Navy know-how drives land drone

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Ryan Zerbe (author), POIS Nina Fogliani (author)

Location(s): HMAS Cerberus, VIC

Topic(s): HMAS Cerberus, Innovation

Chief Petty Officer Electronics Technician Allan Winning, Petty Officer Electronics Technician Ben Kemp and Defence Civilian Bruce Fox testing the Critical Incident Response Vehicle at HMAS Cerberus, Victoria. (photo: POIS Nina Fogliani)
Chief Petty Officer Electronics Technician Allan Winning, Petty Officer Electronics Technician Ben Kemp and Defence Civilian Bruce Fox testing the Critical Incident Response Vehicle at HMAS Cerberus, Victoria.

A resourceful team at HMAS Cerberus has put their ingenuity to the test in making a remotely operated, land-based drone for use in emergencies on-base.

The Critical Incident Response Vehicle (CIRV) was designed by CPO Allan Winning, PO Ben Kemp and Mr Bruce Fox to provide mobile real-time video to Command in the absence of aerial drones.

The team have been working on the CIRV project since last year and have applied their robotic, electronic and software skills to develop a robust device with sophisticated control systems.

CPO Wining said the first hurdle was developing reliable remote control systems with built in redundancy.

“Using the same controls as off-the-shelf aerial drones wouldn’t work because they have a clear line-of-sight for their signal whereas a land-based drone would have physical obstacles blocking the signal,” he said. 

“We experimented with 4G data and an Xbox controller on RC hobby cars, but this didn’t give us the desired level of control, so we tried Pixhawk autopilot hardware. 

By coupling the Pixhawk system with a Raspberry Pi 3 and ground control system called ‘Mission Planner’, the team started achieving the fully autonomous result they had been looking for.

“By March this year we had conducted autonomous testing of the system while also passing through video data with less than a second delay,” CPO Winning said. 

“Proof of concept had been met for Command so we went to work on building a full-scale steering system and body.”

The team settled on a small all-terrain vehicle design, weighing roughly 40kg and began to integrate the control and video components.

PO Kemp said the body had to be able to carry two cameras capable of seeing 180 degrees.

“We went with a metal body produced in the Technical Training Faculty’s Fabrication Workshop at Cerberus. This was chosen because it would reduce stray electromagnetic frequencies produced internally from affecting the Pixhawk autopilot sensors which are externally mounted,” he said.

“The Pixhawk and receivers were relocated into watertight containers on top of the CIRV to improve access, transmission and reception.” 

“We now have a CIRV capable of being controlled via a 2.4GHz system locally, a 915MHz system from up to 30 kilometres away, or from anywhere in the world with a 4G network. 

“Thanks to Bruce Fox’s IT knowledge we can also link high quality video to any internet capable device anywhere in the world.” 

The team behind the CIRV have documented the project so that others are able to operate and maintain it in the future while they also look to how they might boost performance by incorporating attachable devices.

“We’re proud of what we’ve built,” CPO Winning said.

“The CIRV has performed to expectations in recent tests and we’re keen to see what more we can do.”