Using fixed-beam LiDAR Sensors in UAV altimeter applications

How a commercial fixed-wing UAS manufacturer enables safer, smoother landings by integrating inexpensive fixed-beam LiDAR technology.

The Challenge

Performing smooth take-off and landings has always been a challenge for commercial UAVs and drones, which often carry expensive, sophisticated payloads onboard. Knowing the exact distance to the ground below is crucial, yet obtaining reliable altitude data remains an issue with the traditional equipment and sensors used in this industry.

This is particularly true for fixed-wing commercial drones, which land by gliding on their belly. During a fixed-wing UAV landing approach, specific manoeuvers must be performed at specific distances from the ground and power to the motor needs to be cut at a crucial time to obtain the right speed and angle required for a smooth landing.

When drone-maker Robota began designing the Eclipse, a brand-new model of advanced fixed-wing drone for surveying applications, its engineers knew they would have to leverage the latest and best technologies available in order to set their offering apart from the competition.

Antonio Liska, Robota’s president, recalls the challenges faced in searching for the perfect altimeter: "Previous models that we have produced used ultrasonic sensors, which are widely used on drones for proximity sensing, but they lacked range and environmental durability. The Eclipse was a fresh start, and we knew we needed a robust ranging sensor. But it was very challenging to find a small sensor with sufficient range and precision that would work in a variety of outdoor conditions”.

When integrating any component to the design of a battery-powered UAS, key elements such as size, weight, power consumption, ruggedness and cost must all be carefully assessed. “For a small drone like the Eclipse, we needed small size, low power, outdoor operation and reliable detection on targets, including snow” adds Liska.

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