On our last expedition, we brought two expedition quadcopters, so that we could gain aerial footage from our trip. Unfortunately, one of them was broken beyond repair during its first flight, over the new lava field from Bárðarbunga / Holuhraun (see Day 8 Blog). This, together with challenging weather conditions throughout the expedition period, resulted in less than originally planned flights throughout the trip.
You can read more about the quadcopters used during our last trip on the ICE2015 Projects page.
Using experience from ICE2015, we have built a larger quadcopter for ICE2017. Our hope is to bring a quadcopter that will be easier to handle on manual flights, which is also capable of conducting autonomous flights based on a predefined flight plan, or made to follow us as we move.
We chose the HMF U580 foldable frame so that it would use as little space as possible when not in use. Together with the LDPower D1200 multicopter power system, this quadcopter has 4kw of power, and a 3.5kg recommended maximum rig weight. With a current total weight of 2.5kg, it should pack enough punch to move at high speeds, and be able to handle wind more smoothly. The frame measures 580mm diagonally from motor-to-motor and with the rotor blades fully extended it is 960mm from tip-to-tip, so it is quite a bit bigger than the 300mm 700g rig we used during ICE2015.
The heart of this setup is a Pixhawk PX4 flight controller. This controller has redundant gyro, accelerometer, magnotometer and is also capable of having redundant power supply. Together with a 168 MHz Cortex M4F CPU, this flight controller has enough computing power to make it one of the most stable controllers out there. The Pixhawk runs the ArduPilot software, which provides numerous functions like GPS guided mission flights, position hold, and follow me. With all the redundant sensors available, it can determine if one sensor fails and compensate accordingly. It also monitors battery use and voltage, and will report back to the ground station with quadcopter status.
A Tarot T4-3D camera gimbal have been fitted to the frame, with a GoPro HERO4 black edition camera. The gimbal allows for charging the camera while flying, as well as extracting video to transmit to a FPV (First Person View) monitor on the ground.
For remote monitoring of the quadcopter, a SiK radio system has been fitted, that will enable a computer or even a phone to receive real time data from the flight, which includes full flight telemetry, as well as GPS details and battery status. This setup is also necessary to enable the “follow me” function, that will make the quadcopter to follow us based on the ground stations GPS position.
The remote control we used during ICE2015, a Spektrum DX7s, lacks the number of channels required to be able to control the flight controller, as well as the gimbal on our new rig. A FrSky Taranis X9D Plus was acquired, providing 16 channels, which is more than enough. The Taranis radio runs the Open-TX software and is highly configurable and versatile. The remote has been set up to control all the needed functions on the flight controller, as well as tilt on the camera gimbal.
During 2016 we will be continuously testing this setup, to find its full potential, as well as limitations of this rig, so that we may change the setup to fit our needs, before we return back to Iceland in Summer 2017. We will update this page as the rig changes.