How on-board propulsion data is changing the UAV industry by improving safety and reducing costs
Why UAV manufacturers are moving towards condition-based maintenance
After spending a week at AUVSI’s XPonential conference, and speaking with numerous drone manufacturers, one key theme stood out – the importance of on-board data and telemetry. Whether you’re a single engineer developing a vehicle prototype for testing, or a large manufacturer keeping track of a deployed drone fleet, having access to propulsion system telemetry both during, and post-flight, is quickly becoming industry standard.
As drones continue to become larger and larger, real-time feedback on a component level has become a crucial part of ensuring safe operation. Exploring the health of a vehicle thousands of times per second through the monitoring of current, vibration and temperature, unlocks a new level of safety for not only the drone, but its surrounding environment.
Alert! Motor 1 has exceeded temp threshold.
Abnormal vibration on Motor 2. Check bearing for wear or prop for damage.
Motor 3 has exceeded current threshold for 3000 RPM!
With access to this data, manufacturers can set in-flight parameters to land safely, avoiding a crash. They may also use this information for post-flight, condition-based maintenance to extend the lifespan of individual components.
Since January, more than 40 industrial UAV manufacturers were interviewed in order to determine what was next on their feature implementation list. These interviews revealed that 64% of respondents valued real-time motor feedback for condition-based monitoring as one of their top priorities when considering the integration of new speed controller technologies.
William Fredericks, Founder & CEO of Advanced Aircraft Company (AAC) says that having an ESC that can sense and data log a number of motor parameters means an electric motor failure can be anticipated when those parameters go outside of their normal range.
“This negates the need to replace a motor that is fully functioning simply because it hit a time limit. Additionally, being able to anticipate a motor failure earlier in its life, means the motor can be replaced at that time, saving an aircraft from crashing,” says Fredericks.
Research shows that drone operators on average conduct routine maintenance of their vehicles every 60 days, often without propulsion data readily available. Each maintenance period costs upwards of $2,100 and often involves replacing components, possibly unnecessarily, based on estimates of mean-time between failure. Thus, resulting in staggeringly high costs to maintain a single drone.
Another UAV manufacturer, developing and servicing in-field industrial vehicles, estimates real-time telemetry on propulsion data from ESCs will drastically improve operations for manufacturers. ‘If we can sense basic information about the motors we can pinpoint our maintenance more accurately. Measuring the current draw per motor, vibrations and magnetization would not only save maintenance costs but also allow us to stretch the maintenance interval – saving our customers a lot of down time.’
A recent study by RMIT University investigated 150 drone incidents and identified technical failure as the cause for 2 out of 3 incidents – let’s change this stat. Will your vehicle safely predict onboard component problems before they escalate and end in failure? Are you performing condition-based monitoring on your UAV? If so, pat yourself on the back, you are ahead of most manufacturers in the industry!