Instrumentation & Measurement Magazine 24-4 - 89

Guidelines for an Unmanned
Aerial Vehicle-Based Measurement
Instrument Design
Eulalia Balestrieri, Pasquale Daponte, Luca De Vito,
Francesco Picariello, and Ioan Tudosa
A
lthough Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are
used as mobile measurement platforms in several
applications, no guidelines are provided to include
the measurement uncertainty assessment in the design steps of
the UAV platform. In this article, the steps required for the design
of a UAV-based measurement instrument according to the
application measurement target and the uncertainty assessment
are delineated. In order to highlight the necessity of the
proposed design guidelines, the case study of 3D reconstruction
of archaeological sites is discussed.
UAV as Mobile Measurement Platform
UAVs, more often called drones, are able to carry out different
kinds of measurements thanks to the different types of sensors
they are equipped with [1,] [2]. In particular, the sensors embedded
on a UAV can be classified into: sensors for navigation
and sensors for mission. The first ones, to allow the UAV to correctly
navigate during the flight, provide information about
the UAV attitude, flight altitude, the presence of obstacles and
the position measurements. The sensors for mission are related
to the specific application measurement purposes and are embedded
on UAVs according to their payload capabilities.
The broad measurement capability of the UAV has led to its
widespread use in a range of systems including both military
and civilian applications [3]-[5]. Unfortunately, to guarantee
their metrological traceability and to evaluate their metrological
performance (i.e., in terms of measurement uncertainty)
involves very difficult tasks. This is due to the amount of uncertainty
sources affecting the measurement results and the
high complexity in controlling and modeling the quantities affecting
the measurements (e.g., the operating environmental
conditions). Thus, in general, for scientific, professional or forensic
use, many measurement results coming from UAVs are
useless. This is particularly critical when economic transactions
or legal issues are involved.
The methods and procedures that are currently used for
the calibration of conventional instruments cannot be used in
the case of UAV-based measurements [6]. In order to overcome
this limitation, some procedures for evaluating the uncertainty
June 2021
related to the measurements provided by a UAV have been
proposed in [7], [8]. Regardless, those procedures are usually
performed after the deployment of the UAV platform. The selection
of the onboard sensors performed by the designer is
based on the metrological characteristics provided by the manufacturer
(e.g., measurement uncertainty, measurement range,
linearity, sensitivity), which is usually performed in a laboratory
environment and by using the sensors on ground. In such
cases, when the UAV is operating in real conditions (i.e., on the
fly), if the calculated measurement uncertainty does not comply
with the application target one, the designer must redefine
the whole UAV platform and a new manufacturing procedure
for delivering it is needed. In this way, the costs and the time
for implementing the UAV system increase.
To overcome this lack, it is necessary to assess the measurement
uncertainty related to the implemented UAV platform a
priori, during the design steps.
Functional Blocks and Uncertainty
Assessment
The wide spread of digital integrated circuits and the availability
and diffusion of low-cost software technologies and
micro and nano sensors have led the transformation of single
function electronic systems to multifunction ones. Such systems
present an increased complexity, often hidden by simple
graphical user interfaces (GUIs) that provide easy and immediate
access to the measurement results.
Belonging to this category of systems is the UAV, a complex
measurement instrument since: several sub-systems (e.g., propulsion,
flight control, frame structure) contribute to define the
overall system behavior; and the final measurement result is
generally obtained by complex indirect methods operating on
data from several sensors.
However, for complex systems such as UAVs, the unknown
way the measurements are taken as well as their lack
of traceability do not allow the figures shown on the screen
as " measurement results " to be considered as such. It is well
known, in fact, that a measurement result is structured information
that includes a measurement unit, a specified number
IEEE Instrumentation & Measurement Magazine
1094-6969/21/$25.00©2021IEEE
89

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