The Scenario

An aerial monitoring company was developing a solution for long-range, low-cost observation of critical infrastructure and other applications. The solution uses multiple unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to gather large amounts of data which is transmitted to a centralized location for deeper analysis. This approach is more cost-effective than traditional methods and eliminates the need for on-the-ground operators, manned aircraft, or expensive satellites.

The company needed a prototype of a remote docking station which would allow the UAV to land, recharge, and transmit data automatically. Due to the nature of the deployments and the challenging environments these stations would be used, they needed to operate reliably without human intervention in a wide variety of extreme conditions.

Of particular interest for this project was the system which would connect the UAV to the unit to charge and transmit data. This required precise motion control in order to connect the unit without damaging the UAV or the station.

The Requirements

Because these units would be deployed remotely and any downtime would result in lost revenue for the company, a number of requirements were identified, including:

  • Reliable, consistent, and accurate connection between the UAV and the docking station
  • Low cost, high quality components that could be scaled up for use in multi-unit deployments
  • Temperature control across extreme cold and hot conditions
  • Compliant with government safety regulations and standards
  • Battery backup in case of power failure

The Engagement

JAE Automation was initially approached by a product development company who was working with the client on the remote docking station prototype. The company needed automation and mechanical expertise to design and develop the moving components of the solution.

As part of the design process, JAE Automation worked closely with the client and the development company to gather data, choose systems, determine requirements, and complete the design of the prototype. This allowed JAE Automation to develop the bill of materials required to meet the expectations of the monitoring company.

JAE Automation was selected due to their experience and expertise in programmable logic controllers, (PLCs), control panels, motion control systems, data management, and design. Their past experience with complex motion control systems and their familiarity with the prototype and design process was also valued by the client.

The Solution

JAE Automation delivered a precision motion control system that reliably and consistently connected the UAV to the remote docking station. As a Recognized System Integrator for Rockwell Automation, JAE Automation recommended Rockwell equipment and components to achieve the client’s objectives.

Rockwell Automation was chosen over a previously designed system due to the flexibility and quality their solutions provided for motion controls and data management. This was valuable given the project was still in the prototype phase and future changes were likely as the design of the station evolved. Rockwell Automation also met the safety requirements for the project, and was chosen for door access, motion enabling, and removing hazards which would cause damage or injury.

The Results

The prototype remote docking station was designed, commissioned, and tested with the help of JAE Automation. It achieved its objective by being remotely deployable without any onsite pilots or technicians, and the precision motion control system developed by JAE Automation worked to consistently connect the station to the UAV.

The prototype will serve as the base for future improvements which will be made to bring the product into commercial viability. Specifically, the next phase of the project will look to further reduce the cost of the stations to make multi-unit deployments possible going forward. By achieving this important milestone, the aerial monitoring company is set to continue to expand its capabilities and the applications for its product as it grows into a new and exciting market.