Dennis Menick of SwissDrones Operating AG says the built-in NovAtel OEM615™ receiver is a key component for the Dragon 50V2. SwissDrones developed the avionics for the new drone in cooperation with its partner, Switzerland’s weControl.

“We wanted to use weControl’s wePilot 3000 autopilot system,” says Menick, “and so we worked together with them to integrate it into our (UAV) systems. The result, among others, is the Dragon 50V2, the most stable and dependable medium-sized drone now on the market.”

weControl incorporates the OEM615 receiver card configured with GPS and GLONASS into its autopilot. Sébastien Rouault, an electronic engineer at weControl, says, “The GNSS module is more than important; it is mandatory for the autopilot to get data from such a receiver with good availability, a good level of sensitivity and without loss of positioning, and that is what the NovAtel equipment gives us.”

SwissDrones copters

Excellence Starts Here

Based in Sevelen, Switzerland, SwissDrones Operating AG describes itself as a young high-tech company that specializes in the development and production of unmanned helicopters for civil purposes. The company’s founder and CEO, Daniel Krättli, worked closely with the team at weControl to create the Dragon 50V2.

The relationship between the two companies began in 2012, says Menick, based on flexibility, short-time support, availability, professionalism and trust.

“On both sides, we are really interested in the Dragon 50’s success.” A sentiment wholeheartedly seconded by weControl’s Rouault.

SwissDrones BoxThe people at weControl have been working for the past 15 years on UAV autopilot systems and are widely recognized for the reliability of their products. In 2007, weControl merged with Survey-Copter, and in 2011 the new group became a subsidiary of EADS, now Airbus Defense and Space, part of the Airbus Group.

To work with SwissDrones on the Dragon 50V2 project, weControl put together its own crack team, which included its founder and president, Jacques Chapuis. Along with software engineer Florian Guerdat, Chapuis played a key role in defining the needs and developing the algorithms and software for the Dragon 50V2.

“weControl brings significant know-how and experience in the area of flight control algorithms,” says Rouault, “and we now continue to provide support in terms of software development for customization of the Dragon 50V2 system, both on the autopilot side and on the ground control station side.”

Menick says that weControl provides his company with various versions of its ground control station software, making available the necessary tailored interfaces for ground-based sensor operators. “With the wide variety of sensors we employ,” he says, “weControl is able to deliver to us adapted firmware packages so that the operator can achieve the optimal flight behavior with each sensor and sensor combination.”

Asked what makes the Dragon 50V2 better than any other similar systems on the market, Menick says that with the intermeshing rotor system SwissDrones has on its unmanned helicopters, a tail rotor is no longer required. This results in a higher empty-weight-to-payload ratio compared to other helicopter systems.

SwissDrones Propellers“So, the Dragon 50V2 is actually able to lift a higher weight than the empty weight of the aircraft itself,” he says, “making it a unique product for this market.”

With a maximum take-off weight below 150 kilograms (330 pounds), it can be operated within or beyond visual line of sight. And its integrated autopilot system allows autonomous take-off and landing procedures as well as autonomous flight patterns following preset trajectories. The Dragon 50V2 is ready to fly in 15 minutes, it needs only a two-person crew, it can be transported easily in the back of an SUV, and sensor integration is simple and straightforward.

With all that going for it, Menick says, the Dragon 50V2 has managed to corner a significant part of the medium-lift drone market, with few other systems able to compete in terms of hauling power, speed or versatility at its price point.

The Dragon Dragon 50V2 is ideally suited to a number of survey-related applications, all of which are critically dependent on accurate and robust GNSS based positioning. These include LiDAR, multispectral and hyperspectral surveying. The machine has also proven equally useful in surveillance applications such as border control, pipeline surveillance and wildlife observation.SwissDrones Tail

The Dragon 50V2 is also making inroads in the search-and-rescue and disaster-management domains, illustrated by the recent adoption of the unit for search and rescue operations by the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency, Basarnas SAR.

Menick says SwissDrones puts its focus squarely on customer needs, and it has deliberately chosen to equip the Dragon 50V2 with the highest-end sensors on the market, working in cooperation with a number of impressive partners. For example, Dragon 50V2s are equipped with Leica’s RCD30 multispectral sensor, with Geo-Info’s GL70 LiDAR solution (Riegl Vux), and with the AsiaKestrel hyperspectral system developed by Specim. The NovAtel OEM615 fits in well with this approach, as a top-of-the-line GNSS engine for vital navigation and positioning.

As Menick points out, SwissDrones’ flagship flying machine has gained some pretty prominent users, if not out-and-out fans, including two departments of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) that are now using the Dragon 50V2 for research.

One of those departments is the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics in Oberpfaffenhofen, where researchers have been looking for new ways to service and maintain mobile inspection robots that crawl over pipelines on magnetic wheels. As part of the European Union “Aerial Robotics Cooperative Assembly System” (ARCAS) project, DLR researchers have equipped two Dragon 50V2s with an industrial robotic gripper arm with seven degrees of freedom.

To reach pipeline robots, which often work in remote and isolated areas, the Dragon 50V2 navigates autonomously, using its onboard autopilot with NovAtel GNSS, then switches to a precision image-processing system using onboard cameras. The hovering Dragon 50V2 places its gripper arm on the target with centimetre precision, and once it has the robot in its grasp, it can autonomously transport it to a specified location for repairs or maintenance.

SwissDrones Autopilot SystemResearchers say that the Dragon 50V2 could eventually be programmed to carry out robot maintenance on-site while hovering in the air.

In another EU-funded project called ARTIS (Autonomous Rotorcraft Testbed for Intelligent Systems), scientists at the DLR Research Center in Braunschweig are using the Dragon 50V2 as a platform for the development and testing of a full range of autonomous flight technologies and components. DLR researchers are looking at new control techniques, human-machine interfaces, intelligent behavior capabilities and methods for sensor fusion.

Menick says the question of why DLR selected his company’s system is quite easy to answer: “We have a product that simply works and does the job! The DLR purchased one of our drones, and then they came back for more, because they realized the Dragon 50V2 is a very stable and reliable vehicle to use in their research projects.”

SwissDrones Operating AG states, we have been delighted to provide Dragons to a high-powered end user like DLR. “The great cooperation and feedback we have been getting from them over the past years, based on their testing and projects, has really been a great help to us,” Menick says, “allowing us to fine-tune and make final adjustments and improvements in our drones, especially the Dragon 50V2, and this goes for our other end-users too.”

The Dragon 50V2, currently, it would seem, has no match, in no small part thanks to strong partnerships and excellence in sensors—including NovAtel’s OEM615—design, and integration.