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September 2013

Clearer eyes in the sky

Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are becoming an increasingly popular way to carry out surveillance or research from the air without the need for expensive aircraft.

They can be maneuvered around refinery stacks or high voltage power lines for inspections without risk to pilots, and survey crops or mining operations using a fraction of the fuel needed for a normal airplane or helicopter.

But for a UAV to be effective, it must be able to capture high quality photos and video while being controlled remotely.

Ottawa-based ING Robotic Aviation develops helicopter and fixed-wing UAVs which are used for everything from aerial surveying, infrastructure inspections, mining exploration and security.  But they faced a key challenge with image stability and onboard camera movement with their aircraft.

Director of Engineering at ING Robotics, Charles Vidal, discovered Mechanical Engineering Master’s student Jamie Yuen from the University of Alberta through a national student UAV competition.

After securing a Mitacs-Accelerate internship with the assistance of the Business Development Director in Alberta, Christine Gillies, Jamie travelled to the company’s product development office in Sherbrooke, Quebec, where he spent four months developing new technology with ING.

“The company wanted to develop a gimbal system for their UAVs which would provide camera stability, while also allowing for camera movement.  While there were a number of options already on the market, most were either high-cost military units or cheaper, poorer quality hobby-grade units.”

Jamie set out to enhance ING’s initial gimbal prototype to stop camera vibration caused while airborne, and to allow for the camera to move independent of the aircraft’s flight path.

“During an imaging mission, you want to be able to isolate the movement of the camera from the movement of the helicopter itself.  You may want to point the camera in a different direction without having to turn the aircraft mid-flight.”

Jamie helped ING’s engineering team design a new camera gimbal system from scratch, and fitted it to the company’s UAV helicopter.

“We set out to develop a fully functioning prototype, set the specifications needed for the system, refined the design and then manufactured, assembled and tested it.  The internship accomplished what we hoped to achieve and the system is now being fine-tuned for commercialization.”

Charles Vidal from ING Robotics said the Mitacs-Accelerate internship has provided the company with a marketable product.

“It was extremely difficult to capture good quality images or video using our previous camera system and Jamie has helped us do this at a much lower price than other products on the market.

“The internship with Mitacs-Accelerate has provided a huge leap forward for our UAV technology and has helped us move towards commercializing the technology.”

To learn more about Mitacs-Accelerate in Alberta, please contact Javier Cuervo at jcuervo(at)mitacs.ca. 

Image copyright: Flickr/Ars Electronica


Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and Alberta Innovates for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan  and Research Manitoba.

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: BD@mitacs.ca