Communication and Ground Control Systems of Consumer UAV
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are a component of an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) which include a UAV, a ground-based controller, and a system of communications between the UAV and its controller. The flight of UAVs could operate with numerous degrees of autonomy; either under remote control by a human operator or autonomously by onboard software and computers.
A datalink is the communication and control channel between the ground-based controller and the UAV. The type of datalink (as shown in Table 1) varies depending on the UAV’s application and capabilities and usually falls into three main categories — Command, Video, and Telemetry — that use transmitter and receivers. These UAVs have a datalink range typically between one and four kilometers (km). The ground-based control station uses radio frequencies to establish this communication network, typically at 2.4 GHz. Numerous UAVs integrate all three datalinks (command, video, and telemetry), which permits for increased flexibility of operation, like navigating the UAV via GPS and accessing real-time video feed simultaneously. Increasingly, commercial UAVs offer wireless (wi-fi) and Bluetooth built-in to the firmware, providing a new capability for communication and control.
Table 1. UAV Datalinks
The ground-based control station (GCS) consists of the software and hardware that allows the operator to operate the UAV via a command uplink. Rudimentary versions take the form of a remote-controlled joystick or a remote controller, and more advanced operations comprise a computer with customized global positioning system (GPS) program. Increasingly adopted and offered by commercial UAV companies are smartphone and tablet applications — such as on an iPhone — that serve as the ground-based control station. This has become a popular trend due to the familiarity of this technology, as opposed to the user adapting an entirely new operating system. This highlights the behavioral tendency of users to modify the aircraft system to optimally serve their interests — such as using an iPhone or an iPad instead of the given controller or replacing the propellers with a more efficient type.
When purchasing a UAV, typically no additional equipment or infrastructure is required. The manufacturer provides the technology, such as controllers and GPS integrated into the UAV, that will allow the operator to fly the UAV in its maximum capacity. However, some fixed-wing aircraft packages may not include launching gear — for example, a basic catapult system — which is critical for the operation of heavier UAVs.