Image Capture and FMA 'Co-Pilot' Trials

November 15, 2001

The Monash Aerobotics team are currently experimenting with different types of R/C aircraft platforms for the capture air to ground stills and video.

Under test this day using the Aerosonde "Lawrence Hargrave" ("LH") was a combination of a live video feed from "LH" as a visual guide to the capture of still images on a separate onboard 3.1 megapixel digital camera (Nikon Coolpix900 - shown below) that were mapped to a given GPS location.

Also this day we employed a new miniature flight stabilization system known as 'Co-Pilot' which was first trialled on "LH" and later in the day, on a 2.5m, non-powered, 'flying wing' sailplane designed and built by Professor John Bird.

FMA Direct's 'Co-Pilot' is a patented system that senses the difference in infrared signature between the earth and the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to provide 100% real time, day or night stabilization about two axes on any 'model'." ...more

on October 11, 2002, Brian Taylor wrote...

'Co-Pilot' certainly works very well but we (the Aerobotics@Monash team) suggest does not rely on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but instead is ruled by Planck's Law for blackbody radiation.

The human body, the ground beneath your feet or a cup of coffee, have a temperature in the range 300 to 375 degrees Kelvin and radiate with a wavelength in the 5 to 15 micron range which is called long wave infrared. The cold sky (100 to 300 Kelvin) radiates at a longer wavelength and the sun, being about 5500 degrees Kelvin radiates with a much shorter wavelength (a peak near 0.6 microns).

The FMA 'Co-Pilot' uses thermopile detectors fitted with long wave infrared filters that limit their response to about 5 to 15 microns. The system responds to earth and body temperatures but not to bright sunlight. 'Co-Pilot' senses the temperature difference between the warm earth and the cool sky. It has two pairs of thermopile sensors facing fore and aft and from side to side.

Whenever the ground pilot releases the control sticks, 'Co-Pilot' kicks in and provides feedback to the elevator and aileron servos to balance the amount of energy received by each sensor pair. The aircraft is then very rapidly brought back to a 'straight and level' flying attitude. The system works well day or night at any altitude but not in cloud.

NASA have used the technique since the 1960's to stabilise satellites. Monash University and RMIT researchers are exploring similar techniques for building autopilots that do not rely on gyros.

Please note: As this page was being compiled it was discovered a fault had occurred in the still image capture process and the images were unusable. In the spirit of research we still present the still image plans of this trial day - and promise to do better next time - promise !

For those new to this programme, it is important to note that the 'Monash' Aerosonde (a Mk1), unlike the current (Mk.3) autonomous production model flies under model aircraft regulations rather than those imposed by CASA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia.

Although limiting the craft to a ceiling of 300 feet, flying under 'manually directed' model aircraft regulations, allows the Monash team to conduct trials at times to suit the sometimes irregular 'academic' schedule.

This less formalised trials activity is also made possible via a relationship established with VARMS who allow the Monash team the use of their nearby flying field.

It is worth noting that in 1998, 'Laima', a sister craft to Monash's Aerosonde 'Lawrence Hargrave', was the first robotic aircraft to fly the Atlantic Ocean.



Aerosonde "Lawrence Hargrave"

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image


Schematic Theoretical

Download a 500pixel image


Schematic Practical

Download a 1000pixel image


Aerosonde "Lawrence Hargrave" equipment bay

Download a 500pixel image


Nikon CoolPix900


Nikon CoolPix900 showing cradle and downward facing lens

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image


Nikon CoolPix900 showing cradle and servo operated shutter release

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image


FMA Direct's 'Co-Pilot'

Specifications: Inputs aileron, elevator, and aux for Remote switched or fully proportional Enable from the receiver; outputs pitch (elevator) and roll (aileron or rudder) via normal servo cables; system weight 1.00 ounces; sensor dimensions 1.35" (octagonal) by 0.53" thick; microprocessor 1.50" x 0.89" x 0.60"; power consumption 5 ma. ...more


FMA Direct's 'Co-Pilot' fitted to Aerosonde "Lawrence Hargrave"

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image


Preparing to launch Aerosonde "Lawrence Hargrave"

L-R : Prof. Greg "Biggles" Egan, Prof. John Bird and Chief Pilot, Ray Cooper

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image


Prof. Greg "Biggles" Egan testing the "Co-Pilot" in flight

L-R : Prof. John Bird, Prof. Greg "Biggles" Egan and Chief Pilot, Ray Cooper

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image


Video and Comms. specialist Terry Cornall watching the progress of the flight on a GPS display

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image


Screen shot of the GPS display

The image shows Aerosonde "Lawrence Hargrave" mapped on an image of the immediate area below at a rate of one 'blip' per second.

GPS measurements were taken using a 600 Baud AFSK telemetry modem (connected to the audio channel of the video transmitter on Aerosonde "Lawrence Hargrave") and transmitting data to the field laptop computer.

Download a 500pixel image


Mission IT Support, Paul Jenkins and Ian Reynolds

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image


On high : the team keeping an eye on Aerosonde "Lawrence Hargrave"

L-R : Prof. John Bird, Chief Pilot Ray Cooper, Prf. Greg "Biggles" Egan and project supporter, television specialist Peter Cossins

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image


A soulmate for Aerosonde "Lawrence Hargrave" : a wedgetailed eagle soars within a few hundred feet - wayyyyy up there in the blue.

the downloadable images show the eagle slightly more clearly.

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image


Aerosonde "Lawrence Hargrave" comes into land using the FMA Direct 'Co-Pilot'

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image


Chief Pilot Ray Cooper taxis Aerosonde "Lawrence Hargrave" back to the pits.

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image

Trialling the FMA Direct 'Co-Pilot' with a Flying Wing


Installing the FMA Direct 'Co-Pilot' on Prof. John Bird's flying wing

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image


Prof. John Bird with his flying wing complete with FMA Direct 'Co-Pilot' installed

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image


Close up of FMA Direct 'Co-Pilot' installed on Prof. John Bird's flying wing

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image


Prof. Greg "Biggles" Egan bungee launches Prof. John Bird's flying wing

Download a 500pixel or 1000pixel image

Return to Aerobotics Index

The term Aerobotics is © Copyright 1999-2002, CTIE


© Copyright 1999-2002 CTIE - All Rights Reserved - Caution
Created and maintained by russell.naughton@eng.monash.edu.au
Last updated October 11, 2002