Designing and building a cost-efficient survey drone

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In this paper, we present a workflow how to design and implement a low-cost survey drone that meets the quality requirements of a much higher cost drone system. The technical specifications of available components and our design boundaries were applied in eCalc RC - xcopterCalc calculator in which the optimal setup was found by simulation. The main boundaries of design were derived from safety, operation time and payload capacity. Pixhawk 2 FCU, which is based on ArduPilot open source platform, was selected to handle autopilot and control functionalities. In addition, the system included a camera and a gimbal. The camera was controlled by FCU, which allows to geotag images using the on-board GPS data. The assembled survey drone was tested in a real survey mission. We successfully managed to complete a 13 minutes survey mission in mild wind conditions. According to simulation, the expected flight time range was between 9 and 15 minutes. In addition, simulation provided useful information on how the drone works under certain conditions such as working in extreme temperatures or high elevation locations as well as under heavy payloads. Even though our example was a survey drone, it is possible to use the same principles to design and implement a drone suitable for other tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-172
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences - ISPRS Archives
Issue numberB1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Aug 2020
MoE publication typeA4 Conference publication
EventISPRS Congress - Technical Commission I - Virtual, Nice, France
Duration: 31 Aug 20202 Sept 2020
Conference number: 24


  • assembly
  • camera
  • design
  • Drone
  • gimbal
  • simulation


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