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Drone Black Boxes- Why do we need them?




yuneec typhoon h crash

Drone black boxes are present in unmanned aircrafts as well as in trains, ships and even cars. They have a long history dating back from more than 60 years ago, but today’s problems with drones can be solved with the same principles.

Where do black boxes come from?

The early days of aviation were glorious and especially dangerous. Almost any achievement was preceded by countless attempts; so getting as much data as possible rapidly became a priority.

The first devices started being built back in ’39 in France for flight testing purposes, which stored very basic information such as altitude and speed. After several crashes during the 50’s, the first “Flight recorders” or “black boxes” (recording cockpit sound and flight data) started being installed on all aircrafts as “A Device for Assisting Investigation into Aircraft Accidents”.

Black boxes made aviation safer and now they are found in many other vehicles. In a growing drone industry where failure and malfunction are still a possibility, they can help not only to analyse flight data, but also to get more value out of the equipment.

Old Black Box

Flight data in drones

Flight controllers on drones allow sending relevant information to the ground; some of them with direct streaming (e.g. DJI) and some others through specific devices.  Ground Station software such as Mission Planner and UgCS, or apps like DJIGo and Litchi can record and store this data during flights.

This comes very handy for range of applications: finding a lost drone, integrating it with other applications (mapping, etc), flying beyond line-of-sigh, information about flight conditions, system status… The importance of recording this information is obvious. There is one distinction to make though:

Telemetry Logs

These are the data files saved during a flight by a “ground” station that usually contain information directly related to the flight. 

Flight Logs

These are a similar kind of files, but they are stored in the internal memory of modern flight controllers (DJI P3 and on, APM2.X, Pixhawk), acquiring the name of “black boxes”. These logs have a bit more information about the system itself, and have the complete record of flight data in the case of lost connections with the remote controller. The can be extracted for analysis once the aircraft is on the ground.

Some of the main drone black boxes recorded variables are:

  • Altitude 
  • Vertical/horizontal speed 
  • RC input
  • Signal strength 
  • GPS satellites 
  • Longitude and latitude
  • Battery voltage
  • Roll/pitch/yaw
  • XYZ acceleration
  • Magnetic field values (heading)

Interesting devices such as Flytrex Live 3G can be installed on-board and used as a black box while sending all this information to a Cloud using a SIM card, so you’ll never lose any valuable data.

drone black boxes

Uses of drone black boxes data analysis

The point of having all this data available is the possibility to use it beyond the flight. Here are some interesting cases:

Proof of faulty equipment

If you experience any crash not due to the pilot error or any misuses, you can send the log files to the manufacturer for further examination. In the case of proven faulty equipment, you should get it fixed for free.

Drone monitoring

Although manufacturers do not accept third-party results, Healthydrones is a free website for data analysis initially built for crash prevention information and very popular among pilots. Once you have all the flight data available for analysis it is easy to see if any component in the system is working properly compared to previous records.   

Legal issues

The flight information inside the black box can solve a legal dispute, or can help find the owner and responsible of any lost equipment.

Fun Challenges

A cool initiative brought by Flytrex are the challenges open to all the users who upload their logs to the Cloud. You can be the Top Speeder, hold the record of longest flown distance and much more.

Statistics & Graphs

It is always a good idea to check the status of your equipment or to paint a beautiful flight trajectory over Google Earth.

Overall drone black boxes is a must for both manufacturers and customers in our days.

Thanks for reading!

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