A German company is celebrating a success with Satnav guided micro-drones

Micro drones rely on satnav for land monitoring

Micro UAVs developed by a German company can monitor disaster areas and patrol construction sites while being guided completely by navigation satellites.

Designed and developed by a German firm MAVinci, the 3kg unmanned planes with a 1.6m wingspan, are a product of several years of cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA) in the framework of the agency’s technology transfer programme.

Taking up the job of conventional piloted planes, the tiny drones can take precise aerial photos of flooded areas, forest fires, oil spills or waste disposal sites. Before the take-off, the flight plan is defined on a computer and subsequently uploaded onto the UAV’s on-board processor.

While the autopilot is completely in charge of the flight, a human ‘safety pilot’ on the ground follows the drone’s path via a radio and can take over the flight control if the need arises.

The on-board cameras are switched on during the operations using navigation satellites.  

“They can carry visual cameras or other customer-specific measuring equipment,” said Johanna Claussen, MAVinci CEO, explaining that the company has entered the market at a suitable moment. “The market for land surveys by MAVs is growing very rapidly, especially this year,” she said.

The company’s idea was first introduced to ESA at the Business Incubation Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. Since then, the cooperation between the small company and ESA’s experts has flourished. MAVinci has built on the agency’s expertise in using satellite navigation data as well as using its advanced methods for calibration of optical equipment.

In 2009, while still under ESA's supervision, MAVinci's planes were used in Spain to collect data regarding erosion in Andalusian canyons. The information obtained was used to help understanding the processes and help local farmers.

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