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Apr 07, 2006, 08:20 AM
Who needs a pilot??
danstrider's Avatar
Thread OP

Autonomous Soaring

Hey Everyone,

My goal is to break Joe Wurts' cross-country soaring world record of 140.7mi with no human intervention. This won't qualify for an official FAI record because I can't quite make the 11 lb limit with the current hardware, but surely it will usher in a new era of soaring research and fun autopilot AI!

Thanks for looking and enjoy the website!
Dan Edwards
[email protected]

Update 8-1-07: ALOFT (Autonomous Locater of Thermals) version 1 has flown and it's autonomously soaring successfully!
Last edited by danstrider; Aug 05, 2007 at 11:23 AM.
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Apr 07, 2006, 10:00 AM
Well I don't have any money to spare right now due to my own robotic endeavors, but I did give this a mention on my blog:

Anything to help spread the word. It's quite a goal you have and I'd love to see you succeed.

Oh one more thing, perhaps you can supply a parts list on the site of the things you need? Maybe someone will send you some freebies.
Last edited by shedao; Apr 07, 2006 at 10:14 AM.
Apr 07, 2006, 04:42 PM
Who needs a pilot??
danstrider's Avatar
Thread OP

parts list

Thanks for the blog posting shedo!

As for a parts list, I have a very well documented need list ... I'll include an excerpt here:

Autopilot Equipment:
Cloud Cap Piccolo autopilot (with student discount) = ~$6,000
Piccolo Dev kit = ~$500
Wire harness = $150
Pressure/Temp sensor node (in case the vario idea doesn't work out) = $400 ??
12v lipo onboard autopilot battery = $90
Piccolario Variometer = $450
TEK Nozzle = $60
Autoplot/Manual RC Safety Switch = $0 (already own)

Aircraft Equipment:
JR 8103 radio (incl servos, rx) = $450
RnR SBXC & winch launch system = $1750
...alternately an Condor Magic 2.9m airframe = $260
(going to have an OS.10FP on a pylon for initial testing, already own)

Record Verification Equipment:
Onboard video camera = $90
GPS Overlay board, BOBIII = $125
GPS for overlay, uBlox SamLS = $0 (already own)
Video transmitter or recorder = $150
Video receiver = $70

An alternate homebuilt autopilot is an option, but I'm much more interested in the controls and programming aspect of thermal hunting rather than spending time developing hardware someone else has already gotten working.

Any helpers? Thanks!
Apr 07, 2006, 10:37 PM
Registered User
John O'Sullivan's Avatar
With all due respects, that's a bit of a tall order.
You know, I could badly do with much the same setup myself. If you have any donations left over send them to me. I promise that I'll make good use of them and I'll really enjoy it. Don't worry about the radio, I've already got one.
Apr 07, 2006, 10:58 PM
Registered User
What do you plan on using for the "$90" video camera?
Apr 07, 2006, 11:06 PM
Who needs a pilot??
danstrider's Avatar
Thread OP
I've been told this is actually a cheap master's project, for what it's worth. Compared to industry doing the same thing (and I can back this number up), it would cost $2.8million or multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars for other research entities. $15k isn't looking so bad anymore....

I'll take the "tall order" as a challenge :-)

Also, after my project is completed, I have a few underclassmen looking into the same type project, so the hardware will likely stay in house for them ... though starting as a modeler myself I really understand where you're coming from. I wish I had someone feeding me old equipment too!

I honestly wasn't sure if I should post this on RC Groups or not. It isn't quite the right forum for strumming up funding, but it is the perfect place to share ideas and to get some quite excellent feedback when things aren't working right. You guys are the king of first-hand experience!

Apr 07, 2006, 11:23 PM
Who needs a pilot??
danstrider's Avatar
Thread OP
Hi RCLinks2002,

I've used a small black widow camera ( with good results before .... their website is down at the moment, but they have a few options for under $90. I forget if I purchased it at BW or somewhere else, but there is a good quality "bullet cam" that the NC State Aerial Robotics Club uses (see the title image on the T-Hawk gallery: I would just essentially duplicate that system.

