German company insensiv is currently developing a tethered UAV hexacopter, which is connected by a cable with a vehicle-mounted base station.
The 15-meter-long cable serves as a power supply to the UAV, called PodCopter, whereas the UAV itself is fitted with a relatively small battery for emergencies. The vehicle’s power, either 12 or 24 volts, is converted to high voltage power aboard the UAV to prevent the cable from being too thick and heavy.
The UAV can be fitted with any type of camera. So far, tests in agriculture have been done with:
Before take-off, the UAV is positioned on its start- and landing platform that can be fitted to basically any vehicle including pick-up trucks, tractors, (self-propelled) sprayers, combine harvesters and so on. The fully autonomous UAV then starts from its platform and flies in a predetermined position in front of the vehicle at a max 20 km/h. The camera measurements are recorded and sent to the tractor with the implement terminal to perform real-time actions, such as herbicide application.
According to the company, the tethered concept is advantageous compared to common UAV solutions, since the tethered UAV and its cameras enable real-time applications and actions and do not need data evaluation and generation of prescription maps after flying and scouting crops and fields. Compared to tractor and implement mounted sensors, the PodCopter concept measures a wider area and thus covers a wider part of the crop and field. The tethered UAV concept also allows for longer – or even unlimited – flight times compared to regular battery powered UAV’s.
On headlands and in the case of obstacles, such as trees or high voltage power lines, the UAV is programmed to remain at a predefined distance or return to its landing platform on the vehicle. In case the cable breaks or gets damaged, the UAV will return to the landing platform using its own battery power.
insensiv is currently gathering reactions from interested parties in agriculture. Athough the agricultural applications are still in development, the estimated price of the PodCopter UAV concept is targeted at €30,000. From the current series, the PodCopter is also used for other applications, 8 units are still available.