Bomb detection in UAVs can be life saving, and there are those service members who are in need of a technology that is fully customizable. There are not a lot of custom frames on the market that deal with advanced prototyping. I would like to introduce you to Advanced Aerials who are true innovators when it comes to drone prototyping for various commercial and military applications. Bert Wagner founded Advanced Aerials in 1994 and has a long history of providing commercial work. Bert has also spent nearly two decades collaborating with the military using UAVs for Counter Explosive Hazard R&D.
“Advanced Aerials was founded in 1994 with the intent to provide low altitude remote aerial photography services. During that time, we became one of the first companies in Virginia to operate in and around airports; most notably Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD). This established our relationship with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority that carried over into the documentation of construction, expansion and rehabilitation of airports throughout Virginia.” http://www.a2usa.com/
“It is our philosophy that the mission dictates the payload and the payload dictates the unmanned system configuration. With this mindset, Advanced Aerials is focusing its expertise to help support the end users through open-source collaboration.” – Advanced Aerials
Advanced Aerials continues to grow in the spirit of the Kaizen (“change for the better”) philosophy and to share our knowledge within the community of Unmanned Vehicle Systems (UVS). They are committed to open source solutions within the unmanned systems community and have collaborated with many interesting partners.
I recently spoke with Bert and interviewed him about what he has been working on lately.
Rob: It is good to speak with you again, it has been some time since we last spoke, many things have changed in the industry. I would like to hear about your newest creation from Advanced Aerials the Ratel. Why the name ‘Ratel’? Isn’t that another name for the Honey Badger?
Bert: Actually ‘Honey Badger’ is a nickname for Ratel.
Rob: I just know the name from some videos online.
Bert: Well the Honey Badger is tough, tenacious, innovative and pretty compact for what it can do. I just felt that our UAV design shared some of the same traits. Plus I believe it resembles it.
Rob: Ha, I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder; it does look very wide like a badger.
Bert: Yep. There are popular videos online of a Ratel badger re-configuring its environment to better achieve its goals. And you can configure the Ratel-X UAV to optimise missions. In fact, that’s how we came up with the ‘CUSTOM’ acronym which stands for ‘Configurable Unmanned System To Optimise Missions’.
Rob: What would you say is innovative and different about the Ratel? Are there other easily configurable platforms available on the market?
Bert: To my knowledge, there are several UAVs out there that work with interchangeable payloads. But they are somewhat common payloads. I believe what is different about our Ratel-X relates to the proof of concept payload/accessory combinations that we came up with.
Rob: What was the impetus for the Ratel-X UAV design?
Bert: Well, we have been supporting counter explosive hazard research efforts with the US Army for the last 15 years. Mostly short term endeavours that were usually a bit too optimistic for the available budget. But during that time we have also had our ideas and concepts that we wanted to evaluate. And there weren’t any commercially available UAVs that met our needs. So we designed the Ratel-X prototype as a reconfigurable UAV to test out our concepts and ideas.
Rob: Is Advanced Aerials planning on making the Ratel-X available to purchase?
Bert: Sure, in its current iteration we feel that it would be a great asset to DoD research labs and universities as a developer tool. Ideally, in the near-term, we would like to work with interested parties to test our concepts to determine if they show viable utility.
Rob: Why do you think that it would be an asset?
Bert: Well, it’s quite portable for its size, has excellent flight characteristics and manages high winds quite well. It also has multiple payload mounting points and several ways to route the wiring which makes it easy to integrate payloads based on research needs.
Rob: What do you consider high winds?
Bert: So far we have tested it in 20 plus mph winds and we see no reason why it wouldn’t be able to handle another 5 or 6 mph.
Rob: What is a major benefit to using a developer’s platform such as the Ratel?
Bert: It’s easy to configure for testing not so ‘common payloads’. For example, we designed the Ratel-X so that payloads can be mounted on the nose, belly, top and rear. The cutout area in the nose allows for mounting of irregular payloads like our inspection arm concept. And to balance at the centre of gravity the landing gear and battery can be easily repositioned.
Rob: You say it is configurable, just how easy is it to configure and manage payloads?
Bert: Our short video, shows I think eight different configurations and the longest time it took to swap out components was about ten minutes. Most of them take less than 5 minutes. And I imagine that once we have an integrated companion computer and switch do a digital link the time to change-out payloads will be even shorter.
Rob: What kind of advice would you give manufacturers who are pushing innovation forward in sUAS designs?
Bert: Pump the brakes a bit and fully develop some of the features that they have released to the public thus far. I understand the marketing mindset, but the hyperbole is a bit too much.
Rob: When will the product be available?
Bert: Well, it’s not really a product Rob. Just to reiterate; we created the Ratel-X for ourselves to test some concepts that we have. We are sharing with the hope that other like-minded individuals and organisations will want to collaborate with us in one way or another. However, we won’t turn away anyone who would like to purchase a Ratel-X system or kit.
Rob: Do you have any experienced and vetted users who are testers?
Bert: Washington and Lee University gets one via a grant project and a company located near Virginia Beach that specialises in supporting First Responders has one.
Rob: How can someone get a Ratel to use for research?
Bert: If someone wants one, they can contact us directly to discuss options. But since we are not DJI or Yuneec don’t expect mass volume pricing. We have been contemplating offering kits to keep the costs down. Or maybe even making it open source if we can get a small team of like-minded developers to help us with our main goal.
Rob: And that is?
Bert: To develop a practical counter explosive UAV asset that can be fielded as soon as possible. What we envision can be used by military and non-military entities alike. Also, some of the features that we envision the UAV system having can work for first responders as well.
Bert has always been a few months or years ahead of the UAV industry when it comes to design and practical application of the technologies. I would watch this company to continue its tradition of pioneering UAVs. Just looking at the aircraft Bert has built through the years shows his due diligence to the industry to create, design and execute on UAVs.