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  • Claude Avezard The following question was recently asked in an industry-based UAV forum. “… Other than a GoPro, what else would one attach to a personal UAV – and where are we going with it all in the immediate future...? “… As a start, and addressing the issue of – (anyway) – using a “GoPro”… Whilst having benefitted from an excellent marketing campaign, it is factually not necessarily the “best” option to put on any kind of UAV… It just happens to be the most ubiquitous, and currently talked-about. The GoPro’s advantages has always been its size, its super wide-angle lens, and an overall visual “quality” that is perfectly suited for relatively low-resolution media: such as TVs, computer monitors, and Smartphones – where the defining capabilities rarely go beyond 120 dpi, and are more usually 72 dpi. As with the iPhone, viewing images from both these generators can indeed be impressive – within the confines of such viewing platforms. …Which, in fairness, are often more than adequate for the general purposes of an “aficionado public” mostly more interested in content. (… As opposed to an actual, higher end-user quality predicated by any additional, visual post-processing or editing.) This is why there is still such a divide between the “heavy-lifting”, film-environment Octo’copters – beneath which one usually finds slung the upper-end variety of either Video (RED / BLACKMAGIC etc) cameras, or SLR-based video-and-still cameras (CANON V D / Vll – NIKON 3200, PANASONIC etc.) – and the “Amateur/GoPro” market sector. Only a few more enlightened operators – being mindful of weight / payload / flying-range capabilities, and still looking for a top-end quality – have embraced alternative options that are lighter in weight, and almost just as visually performant as the ”Heavies”… ( SONY NEX-7, or the BLACK MAGIC POCKET CINE camera.) These alternatives are niche-connoisseur popular because of their wider video-signal frequency bandwidth, their capability to record RAW files – and the ability to have quality, “Prime” lenses of various focal-lengths affixed to their bodies. (RAW files allow a far wider visual contrast variance – the BlackMagic typically offering 13.5 stops of detail-spread between highlights and shadows.) For myself, I use both of these cameras for aerial filming on modified Quad-X and “Dead-Cat” format ‘copters that have been adapted to 8-X capability. In this configuration, the four-arm support of both Tractor motors pulling upwards, and Thruster motors pushing downwards – (running slightly larger props with a greater pitch, for the latter) – offer both additional payload capability, range, platform stability, and an overall increased mechanical redundancy. Aside from visual recording choices, there have recently been some highly significant developments in Antenna technology – now allowing for Command-and-Control of Multi’Copters to extend out to as much as 10 kms – with some flights even going as far as 20kms. There have even been fixed-wing RC flights of more than 150 kms recorded – with on-board FPV also stretching the same distance. However, as the frequencies often being used are either in-and-around the 900 Mhz and 1250 Mhz slots, such fixed-wing flights are mainly occurring within demographics where the GSM communication frequencies do not occupy the 900 Mhz bandwidths. These long-distance flights are possible because the fixed-wing aircraft fly at heights mainly capable of maintaining a more-or-less “Line-Of-Sight” communication between the aircraft and the ground-based pilot . Naturally, such adventures are undertaken above the permitted 400 ft Model-Aircraft flight ceiling – as well as disrespect the pretty standard regulation of being within the physical sight of the operator. Nevertheless, considering that the very early FPV had its genesis in cheap, Chinese-made Surveillance Camera units, such achievements show that the technology in this area is now well advanced. It is a different issue for the Multi’Copter community whose flights are generally limited to a lesser time-span, and to lower flight ceilings – both determining factors in the choice of Command-and-Control equipment as well as the associated FPV units involved – which, anyway, and advisedly for best practice, are on different frequencies. For instance, a good, long range, object-penetrating combination for both C-&-C and non-HD FPV, would be a combination of 2.4 Mhz, and 1258 Mhz. respectively. Using advanced antenna configurations – in conjunction with growingly more sophisticated multi-channel Diversity Signal Controllers – a Multi‘Copter operated at a height of 50 > 200 ft. AGL, and controlled from an elevated position – is now quite feasibly capable of effecting a line-of-sight flight of 5 kms, and even more. The next immediate ameliorations will be within the HD-quality domain where, for a Multi’copter-styled flight, the range is currently limited to around 1 > 1.5 km. Other innovations that will soon be available and vulgarized for amateur use will be various kinds of avoidance technologies – all of which are rapidly coming online and based on various combinations of radar, microwaves, audio-waves (sonar) and optically-based, object-recognition concepts... There are also different types of C-&-C TX / RX protocols starting to make an appearance that use the existing – alternative, but nearly always present – ambient wavelengths of different kinds, in combination with the standard on-board GPS. These diverse transmissions are sensed, analysed, and then combined for the purpose of creating a triangulated navigational path – cross-referenced from out of a cocktail of GPS, GSM and WiFi data networks. These capabilities are already well advanced – and we should soon see some closed-environment TX / RX systems for C-&-C protocols that tap-into, and process, such public transmissions. Solar Cells will still need to improve radically in both power output, and overall size, in order to be actually useful within the Multi’Copter environment… Along with battery technology, these will both have to be shrunk-down in order to take advantage of the current platform real-estate – which itself is becoming smaller as on-board C-&-C equipment reduces in volume. So – in summary: there is a lot happening throughout this area of interest, and in consequence, the choice of what to put on any kind of personal UAV becomes one of deciding what is the “mission profile” for which the craft has been imagined... … AND being prepared to mix-and-match accordingly – as the technologies are outgrown and updated.