Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
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An Airborne Experimental Test Platform

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are aircraft that fly without a human operator onboard. More popularly, they are referred to as "drones". There are many different applications for an UAV, including military and law enforcement, environmental monitoring, forestry surveys, precision agriculture, and transportation infrastructure inspection, among others. However, avionics development and testing is the area in which the University of Minnesota UAV Research Group (UMN-URG) is exploring.

In a two-part Inside GNSS magazine article, the UMN-URG describes their activities in a UAV research lab at the University of Minnesota, including design of simulations and research avionics, and operation of small UAVs that make aircraft safer and more fuel efficient. In short, the group focuses on research that makes aircraft safer and more reliable, as well as emphasizing that there are other uses of UAVs outside the military sector.

In part one of the magazine feature, the UMN-URG gives a high-level description of the overall infrastructure that has been developed for the UAV lab and how it is used. This includes the flight platforms and research avionics employed by the UAV lab. The article gives in-depth information about infrastructure, flight operations, simulation environments, flight software, navigation, and baseline flight control design.

Part one can be found online at the Inside GNSS website:

Part two of the article presents examples of current projects under way in the lab that have the potential to transform the methods used in avionics development and testing. Researchers at UMN-URG illustrate how they use UAV test platforms to develop, test and certify new avionics and guidance, navigation, and control (GNC) algorithms for safety-critical systems. More details about the various aspects of the system described here can be found at the UMN-URG website:

In the second part of the article, the UMN-URG presents specific examples that highlight how UAVs can be employed in GNC avionics research and development. First, a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)-enabled air data estimation technique is described whereby an aircraft's equation of motion is used as a virtual sensor to aid in estimating its airspeed, angle of attack, and sideslip angle. Next, the development of navigation algorithms for GNSS-stressed or GNSS-denied environments are discussed, highlighting how information sharing among UAVs flying in a certain region could be used to coast through GNSS outages. Finally, work that focuses on how UAVs can be used to assess the reliability of an avionics system is presented, including certification tools and fault detection algorithms

Part two can also be found online at the Inside GNSS website:

Three airframes used by the UMN-URG.

Last Modified: 2014-06-04 at 15:22:38 -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation