The paper aims to report the development of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Testbed Training Platform (TTP). The development is to enable users to safely fly and control the UAV in real time within a limited (yet unconstrained) virtually created environment. Thus, the paper introduces a hardware–virtual environment coupling concept, the Panda3D gaming engine utilization to develop the graphical user interface (GUI) and the 3D-flying environment, as well as the interfacing electronics that enables tracking, monitoring and mapping of real-time movement onto the virtual domain and vice verse.
The platform comprises a spring-shuttle assembly fixed to a heavy aluminium base. The spring supports a rotating platform (RP), which is intended to support UAVs. The RP yaw, pitch and roll are measured by an inertial measurement unit, its climb/descend is measured by a low cost infrared proximity sensor and its rotation is measured by a rotary optical encoder. The hardware is coupled to a virtual environment (VE), which was developed using the Panda3D gaming engine. The VE includes a GUI to generate, edit, load and save real-life environments. Hardware manoeuvres are reflected into the VE.
The prototype was proven effective in dynamically mapping and tracking the rotating platform movements in the virtual environment. This should not be confused with the hardware in loop approach, which requires the inclusion of a mathematical model of the hardware in a loop. The finding will provide future means of testing navigation and tracking algorithms.
The work is still new, and there is great room for improvement in many aspects. Here, this paper reports the concept and its technical implementation only.
In the literature, various testbeds were reported, and it is felt that there is still room to come up with a better design that enables UAV flying in safer and unlimited environments. This has many practical implications, particularly in testing control and navigation algorithms in hazardous fields.
The main social impact is to utilise the concept to develop systems that are capable of autonomous rescue mission navigation in disaster zones.
The authors are aware that various researchers have developed various testbeds, at different degrees of freedom. Similarly, the authors are also aware that researchers have used game engines to simulate mobile robots or sophisticated equipment (like the VICON Motion Capture System) to measure to perform complex manoeuvres. However, the cost of this kind of equipment is very high, autonomous movements are planned in restricted environments and tested systems are only autonomous in certain setups. However, the idea of mapping the dynamics of an avatar flying object onto a 3D-VE is novel. To improve productivity and rapid prototyping, this paper proposes the use of commercially available game engines, such as the Panda3D, to create virtual environments.
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