Pakistani Journalists Visit MU

On 3/18/13, a group of Pakistani journalists visited the MU School of Journalism as part of an exchange program. One of the items that was of interest, is the work being done with Drone Journalism.

Following a brief discussion, the group along with the Drone Journalism team and members from the IT Program DroneLab, went out to the Quad on the MU campus to demonstrate the technology that was being used.

The visitors were impressed by what was on hand, and could instantly see many uses for the technology in their daily lives. Some visitors also managed to get some hands-on experience, in between photo opportunities.

MU IT Program DroneLab drones and footage featured on NBC Nightly News

On Friday 3/8/13, a film crew from NBC Nightly News visited the MU Campus. The DroneLab managed to gather footage for them to use – including shots of the reporter, Thanh Truong, who was introducing the story.

Following the campus footage, the team went with the J-School Students and people from KBIA to a fish and wildlife refuge in preparation to gather footage for a story about Snow Geese. Footage captured from the DroneLab’s TBS Discovery can be seen on the segment, showing the students flying another of the drones.

Here’s the footage we captured:

The NBC story can be seen here.

Footage from a drone of the TV crew

Students flying a drone

This type of activity highlights one of the goals of the project we are undertaking with the students from the J-School – to demonstrate that the drones can be used for purposes that are law-abiding and enhance situations where it might not be possible to otherwise gather footage.


New Drone – XAircraft X650 V8

One of the most recent acquisitions of the DroneLab has been an XAircraft X650 V8.We’re testing this in contrast the DJI F550 Hex that we have in terms of comparing the stability of the platforms, and also the payload capacity. With having 8 motors, it should theoretically provide some higher reliability, and this will be an additional focus area for testing.

The other nice point with an additional payload capacity is the ability to carry more, or larger, batteries – thus increasing the useable range or loiter time. We’ve got a number of 5Ah and 6Ah batteries to test with.

Seeing the difference in flight controllers from different vendors is interesting – theoretically, they all should behave similar – there’s only a finite amount of ways to control a flying machine. Having said that, they tend to come in different shapes and sizes, which really alter the ease of use.

Flying with the Journalism folks has provided an interesting insight into beginning flying with multirotors – some of the controllers (in particular the DJI Naza) work great out-of-the-box with the DJI frames. The tuning of the PID looks in the controllers is a big factor in getting a stable multirotor if it’s something that’s not supported natively.

TBS Discovery Quadcopter

In order to further test out remote piloting and the ability to use this for content gathering, the DroneLab has built a TBS Discovery based airframe. Using an APM 2.5 controller, along with GPS and telemetry links, it provides us with a stable platform and sufficient payload capacity to carry First Person View (FPV) equipment, or alternate information gathering sensors (such as infra-red cameras).

The discovery is shown pictured in an FPV configuration – the lab is making use the Ham Radio operators who are part of the team and using 1.3GHz to transmit live video. We have previously performed testing around campus using 5.8GHz and have had mixed results: the Wireless Access Points operate also on the same frequency range, and when close to buildings they “overpower” the video feed.

IT Program Laser Cutter used to build quadcopter

The IT Program is fortunate enough to have a Full Spectrum Laser 40W Laser Cutter. We’ve made use of this for some projects in the DroneLab – one of our quads is built around a frame cut from ABS using the laser cutter.The mini-sized quad is perfect for some indoor flying – outside it is affect by winds.

The quadcopter, also knows as The BumbleBee, is based upon some of the example airframes over at OpenPilot. It also makes use of the OpenPilot CopterControl flight controller – GPS isn’t required, as it is mostly used for indoor flying, where GPS signal is poor.


New Hexacopter – DJI F550

As part of the drone journalism project, we’re evaluating different flight platforms that provide both an ease of operation and the ability to provide a professional-quality aerial imagery platform. The second multirotor being evaluated is a hexacopter – six motors spaced every 60 degrees around center.

The DJI F550 is an off-the-shelf hex, and has enough lifting capacity to handle a set of landing gear and camera gimbal. So far flight-time tests are being conducted with 3S and 4S LiPos, along with payload testing.

Drone Lab F550

Drone Lab F550

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EON Underwater ROV

Stemming from an idea by Doug Royal, EON (Eight of Nine) in an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that is capable of gathering 3D video footage.

As part of a senior Capstone project, students designed and built the ROV from scratch, designed and coded the control system, and gathered 3D footage.

Read the full story here.