Ensuring Optimal Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Speed and Altitude with Pressure Sensors

UAVs, otherwise called drones, are aircraft with no human pilot onboard and are part of a highly advanced unmanned aircraft system (UAS). UAS also combines a ground-based controller and a communication technique for the controller to interface with the UAV.

Ensuring Optimal Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Speed and Altitude with Pressure Sensors

Image Credit: Superior Sensor Technology

When in flight, the internal electronics of UAVs can provide independent operation, or they could be regulated remotely with the help of a human operator. In both cases, UAVs rely heavily on a range of sensors to guarantee that they perform as planned.

To function properly, UAVs rely on many sensors that train the system to adjust by quantifying a range of conditions. Listed below are a few of the sensors in UAVs:

  • Accelerometers help track linear movement along any axis.
  • Barometers quantify air pressure and establish and retain a stable altitude.
  • The Angle of Attack (AOA) quantifies the flow angle of winged UAVs and serves a crucial role in identifying the aerodynamic forces of the aircraft.
  • Magnetometers help signal the strength and direction of the magnetic field to clarify heading.
  • GPS to identify the positioning of the UAV based on signaling from GPS satellites.
  • Gyroscopes to fix the degree of tilt, rate of rotation and angular velocity.
  • Installed pitot tubes for quantifying the airspeed of winged UAVs.
  • Obstacle avoidance sensors to guarantee a drone or UAV does not crash into other objects. Such avoidance systems could comprise one or more stereoscopic sensors (visual cameras to see objects), ultrasonic sensors (ultrasonic waves to identify the distance from objects), LiDAR (emit light pulses through lasers to quantify distances of objects) and infrared sensors (identical to ultrasonic sensors but utilize infrared signals rather than ultrasonic waves).

This article concentrates on four of the types of sensors listed above that use highly precise pressure sensors: barometers, accelerometers, gyroscopes and pitot tubes.

The first three are occasionally fused together to generate an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) to quantify various parameters, such as the pitch, roll and yaw of the UAV.

UAV Roll, Pitch, and Yaw.

Figure 1. UAV Roll, Pitch, and Yaw. Image Credit: Superior Sensor Technology

The Role of Pressure Sensors in IMUs

Pressure sensors are considered a main component of the different IMU elements as they can quickly sense pressure differences and warn the UAV so that the appropriate action can be taken to adjust and rectify. Listed below are the three main areas where pressure sensors are positioned inside the IMU system.

Barometer

Air pressure alters with altitude — the higher you go, the lower the pressure. As a barometer measures changes in altitude, a pressure sensor can quickly measure variations in atmospheric pressure to help guarantee the UAV is flying at the proper elevation.

Accelerometer

As an accelerometer quantifies airspeed, a differential pressure sensor can determine variations in air pressure from the nose of the UAV to help guarantee the device keeps a stable rate of movement despite alterations in the wind conditions and other external factors.

Gyroscope

Installation of the gyroscopes is done for the measurement of angular movement, and differential pressure sensors can detect changes in air pressure as a result of varying angles. This is relevant for any axis movement — pitch, roll and yaw.

The Role of Differential Pressure Sensors in Pitot Tubes

Pitot tubes track airspeed, which is the measurement of the UAV's speed comparative to the surrounding air. It is situated on the UAV’s exterior and makes use of a differential pressure sensor to quantify the difference between the pressure of still air (in static pressure) and that of moving air that is condensed by the forward motion (ram pressure) of the aircraft.

The variation among these pressures increases as the overall speed increases.

Pitot Tube Diagram.

Figure 2. Pitot Tube Diagram. Image Credit: Superior Sensor Technology

Superior Sensor’s Technology Advantage

Superior Sensors’ proprietary NimbleSenseTM architecture is a first-in-industry System-in-a-Sensor integrated platform.

Combining a highly differentiated advanced pressure sensing system with the ability to add optional building blocks leads to the highest levels of precision and dependability with lower overall system charges and system design flexibility.

Superior’s unique technology provides a range of benefits for UAVs and other airborne devices.

Lowest Noise Floor

One of the largest obstacles that the pressure sensors installed in UAVs must overcome is the noise produced by both the drone and external components like the wind.

With the application of Superior’s integrated advanced digital filtering technology, these pressure sensors neutralize the noise made by these factors before they impact system performance. Hence, the noise is neutralized before it becomes an error signal that can lead to incorrect air pressure readings.

Highest Levels of Accuracy

With a fast-moving UAV, any deviance in speed, altitude or angle of attack could have a direct impact on its trajectory.

To considerably decrease this potential impact, a differential pressure sensor with a high level of accuracy is essential. Superior’s sensors provide industry-leading precision to within 0.05% of the chosen pressure range and a total error band (TEB) inside 0.10% of FSS.

Fastest Response Times

In addition to accuracy, the time taken by the pressure sensor to update its measurement data is crucial for a UAV — the faster the updated pressure measurements are delivered, the better the drone can retain its precise positioning.

While user-configurable, Superior’s sensors allow update rates as fast as 1 millisecond.

Sensor Customization and Flexibility

As UAVs require numerous pressure sensors, the ability to integrate just one sensor into the design that can then be tailored to each application on the drone is a considerable benefit, in terms of both efficiency and product cost.

The NimbleSense architecture enables the same sensor to address all UAV pressure sensing needs. The sensor can be easily configured for each particular purpose based on the application. There are various features that can be customized, for example, bandwidth filter, pressure range and output data rate.

Conclusion

UAVs are highly advanced devices that demand a continuous stream of flight information. Pressure sensors are crucial in providing this data, enabling drones to fly without any problems.

Installing differential pressure sensors that neutralize noise provide remarkably high degrees of accuracy, give the quickest response times and can be customized for each application will lead to better-performing products.

Superior Sensor Technology’s differential pressure sensors provide full design flexibility with unprecedented performance.

For more detailed information regarding Superior’s solutions for UAVs or to learn how to enhance drone products, contact Superior Sensor today.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Superior Sensor Technology.

For more information on this source, please visit Superior Sensor Technology.

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