The video system is low on the list, but would be a very easy way to verify the goal has been achieved ... and it's good visual feedback about how the thermalling algorithm works. I plan to initially have the camera looking back at the control surfaces from the forward fuselage with a mic hookup to the onboard vario for some very rough qualititative evalutation/debugging. The Piccolo gives good telemetry data for quantitative evaluation and I have used Matlab in the past to show 3-d representations of flight paths to illustrate more than just trace charts for elevator deflection, for instance.

Apr 08, 2006, 12:14 AM
Registered User
Did you run into the problem of needing a Ham radio license to use those cameras?
Apr 08, 2006, 06:11 AM
Who needs a pilot??
danstrider's Avatar
Thread OP
No ham licence needed under 1 watt of transmission power.
Apr 08, 2006, 11:55 AM
Professor of Wood
kd7ost's Avatar
I can't find the information on it right now. Mr.RC-cam, can you help me out here? To the best of my recollection the highest power output at 2.4 Ghz you can legally use without a Ham license is 10mw EIRP.

Apr 08, 2006, 08:53 PM
Registered User
Mr.RC-CAM's Avatar
To the best of my recollection the highest power output at 2.4 Ghz you can legally use without a Ham license is 10mw EIRP.
In the USA, an FCC Part 15 approved transmitter {that does not use spread spectrum modulation} is allowed less than 1mW EIRP (radiated) RF power. Even if it is under the power limitations, if a fellow wanted to observe the FCC rules, the transmitting device would need to have a valid registration number printed on it. Usually a ham license circumvents this sort of thing, so it is convenient to have.
Apr 08, 2006, 11:40 PM
Professional Lurker
Magician's Avatar

Glad to see the project is progressing. I might know where to find an SBXC new in the box. We can talk this summer

And I agree with the Picollo, the hardware is done, it works great and the source code is available. Focus on the new stuff.

Good Luck!

Apr 16, 2006, 07:47 PM
"In the pioneering spirit of the Wright Brothers taking flight in North Carolina, I hope to teach a computer it can use thermals like hawks and buzzards."

We are under contract to DARPA to do exactly this !

We design an build extremely long endurance UAVs. Our LEAPP (long endurance autonomous powered paraglider) uav has a sustainable powered flight endurance of 48-55 hours and we are funded to develop autonomous thermalling capabilities to greatly extend that endurance.

Please contact us to discuss posible synergies.


Daniel Preston
Atair Aerospace
499 Van Brunt Street
Brooklyn New York 11231
718-923-1709 ph 718-923-1733 fx
[email protected]
Apr 17, 2006, 10:01 AM
Registered User
chrisgood's Avatar
If you will be using the stock Cloud Cap datalink for direct pilot control, you will need to use a Futaba FM transmitter. The Piccolo ground control station (GCS) decodes the FM/PPM stream from the trainer connection on a Futaba transmitter in the particular order that Futaba outputs the channels. Please take a look at page 12 of the Piccolo user's guide at:'s%20Guide.pdf

If you will be using a separate regular RC link for the direct control, the 8103 will obviously work fine. I prefer the 8103 myself (I have two), but the Cloud Cap GCS was designed around the Futaba stream. JR outputs its channels in a different order.

An excellent onboard video camera can be bought for $30 from Mavin:

This thread shows that others have used it with good success also.

Last edited by chrisgood; Apr 17, 2006 at 11:03 AM.
Apr 17, 2006, 02:37 PM
Registered User
Would not the F1 free flight world record of 192.83 miles be more appropriate for your unofficial goal of distance with no human intervention?


Category F1: Free flight
Sub-class F1 Open (G) (Glider)
N102: Distance in a straight line : 310.33 km (=192.83 miles)

Date of flight: 31/03/1962
Record holder: Zdenek TAUS (Czechoslovakia)
Course/place: Plzen - Bory - Holesov (Czechoslovakia)

Sub-class F3B (Glider)
N156: Distance in a straight line : 226.44 km (=140.7 miles)
Date of flight: 28/05/1988
Record holder: Joseph M. WURTS (USA)
Course/place: Lancaster, CA (USA)

Dan wrote:
>I have started up a new website to showcase my idea and to gather >support for an autonomous soaring UAV. My goal is to break Joe Wurts' >cross-country soaring world record of 140.7mi with no human intervention. I >doubt this would qualify for an official FAI record, but surely it will usher in a >new era of soaring research!

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