Here is a million dollar idea for you to
consider. I hereby dub it the "Drone-Based Field Measurement System™"(dB-FMS™).
The concept came to me while reading a column in QST magazine discussing the
use of the
EZNEC antenna radiation pattern prediction software. As you
know unless an antenna is situated in a perfect, unobstructed environment like in
the middle of a desert with a perfectly uniform ground or on a space-based platform,
physical obstacles and variations in surface conductivity can significantly alter
the 3-dimensional field distribution. Columnist
Joel Hallas (W1ZR) is a master at EZNEC and is routinely called upon to model
antenna systems for people. As important as length and orientation of antenna elements
are, the ground plane configuration can have a profound impact on the radiation
pattern, particularly when the antenna is less than a wavelength above ground. Areas
of low soil conductivity require placement of conductive wire radials below, on
top of, or above the ground surface, at specific lengths (or not), arrayed in various
spacing (in degrees) between lines, sometimes with bends and sometimes with fold-backs.
In extreme cases 'salting' the ground is necessary to promote sufficient conductivity.
The list of intentional antenna system variables is endless. Add to that vehicles,
building structures, overhead and buried power lines, chain link fences, and a host
of other unintentional conductive objects that often are a significant fraction
or fractions of the operational wavelength, and you are left with a nearly incomputable
field pattern for in-situ environments.
is not to say modeling the system with known, significant variables is not worth
the trouble - it definitely is - but it would be nice to have a convenient, affordable
means to determine the 'real' field distribution pattern. 'Affordable' is a relative
term, of course, but I refer to something that could be packaged and sold as a turnkey
outfit for somewhere in the $5,000-$20,000 range (prices could easily be reduced
over time). An open air test site (OATS) is the standard choice for making such
measurements, but it has its own limitations. Available qualified real estate in
regions where most facilities need to be located are not only scarce but extremely
expensive. Training and utilizing personnel to obtain useful measurements can also
be very expensive unless antenna measurement is a main aspect of the business' service
and/or product offerings. Even the best OATS setup or electromagnetic anechoic chamber
can only provide meaningful results based on specific ambient conditions. A fully
parameterized antenna with an ideal pattern, fed with metrology quality cable or
waveguide, and connected to a laboratory grade transmitter and/or receiver, will
almost certainly not perform the same way in its installed environment. What's an
engineer or technician to do?
I have a brilliant solution (IMHO). Use one of the commercially available high-end,
powerful, GPS-guided, precision radio controlled drones as a platform for a field
intensity measurement instrument. Software is already available for programming
the drone to fly to and hover at a defined array of points in space, so all that
needs to be done is configure the field measuring instrument to record values at
each point and then generate a 3-dimensional radiation pattern from the data. Depending
on distance to which the drone must fly to measure the pattern, data can be streamed
real-time via wireless link, or it can be stored onboard for downloading. Custom
guidance software could fully automate the entire measurement process by building
a user interface allowing the input of a 3-dimensional spatial map of the region
needing to be measured, including terrain, buildings, towers, human activity, no-fly
zones, power lines, etc. After defining of the boundaries for measurement, points
within those boundaries would limit the drone's flight to within a region of safety
while situating the drone at user determined measurement points. Alternately, a
sophisticated algorithm could determine measurement points based on the desired
degree of resolution and accuracy needed while taking into account obstacle avoidance.
Yet another measurement mode would be to use a predictive and adaptive algorithm
to seek out equipotential points in space to enable accurate graphs of familiar
field patterns to be constructed.
Really large field measurement areas might require the use of more than one airborne
platform in order to expedite the process. Software or manual input could allocate
measurement space to each drone as required. Wireless links for control on a commercially
available drone operates via a spread spectrum modulation system in the 2.4 GHz
unlicensed (ISM) frequency band, so frequency contention is not an obstacle to coordinated,
Such a system,
once you figure out how to work around or in congruence with the highly restrictive
regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration (or you own country's governing
agency), you can quickly and inexpensively obtain useful coverage information even
in populated areas. Operation in all environments will be subject to rules prohibiting
flight above certain altitudes and within certain distances of airports, government
property, etc., so due diligence will need to be practiced by the user lest he/she
end up being visited by a joyless team of federal law enforcement officers in full
SWAT gear. Drone shooting is also becoming a popular sport over rural property,
so take caution there as well.
There are applications other than electromagnetic field pattern measurements
that can be accommodated with my dB Field Measurement System. There is no reason
that an acoustic measuring instrument could not be flown to various points to determine
sound levels within auditoriums and outdoor theaters during setup. A directional
sensor could be rotated by the drone at each position to determine direct path and
reflection (multipath) effects. Electromagnetic field measurement could use the
same scheme for determining multipath signal strength relative to the direct path.
