As the word "drone" has become so commonplace that you can literally build a UAV out of anything, researchers are aiming to make the technology smaller and more usable in everyday practice. Bart Remes, project manager at the Micro Aerial Vehicle Laboratory at the TU Delft faculty of Aerospace Engineering, has led a group of researchers to the creation of the world's smallest autopilot.

The team's goal is to eventually create MAVs (Micro Aerial Vehicles) small enough to fit into your pocket, but that does little good when you have to carry around a controller for the craft as well – hence, the quest to create a tiny autopilot system.

The system has been dubbed Lisa/S, and it weighs in at just 1.9 grams (0.07 oz) with a footprint of 2 x 2 cm (0.8 x 0.8 in). "Part of the challenge was just making everything fit to such a small board," Remes tells Gizmag. "We had to write software from scratch that could fit the small module, and communicate with the ground station and an RC at the same time." The radio receiver/datalink technology that the team used is known as SuperbitRF, and it is open-source paparazzi software.

Remes says that he hopes to help make UAVs as common as a cell phone or laptop, which is what drove his team to propagate the software as open-source. "The best way to [make UAVs prevalent] is making [the software] available for the public, so they can come up with the killer application, like Facebook is for the smartphone," Remes explains.

"The overall strategy of the lab is to make everything smaller, lightweight, and computationally and electrically efficient. Why? Because in the flying world everything is about weight and efficiency. If the autopilot is smaller and more efficient, you can fly longer or carry more payload," Remes says. The smaller autopilot allows an MAV to stay in the air longer and carry higher-quality cameras or sensors. This is ideal for the team's intended search and rescue purpose.

Specifically, the team is looking to firefighting and building reconnaissance as key uses for Lisa/S. "The technology is ready. Only, the rules make it hard to implement it, just yet. When the governments make it possible, it will happen," says Remes.

The video below is a flight demonstration of one of the team's MAVs using the Lisa/S autopilot.

Source: TU Delft

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