LOHAN leaps aloft & ports into virtual flight logger

Test flight 3D representation pops up in Exmaps

Our playmonaut tries out a jetpack, watched by a circling vulture

Last October, our US allies at Edge Research Laboratory sent up a Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) avionics package to determine just how our Vulture 2 spaceplane's servos and batteries would handle the cold way up in the stratsophere.

Shortly afterwards, the chaps from "Drone Flight Logbook" outfit Exmaps got in touch to see if they could use the flight data from the Pixhawk autopilot to create a virtual representation of the mission.

We said "yeah, OK then", and you can now enjoy the whole ride from Colorado Springs East Airport back to terra firma right here.

Screen grab showing the payload track as it ascends

As well as showing a 3D track of the flight, Exmaps also presents other data in graph form, including roll, pitch and yaw, plus flight altitude. The former shows what a white-knuckle ride High Altitude Ballooning (HAB) missions are for payloads:

The flight altitude and yaw/pitch/roll data in Exmaps

We spoke to Exmaps' lead developer Weiliang Zhang, who said of his baby:

Exmaps was started by my company Avetics Global Pte Ltd. We are drone service provided in Singapore and in the wider Southeast Asia region. Being heavy drone users ourselves, we thought we needed an easy tool to track drone usage so as to schedule maintenance.

This idea is not new, in fact, it has been in place for many years in the aviation industry. Pilots and service engineers keep logs of the 'plane. We thought for drone use to be widely accepted, it must be professional and one way to do it is to keep logs.

So we created Exmaps. We have users from all over the world and to date there are more than 10,000 flights submitted to the system. We also implemented a battery calculation feature to help users understand how efficient their drones are. We observe many crashes seem to happen due to low battery. If user can better correlate flight time to battery energy usage, maybe they will be better at understanding the limits of their drones and not push it past that.

At present, Exmaps solely supports Ardupilot-based logs, but the hope is that other autopilot manufacturers will come on board to expand the service's scope.

Here's the rig which last year provided the data for our own foray into Exmaps, comprising the aforementioned Pixhawk autopilot and GPS unit, airspeed sensor, full set of servos and the two packs of Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA batteries which power the whole shebang, via a Battery Eliminator Circuit (BEC) in the case of the servos:

The test rig in its enclosure prior to the flight

This kit took to the skies as part of Edge Research Lab's EDGE17 flight - primarily designed to test the "BEACON e-field sensor" as part of the stormchasing "Balloon Enabled Atmospheric Conditions Observation Network" project.

The Edge team inflates the balloon

Pixhawk brain surgeons Linus Penzlien and Andrew Tridgell subsequently picked over the flight logs, and you can read the conclusions here. Slightly less esoteric is Edge's entertaining video of the mission, lovingly put together for the benefit of Reg readers:

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The Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator, sponsored by...

  • EXASOL logo
  • Pulse_Eight
  • SecQuest logo
  • Lucidica logo
  • NXT logo

...and with the invaluable support of...

  • Edge Research Laboratory logo
  • Space Graphic Solutions logo
  • 3D Robotics logo
  • 3T RPD logo
  • University of Southampton logo
  • Applied Vacuum Engineering logo
  • Escher Technologies
  • Flashpoint Fireworks logo
  • HAB Supplies logo
  • Rock 7 logo
  • Random Engineering logo

More from the lovely LOHAN:

  • You can find full LOHAN coverage right here.
  • If you're new to LOHAN, seek out our mission summary for enlightenment.
  • There are photos our our magnificent Vulture 2 spaceplane here, and detailed structural plans here.
  • For your further viewing pleasure, we have all our photographic material stored on Flickr.
  • Our LOHAN and Paper Aircraft Released Into Space (PARIS) videos live on YouTube.
  • We sometimes indulge in light consensual tweeting, as you can see here.

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