Pangaea: The Next ‘X’: UX5 UAS

Amid a flood of UAS news, Gatewing announces a noteworthy addition to their fleet.

It almost seems as if there is a new Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)-related announcement every ten minutes. Trimble, that has already generated a lot of buzz over its Trimble Gatewing X100, announced a new entry to its product line on June 17, the Trimble UX5 UAS.

Considering the flood of UAS products and news, is this a significant development? The short answer would be a definite yes, but let’s put this into context. The UX5 does not replace the X100; it offers more capabilities and features, but more important is that an expansion of a successful UAS product line is a clear indicator that such versatile systems are here to stay.

This past year has seen UAS hitting the primetime spotlight for such commercial markets as mining, agriculture, surveying, mapping, and resource management, while at the same time the subject of (mostly unrelated) unmanned aircraft systems has come squarely into public focus. Just how much the current heightened awareness might delay or otherwise alter the FAA plans to develop rules for the commercial use of UAS remains to be seen. Despite the controversy, the development and use of UAS has seen a steep rise worldwide.

A year ago at PSM we decided to begin in-depth coverage of UAS about the time that several high-profile, versatile yet affordable models were finding a strong foothold in the market. We examined the fixed-wing Gatewing X100 (July 2012, “Yearning to Fly”), an already successful UAS from the Belgian company of the same name (acquired by Trimble in early 2012). We examined the question, “Could UAS find a place in surveyors’ toolboxes?” To see first-hand just how easy or hard it might be to master one of these “birds,” I attended a flight school for the Gatewing X100 (Fall 2012, Aerial Mapping, “Flight School”).

The X100 is a complete, versatile system, but even from my flight school experience and talking to many UAS users I knew there were wish-list items; evidently the developers at Trimble Gatewing were a step ahead of us. Three key improvements stand out: short take-off and landing capabilities, a more versatile camera, and workflow (integrated flight-planning, flight-prep, and image processing). All of this was accomplished by adding only one additional pound of weight over the X100 (remaining within the lightweight, approximate 2Kg UAV classification of certain civil aviation authorities).

Trimble calls the UX5 an “Aerial Imagining Rover,” a nod to image processing within Trimble Business Center (TBC) and being able to integrate with other Trimble VISION data in TBC from total stations (with the VISION technology onboard for terrestrial photogrammetry), the VX, and 3DS scanners. An addition to the Trimble Access suite of data collection software (that runs on the Yuma (1) tablet that is part of the UX5 system), is the Aerial Imaging application for all pre-flight planning; plus you can now go through the long but critical pre-flight checklists that include interactive exchanges and checks directly connected to the UX5.

A more efficient and lighter battery drives a more powerful engine that has reverse-thrust capabilities (that kicks in briefly during landing). This has increased flight time but also cuts the final landing segment of the flight in half—now only 300m. The UX5 can also operate up to 5,000m above sea level and from 75m-750m above ground. While UAS with VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) capabilities are unbeatable for specific tasks (like tight spots between structures), fixed-wing UAS like the X100 and UX5 have the speed, lift, and stability to operate in high winds/cross winds and varied weather to yield consistent high precision ortho-mosaics needed to produce digital surface models.

The camera that the UX5 carries is a Sony NEx5R, a 16.1 megapixel fixed-lens camera. Todd Steiner, portfolio manager for spatial imaging and UAS at Trimble, calls this class of camera as “prosumer” (professional consumer)—affordable yet capable of producing professional deliverables. For low-altitude flights this can yield about a one-inch resolution, and it can work in lower light conditions. Another (not so little) bonus feature is the pricing. The UX5 will be priced at the range of what the X100 used to cost (about the price of a top-end robotic total station), and the X100 has dropped in price (to approximately that of a standard total station). Ask the vendor and dealers for the finer details and pricing—we are highlighting what features we think are significant.

There are UAS for many types of work and budgets: fixed wing, rotor, multi-rotor, even down to the near-consumer level. Simply put: if you need high precision, wide areas, reliability, and productivity, you are going to pay more.

Again, a key aspect of this news is that UAS in general are successful and gaining acceptance. And with such success come new avenues for updates and expanded product lines.

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