This thesis, by developing a Miniature Aerial Vehicle (MAV) hovering platform, presents a practical solution to allow researchers and students to implement their theoretical methods for guidance and navigation in the real world. The thesis is not concerned with the development of guidance and navigation algorithms, nor is it concerned with the development of external sensors.
There have been some recent advances in guidance and navigation towards developing algorithms and simple sensors for MAVs. The task of developing a platform to test such advancements is the subject of this thesis. It is considered a difficult and time consuming process due to the complexities of autonomous flight control and the strict size, weight and computational requirements of this type of system.
It would be highly beneficial to be able to buy a platform specifically designed for this task that already possesses autonomous hovering capability and the expansion connectivity for interfacing your own custom developed sensors and algorithms. Many biological and computer scientists would jump at the opportunity to maximize their research by real world implementation.
The development of such a system is not a trivial task. It requires a great deal of understanding in a broad range of fields including; Aeronautical, Microelectronic, Mechanical, Computer and Embedded Software Engineering in order to create a successful prototype.
The challenge of this thesis was to design a research platform to enable easy implementation of external sensors and guidance algorithms, in a real world environment for research and education. The system is designed so it could be used for a broad range of testing experiments.
After extensive research in current MAV and avionics design it became obvious in several areas the best available products were not sufficient to meet the needs of the proposed platform. Therefore it was necessary to custom design and build; sensors, a data acquisition system and a servo controller. The latter two products are available for sale by Jimonics (www.jimonics.com). It was then necessary to develop a complete flight control system with integrated sensors, processor and wireless communications network which is called ‘The MicroBrain’. ‘The MicroBrain’ board measures only 45mm x 35mm x 11mm and weighs ~11 grams. The coaxial contra-rotating MAV platform design provides a high level of mechanical stability to help minimise the control system complexity. The platform was highly modified from a commercially available remotely controlled helicopter. The system incorporates a novel collision protection system that was designed to also double as a mounting place for external sensors around its perimeter.
The platform equipped with ‘The MicroBrain’ is capable of fully autonomous hover. This provides a great base for testing guidance and navigational sensors and algorithms by decoupling the difficult task of platform design and low-level stability control.
By developing a platform with these capabilities the researcher can now focus on the guidance and navigation task, as the difficulties in developing a custom platform have been taken care of. This therefore promotes a faster evolution of guidance and navigational control algorithms for MAVs.