Tech Tuesday: software of the new Avy Aera
Our Tech Tuesday blog series puts our tech team in the spotlight and highlight their contribution to the development of our new Aera drone solution.
Meet our Software & Controls team
Our Tech Tuesday series continues with our software and controls team. In a nutshell, they’re responsible for ensuring that the code base on board our vehicles as well as on our ground control stations is safe and maximises the capabilities of the hardware. They ensure that all our products are integrated and have put in place some of the building blocks for our drone response network.
We get talking to David, George, Kester and Titus who dive into all the new developments for the new Aera and the integrations made with the Avy Dock.
What were you responsible for when developing software for the new Aera?
David - Software & Controls Lead: I’m responsible for the software on the ground control station (GCS) and the software on our autopilot. Additionally, I am responsible for ensuring robust communication between the drone, the docking station, the GCS and the overarching suite.
Kester - Software & Controls Engineer: I write the functionality, which allows the drone to fly autonomously. I am responsible for software which runs on the companion computer. This facilitates the flight controller’s activities and the communication with the flight controller and the outside world. I’ve also taken on work regarding the drone station integration.
George - Controls Engineer: My responsibilities touch on a few different topics; I do a lot of controls tuning and support the team with establishing automated simulation procedures for quality control. I also control how our system complies with the safety requirements from the EU and other regulators. I define the requirements interface between our software suite and the rest of the embedded and mechanical parts of the product.
Titus - Software Integration Engineer: My job is to be the bridge between the software team and flight operations team. With the latest aircraft, I worked closely with the hardware and embedded teams for the development of the mules. There was a lot of testing and integration of software throughout the whole process.
Static testing, flight testing, reporting back, testing both indoors and outdoors, testing again. Once that entire process was completed for the mules, it was time to move on to the actual vehicle. Then again it was testing, statically, indoor and then finally the glorious moment for outdoor testing with fixed-wing flights.
What were your main challenges?
Kester: With the new Aera there’s been quite a lot of embedded and hardware changes with a lot of custom embedded components. We’re using UAVCAN now and have put dual redundancy in our communication, requiring a lot of software to support these components.
David: Operability was the biggest challenge. This includes, challenges related to control theory and software developments to utilise our hardware available to enable us to fly at a high level of operability.
George: The hardest part during the development of our latest aircraft stems from the fact that we’re continuously learning. We have included more careful design, more design reviews and cross-testing with hardware and embedded systems.
Titus: The biggest challenge was making sure that we could finish the testing on the mules and then have all the tests done on the actual aircraft before the launch on November 30th. A lot of iterations were made with different components, working with those new components and getting them to work on the mule and retesting them if they needed changing before implementing them into the aircraft.
Testing our mule at Unmanned Valley
Catch a glimpse of one of our mules in action during a test flight!
How have we improved our software systems?
David: Although we’re running the same base software as we did on our first generation, we have developed extra software that allows us to run some of the avionics components developed in-house.
Kester: Functionally it’s very similar to our previous generation Aera, but a lot of the components have changed and have been designed ourselves. This makes them more reliable, more robust and we have more control over them.
Titus: It’s been a great way to get our processes right and see what we can improve in the process of getting an aircraft commercially ready - rolling out new features and updates and being in a constant state of evolution without having to redo everything.
George: We’ve become a lot more professional about our development cycle. In the software team, that translates into more testing, more rigorous procedures, more calculations and simulations to be done beforehand. We’re taking more things into account at the beginning of the process concerning what will make the new Aera a safer drone.
What makes the new Aera so special?
David: We can be very proud of our improved integration with the docking station, improved operability and improved failure detection.
George: Avy is gradually offering a true drone network solution that will let its operator use it at a system level, not simply at the aircraft level. Thus, the integration of the new Aera into this network will make it one of the very few commercially available vehicles capable of this.
Our first fixed-wing flight with the new aircraft was a beautiful day for all of us!
Kester: Integration with the drone station - something that we’ve built entirely from scratch over the past year. We’ve made the computer connect to the outside world so the user can access the door of the station, the landing zone, see the camera feed and the status.
2 things coming up this year which will be really big: integrating the docking station with our ground control station so that the user can have full control over the drone, mission and station. We’re also going to be integrating this into our mission workflow - the drone part of the mission will be written into the docking station
Thanks to our software team - what a ride it’s been!
Our software capabilities would not be possible without our software partner Auterion. Don’t miss out on our guest piece by Auterion for the next edition of the Tech Tuesday series. They will shed light on the improvements and integrations made to the new Aera from their side and touch upon the flight controller, the suite and Skynode which is a new integration in the new Aera.
Docking station: Also known as the Avy Dock, the ground infrastructure where the new Aera can “nest”, take off from and land on with charging capabilities. Having the drone on standby enables instant deployment of the aircraft for autonomous operations.
Ground control station: The operator’s computer where he monitors the flight and can issue commands to the UAV from.
Mule: a development mule (also known as test mule) in this context is a sturdy metal frame that acts as a testbed vehicle equipped with prototype components requiring evaluation.