Complex Systems Integration

The University of Saskatchewan Plant Sciences team conducts extensive agricultural phenotype research and over the years, it became clear their need for more sophisticated sensors exceeded the capability of their current Draganflyer X4-P system.

This is an excellent example of a data driven solution where the payload required to deliver the data defines the plaform.

At Draganfly we often "work the solution backwards" to first define the customer data requirements, select payloads, select an aerial platform, design the system architecture, software integration to meet the business need, develop a training program, and document the solution.

After identifying the different payloads with the team, we began looking at different aerial platforms that could handle the weight and meet software integration requirements.

The best platform to build the solution was the DJI M600Pro. The platform is a proven workhorse, is readily available, easy to work on, and can reliably handle heavy payloads.

Software integration didn't pose much of a problem and we all agreed this was the direction to take. There were challenges along the way but in the end the platform proved to be an excellent choice.

With every project you always face unknown issues and challenges that must be overcome and like every project before it, this project was no different.

Continue reading to learn more about payload testing and integration, software integration, custom interface hardware, flight planning software integration, and how some of the problems we encountered were overcome.

Working hand-in-hand with our customers to develop high quality solutions that meet and exceed their business needs.

High quality data acquisition is what really matters.


The Sony APC sensor cameras and the MicaSense RedEdge were flown on the University of Saskatchewan Plant Sciences Draganflyer X4-P platform to conduct early research with excellent results. But as their research advanced and became more sophisticated the team, headed by Prof. Steve Shirtliffe, required more image and spectral resolution.

The list of desired sensors to advance their research included the PhaseOne iXU 100 MP still camera, Hi-Phen AirPhen multispectral camera, MicaSense RedEdge 3 multispectral camera, Sony A7R still camera, and the Corning MicroHSI hyperspectral camera.

In many cases, more than one type of sensor was required. For example, fly both the PhaseOne iXu and the RedEdge3 multispectral sensor to simultaneously acquire high resolution color stills and multispectral data. The team knew the M600Pro platform was capable of handling the payload but out of the box, the "system" didn't support the remote control and triggering of these sensors.

The M600Pro supports remote triggering but not in the desired protocol required so custom hardware and software was developed to simultaneously trigger multiple sensors.

Hands on system training rounds out the custom system integration experience.

Pre-flight, clear the area, announce takeoff, and launch the mission.

Software Integration

There are a number of "off the shelf" mission planning software programs available that will work with the M600Pro however none of these offered the ease of use and full feature tree required by the Plant Sciences team. We required the ability to automatically generate a flight path that dynamically changes based on the performance features of the camera and the imagery resolution needed.

This software also needed to automatically trigger the camera shutter at the correct locations which also needs to dynamically adjust itself based on flight speed, camera features, and altitude. Draganfly's Surveyor mission planning software offers these features but it doesn't natively support DJI's system architecture.

To address these issues, we designed a purpose built interface circuit board and wrote software to act as a bridge between the DJI A3pro autopilot, each of the cameras, and Draganfly Surveyor mission planning software.

Surveyor generates the automated flight plan including shutter capture commands and the interface circuitry seamlessly uploads data to the A3Pro autopilot.

In flight, the A3 Pro autopilot runs the automated flight plan and sends camera control and shutter commands through the same interface circuitry to simultaneously trigger the cameras at the correct time.

This custom interface circuitry also generates real time log files of the flight data, GPS, and camera shutter, that can be used to review, geo-reference imagery, and diagnose any faults.

Extensive flight testing was conducted using a computer simulated hardware-in-the-loop testing environment to mitigate risk and speed the development cycle.

Custom designed hardware and software bridged the gap to create an easy to operate and high performance system.

System integration is more than the aircraft, more than the payload... It's the complete system.

Hardware, payload, software, testing, documentation, and training.

The Results

Design goals included developing a system to meet and exceed their current data needs while at the same time, developing a system where researchers can focus on the data versus flying the system.

As the system development cycle matured, the team focused more on the client workflow, flight testing in their operating environment, system training, and as the system was flown more and more, resolving any issues that might come up.

Through field testing operations, several small issues were identified by the client that were found to stem from previously unknown characteristics of the DJI A3Pro autopilot, M600Pro, sensors, and the interaction with Draganfly's interface circuitry.

The University's Plant Science team now has a robust and effective solution that is saving time and collecting more and higher quality data than with previous sensors packages with up to a terabyte per day of hyperspectral, multispectral, and high resolution RGB imagery. This research is being used to help improve agriculture techniques and processes that will result in higher yield crops with lower input costs.

Professor Steve Shirtliffe discussed the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and their research at the Emerging Technologies for Global Food Security Conference 2018. Select the conference testimonial link below to hear more about how Draganfly teamed up with the University to deliver high quality results.

Delivering Results

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