of money sort machines and their evolution. In part 2, he discusses more details about his coin sorting project. He then looks at a typical bill validator implementation used in vending systems.

Overstress Protection
Last month George Novacek reviewed the causes and results of electrical overstress (EOS). Picking up where that left off, in this article he looks at how to prevent EOS/ESD induced damage—starting with choosing properly rated components.

FREE Sample Issue – Oct. 2017

 

We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.

Don’t miss out on upcoming issues of Circuit Cellar. Subscribe today!

Inside This Issue:
Emulating Legacy Interfaces
Do it with Microcontrollers
By Wolfgang Matthes

OctP18
Building a Retro TV Remote
PIC MCU-Based Design
By Dev Gualtieri
Building a Robot Hand
With Servos and Electromyography
By Michael Haidar, Jason Hwang and Srikrishnaa VadivelLogger Device Tracks Amp Hours (Part 1)
Measuring Home Electricity
By William Wachsmann

OctP38
Commercial Drone Design Solutions Take Flight

Chips, Boards and Platforms
By Jeff Child

Design for Manufacturing: Does It Have to be so Difficult?
An interview with Scott N. Miller and Thos Niles
By Wisse Hettinga

Signal Chain Tech Pushes Bandwidth Barriers
ADCs, FPGAs and DACs
By Jeff Child

Embedded in Thin Slices
Build an Embedded Systems Consulting Company (Part 6)
Trade-Offs of Fixed-Price Contracts
By Bob JapengaThe Consummate Engineer
In the Loop on Positive Feedback
New Value in an Old Concept
By George Novacek

OctP56

The Darker Side
Antenna Performance Measurement Made Easy
Covering the Basics
By Robert Lacoste
From the Bench
Gas Monitoring and Sensing (Part 1)
Fun with Fragrant Analysis
By Jeff BachiochiTECH THE FUTURE
The Future of PCB Design

Racing to Keep Pace With PCB Complexities
By Duane Benson

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Commercial Drone Design Solutions Take Flight

Chips, Boards and Platforms

The control, camera and communications electronics inside today’s commercial drones have to pack in an ambitious amount of functionality while keeping size, weight and power as low as possible.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

There aren’t many areas of embedded systems these days that are as dynamic and fast-growing as commercial drones. Drones represent a vivid example of a technology that wouldn’t have been possible if not for the ever-increasing levels of chip integration driven by Moore’s law. Drones are riding that wave, enabling an amazing rate of change so that 4k HD video capture, image stabilization, new levels of autonomy and even highly integrated supercomputing is now possible on drones.

 

The Intel Aero Ready to Fly Drone is a pre-assembled quadcopter built for professional drone application developers. The platform features a board running an Intel 2.56 GHz quad-core Intel Atom x7-Z8750 processor.

The Intel Aero Ready to Fly Drone is a pre-assembled quadcopter built for professional drone application developers. The platform features a board running an Intel 2.56 GHz quad-core Intel Atom x7-Z8750 processor.

To get a sense of the rapid growth of drone use, just consider drones from the point of view of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Integrating commercial drones into the FAA’s mission has been a huge effort over the past couple years. To paraphrase Michael P. Huerta, Administrator of the FAA, there are over 320,000 registered manned aircraft today and it took 100 years to reach that number. In contrast, only nine months after the FAA put its drone registration process in place, there were more than 550,000 registered users—comprised of both hobbyists and commercial drone users.

Electronics for Drones

Today’s commercial/civilian drone technologies are advancing faster than most people could have imagined only a couple years ago. And drone designs will continue to reap the benefits of advances in processor / chip technologies, sensor innovations and tools that make them easier to create. Feeding those needs, chip and board vendors of all sizes have been rolling out solutions to help drone system developers create new drone products and get to market quickly. Among these vendors are large players like Intel and Qualcomm–along with a whole host of specialized technology suppliers offering video ICs, single-chip cameras and a variety of sensor solutions all aimed at drone platforms. ….

We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.
Don’t miss out on upcoming issues of Circuit Cellar. Subscribe today!