Rapid prototyping flight test environment for autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles

Test facility is essential for most engineering research activities, from modelling and identification to verification of algorithms/methods and final demonstration. It is well known that flight tests for aerospace vehicles are expensive and quite risky. To overcome this, this paper describes a rapid prototyping platform for autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) developed at Loughborough University, where a number of unmanned aerial and ground vehicles can perform various flight and other missions under computer control. Flexibility, maintainability and low expenses are assured by a proper choice of vehicles, sensors and system architecture. Among many other technical challenges, precision navigation of the unmanned vehicles and system integrations of commercial-off-the-shelf components from different vendors with different operational environments are discussed in detail. Matlab/Simulink based software development environment provides a seamless rapid prototyping platform from concept and theoretic developments to numerical simulation and finally flight tests. Finally, two scenarios performed by this test facility are presented to illustrate its capability.