Hex Takes Flight with High-Precision Antennas from Taoglas

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The demand for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—aka drones—is growing rapidly, with strong growth in markets such as surveillance and precision agriculture, among dozens of others. A report by Statistics MRC pegs the global drone market as growing to $22.15 billion by 2022. A report from Goldman Sachs Research forecasts an even larger market opportunity for drones—$100 billion by 2020—fueled by growing demand from the commercial and civil government sectors.

Based in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xiamen, China, Hex Technology Limited is the world’s leading hardware manufacturer of open source flight controllers, with one of the best open-source drone autopilots in the world. Hex works to promote the application of open source technology in research and commercial sectors by providing high-quality open-source UAV hardware at reasonable prices. The open source nature of the Hex products allows users to add their own features and capabilities depending on the specific application for their UAV.

Hex’s Pixhawk2.1 and Here+ GNSS Pixhawk2 RTK GPS are flight controller units that incorporate precision location capabilities. They can be quickly, conveniently and cost effectively applied in various commercial drones for surveillance, mapping and agriculture use cases, among other applications.

The Pixhawk2.1 features a modular design with flexibility on the choice of carrier boards. The HERE+ set is a high-accuracy Real Time Kinematic (RTK) solution that allows centimeter-level positioning accuracy of UAVs during operation. Here+ consists of both an air module and a base module.

A Need for Precision Accuracy

For drones to be effective in commercial and industrial usage, they need highly reliable and efficient antenna solutions with lightweight components for better accuracy and endurance. Hex turned to Taoglas to provide antenna solutions that met these key requirements. The weight and size of the antenna was critical—they cannot be bulky or heavy because of the small footprint of the drone and controller. Positioning accuracy is also paramount, therefore the GNSS signal reception quality needs to be strong and the antenna’s circuitry needs to help with resistance to external interference.

Hex was developing base-and-rover type UAV solutions using UBlox’s M8P module that required high-accuracy GNSS.  “Through Taoglas’ rich experience in the UAV market, we were able to quickly identify and narrow down the antenna selection, and submit samples,” said Schwa Chin, Country Sales Manager of Taoglas. “Cooperation between Hex’s hardware team and Taoglas’ engineering group led to an optimized solution for a difficult drone product structure, achieving high-performance targets.”

For the base solution, Hex selected Taoglas’ MagmaX AA.171 dual-feed external GNSS antenna, which provides superior performance.

The AA.171 is a low-axial ratio, magnetic-mount external antenna that is ideal for robust, covert installations where durability and small size is paramount. It has the performance of larger type RTK antennas, but in a compact footprint. Its dual-feed 35x35x6mm patch implementation offers wide bandwidth and excellent axial ratio that allows for good multipath rejection. With front-end saw filtering, the AA.171 allows good out-of-band rejection, and implementation of two low-noise amplifiers boosts the active gain to over 30dB.

For the rover solution that is mounted on the drone, Hex selected Taoglas’ well-known passive GPS-GLONASS-BEIDOU patch antenna and integrated it with its electronics on the drone.  The CGGBP.25.4.A.02 offers a simple, small-form-factor solution for wideband GNSS applications. The antenna is specifically tuned for satisfying worldwide satellite systems (GPS/GLONASS/GALILEO/BeiDou), and was a good fit for Hex’s mechanical housing and electronics. 

“Taoglas has a strong reputation for quality and value, and when it came to selecting an antenna vendor, we knew exactly where to look,” said Gene Wu, ‎managing director at Hex Technology Limited. “Taoglas had an off-the shelf fit for our solutions right away and, with Taoglas’ previous experience with drone technology as well as RTK applications, we knew this would be a good fit to bring our flight controllers to market quickly. We had a great experience with Taoglas antennas and believe it’s a great start to a long-term relationship.”

High-quality and reliable GNSS modules help improve the positioning reliability and accuracy of UAVs, allowing them to be ready for wider commercial applications such as agriculture and industrial inspection.

“Accuracy and reliability are part of Taoglas’ pedigree, and these two elements are critical in the drone market as it grows to include a wider variety of applications,” said Dermot O’Shea, co-CEO of Taoglas. “Taoglas has deep experience working with drone technologies, and it was a pleasure to put this expertise to use for Hex.”