A photometer could be hoisted aloft to measure light distribution in practically
any environment. Gas sensors, particulate matter sensors, subatomic particle sensors,
wind sheer sensors, temperature sensors, and nearly any other type sensor can quickly
and easily go to places unreachable by humans and their test gear. Since almost
all commercially available drones are electric powered, they are quiet so as not
to draw attention to themselves, and they do not significantly contaminate the measurement
environment (other than from air vortices).
The drone configuration I have in mind is one of the multi-rotor models rather
than an airplane or a helicopter. The 'dB-FMS' scheme relies on a stable platform
that can autonomously fly to and maintain a precise position in space, possibly
for an extended period, and have the ability to rotate about the vertical axis for
directional sensing. Fixed wing aircraft (airplanes) cannot do that. Helicopters,
having only a single lifting rotor, can potentially suffer from a single point failure.
Professional quality multi-rotor systems typically incorporate at least six (usually
eight) lifting rotors and are able to compensate for one or more rotor failures
to at least be able to land safely with the onboard equipment.
The applications for a Drone-Based Field Measurement System are so numerous that
an entire industry could be built around the concept. In fact, it would behoove
major commercial instrumentation companies like Rhode & Schwarz, Keysight Technologies
(recently Agilent and not so recently HP), National Instruments, and Rigol to seriously
consider embarking on such a product line. Even defense companies like Lockheed
Martin, Northrop Grumman, Cobham, Boeing, Thales, and others would benefit greatly
from developing special purpose Drone-Based Field Measurement Systems. Depending
on the measurement capability and price point, customers would range from hobbyists
wanting to fine tune Ham radio antenna configurations for effective coverage (at
home or in the field), to small, independent entrepreneurs that want to provide
field measurements services to customers, all the way up to complete fixed base
and mobile facilities that provide contract measurement capability needing in-situ
First Person View (FPV) systems, the subject of much debate
and heavy government regulation, will extend the operational range of a dB-FMS by
providing the operator the advantage of real-time visual assessment of the measurement
scenario from the perspective of the measurement platform (drone) itself. Depending
on the fields being measured and where the drone lofting platform must travel to
make the measurement, an out-of-sight situation may be required either because the
drone must position itself behind an object where the operator cannot directly have
visual contact with or, or the drone may need to fly to such an extreme location
that its apparent size is too small to discern. Regardless of distance, an onboard
camera with wireless image streaming would add a measure of safety to the mission.
Such a feature would permit a relatively low number of personnel to be present during
missions because remote spotters would not be needed (although it might be a good
idea anyway). The FAA, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and other regulatory
and law enforcement agencies are creating legislation and regulations now to seriously
limit any type of FPV systems (other than the ones they use) because of perceived
terrorist threats and public safety concerns. Accordingly, any effort to implement
a Drone-Based FMS should include a thorough familiarization with the limitations
imposed by such agencies. Since these activities would be considered to be other
than for hobby (model aircraft), they would be governed by rules outside the special
accommodations provided for members of the
Academy of Model Aeronautics
(AMA - very active in protecting those privileges).
AMA requires FPV flight to have a spotter to work in conjunction with the pilot
to maintain a visual link to the model.
Let me reiterate
that if you plan to conduct any form of drone flight, you must fully inform
yourself of aviation and communications regulations in the airspace you plan to
occupy. Severe penalties including monetary fines, equipment confiscation, and incarceration
may result if you violate the laws. When researching drones, know that they are
also referred to as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), and small
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS), hexacopters, and octocopters.
If you take my idea and develop and market a Drone-Based Field Measurement System,
please be sure to invite me to sit on your board of directors and cut me in on a
healthy chunk of stock during the IPO. At the very least, provide some attribution
to me for having planted the seed. The law firm of
Dewey, Cheatum, & Howe will be monitoring the situation
for me. Remember, you read about here first.
Drone-Based Field Measurement
System (dB-FMS) Diagram™
Click here for scalable
of the dB-FMS™.
Author: Kirt Blattenberger
Note: This web page was originally published in 2014 at "http://www.rfcafe.com/miscellany/homepage-archive/2014/Drone-Based-Field-Measurement-System.htm"
, but was relocated to "http://www.rfcafe.com/miscellany/smorgasbord/Drone-Based-Field-Measurement-System.htm"
on February 11, 2019 for logistical reasons.
Archive.org has a record of the page at
Posted July 29, 2014