Altavian Blog

Considerations for Integrating a Custom Sensor into an Altavian Payload


We build our systems at Altavian with an open architecture design principle. Our belief is that the more interchangeable our drone technology is, the more users can maximize the value of incorporating drones into their business.

Our philosophy is somewhat unique as many of the more popular drone systems are either proprietary ecosystems that don’t allow for flexibility or off the shelf drones that lack any support system at all.

This open architecture design allows technically savvy customers to integrate your own custom sensor into an Altavian payload, which generates more value for those customers.

This article will help you understand the procedure for successfully integrating your custom sensor into our payload.

Overview and Dimensions

Altavian payloads begin as empty shells that can be integrated with any of your custom sensors. First, we provide you with a composite payload hatch, a composite shell that can be used if desired, and a frame that is used to hold the shell onto the hatch. The composite payload hatch attaches to the Nova F7200 and the Galaxy R8700 and breaks out power and communication lines for use.

Second, you need to know the space you’re working with in the payload. The dimensions of the shell itself are 9.5’’ L x 6.5’’ W x 5.25’’ D. The dimensions of the usable payload bay are 7.75’’ L x 5.25’’ W x 4.75’’ D.

3D models are available upon request for more accurate measurements.


Power Considerations

The AV will provide nominal power of 22.2v, however will vary based on the battery charge. The design allows for a range between 18-25v input. It is rated for 3 amps.

However, if your sensor has different requirements, say 5v for the MicaSense RedEdge payload, you will need to have a step-down DC/DC converter that will take the 18-25v input and output the 5v you need.

Optics Considerations

The viewport from the payload through the fuselage is a 3’’ circle of annealed glass. If desired, you can remove the glass but dust and water intrusion will become a problem and could affect systems. The visual aperture is a key consideration depending on the size and intent of your sensor choice.

Communication Considerations

There are two communication considerations that you should address first. Specifically, whether you will choose to have your autopilot and payload be able to communicate. This is sometimes pivotal in order to coordinate data collection. However, there is the option of flying in failsafe mode where the payload does not communicate with the autopilot and just constantly collects data.

Communications between the payload and the autopilot is done via serial, and is based off the Mavlink protocol.

If desired, Altavian will provide a protocol description that details the commands available from the ground control station.

Best Practices

Over the past nine years, we’ve learned some valuable lessons when it comes to the practical aspects of custom payload integration. Following are key points you’ll want to know:

First, when mounting the payload, to expedite troubleshooting, assembly, and repair it’s a good idea to decide whether the payload equipment will:

1) Be built hanging from the hatch, and then have the shell slide over at the end (or be omitted completely). The provided frame is a good place to begin mounting things, but can be omitted.

2) Be built inside of the shell and then bolted to the hatch at the end.

This will just ensure clarity of intention and make assembly and repair easier and more practical.

Second, if a GPS unit is used on top of the hatch, try to keep any high-speed data lines such as USB or Ethernet as far away as possible, or otherwise shield them thoroughly. The weak GPS signals can easily be overwhelmed by the EMI from unshielded high speed data.

Third, when choosing lenses or optics, decide what kind of resolution is desired. You need to keep in mind the 400ft ceiling for operations without FAA approval. Wide angle lenses (35mm and under for a full frame sensor) will give a higher FOV, and cover more ground, but at the cost of resolution and cause more distortion. Standard (35mm-70mm) lenses will provide higher resolution at the expense of increasing flight time and decreasing coverage. A pretty standard trade-off, but one you need to consider when integrating your sensor as ground coverage is the only variable modified on the payload as opposed to in flight planning.

Integration and Application

If you are comfortable with custom integration, this article gives you a good overview of what you can expect. Upon request, we can provide technical specifics if you need more information. And for those who are less technical, Altavian will integrate your custom sensor for you as an optional upgrade.

At Altavian, engineering our drone systems using an open architecture design is core to our philosophy. Open architecture allows individuals to customize and improve our design. Modularity and open architecture generates maximum potential value.

Andrew Cain