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Thu, Aug 04, 2005

Crossbow: AHRS For The Rest Of Us

Experimental/Hobby Market Entered With Low Cost Unit.

By ANN Correspondent Christopher Armstrong

Crossbow Technology is working on several AHRS systems for certified aircraft as well as for experimentals and even UAVs. While walking through the main display hangers at AirVenture 2005 last week, I came across the Crossbow Technology booth.

Mike Horton, President and CEO of Crossbow Technology, happened to be in the booth and he began to describe the biggest of the shiny gold anodized aluminum boxes in the display. It was a certified AHRS being used in the Eclipse 500 very light jet, and other certified aircraft. It provides pitch attitude, yaw attitude and magnetic heading to very high accuracy over a very wide range of temperatures, aircraft vibration characteristics and electronic noise. I didn't ask how much it cost.

Next he showed me a very similar, but non-certified AHRS for experimental aircraft. This unit had most of the same features, is nearly as accurate and adds GPS navigation capability, and it probably costs a lot less, but I didn't ask. Horton told me about the next product that Crossbow was bringing out would be a certified AHRS with ARINC429 that they plan to have certified by the end of 2005. Who knows what that will cost?

I figure the shiny gold things are gold for a reason, they are super accurate and that means expensive. I noticed a little (2.25"l x 1.8"w x .44"h) block of circuit boards sitting on a table. It was made up of three separate boards at 90 degrees to each other and had a large set of pins for a plug on one side. This uncased little unit looked like it might be more affordable.

I pointed past Horton and asked him to tell me about the chip cube. He said it is the MNAV100CA. It is intended for the hobbyist and experimental market. It includes 3 rate gyros, three accelerometers, three flux gate compasses, a gps receiver, 8 channels of radio control reception and open software called MICRO-VIEW that will allow customization for individual use. It will cost around $1500.00. Now I got really interested.

I asked about the accuracy and he told me that it wasn't going to be nearly as good as any of the other units but their specifications, listed below, don't look too bad for the intended market. I don't think anyone would want to go scud running using this data, but it would drive an autopilot, and a moving map display fairly well. With the 8 channels of remote control and open architecture software, Hobbyists will be able to make ready to fly UAVs out of the box.

An additional board called the Stargate Processor Board (SPB400) is a complete Low-Power, Small-Size, 400MHz, Linux Single Board Computer that connects to the Micro--NAV via a standard 51-pin connector to form a complete robotic development platform. It includes telemetry via WiFi for commands and data, and closed loop navigation control. Any onboard sensor, like a USB video cameras, can be connected to and processed by the Stargate board with data downloaded real time via the WiFi. The bare Stargate Board is an additional $489, but the more complete Advanced Stargate Kit is $1000.

Anyone looking to build their own UAV Robot, or to add some really cool data and autopilot functions to an experimental VFR aircraft should look into this affordable little bundle of sensors. For around $2500, you could fly your ultralight by remote control while collecting as much data as a military reconnaissance drone.

Specifications:
Update Rate  1-100 Hz
Angular rate range  +- 150 degrees/sec
Acceleration range  +- 2 g
Inertial sensor bandwith  >25 Hz
Magnetometer range  +-0.75 g
Altitude range  0-16404 feet
Airspeed range  0-179 mph
GPS accuracy  9.8 feet
Temperature range  23-113 degrees Fahrenheit
Input voltage  3.7-16 VDC
Power consumption  <0.8 Watts
Digital output format  RS-232

FMI: http://www.xbow.com/, http://www.xbow.com/Products/productsdetails.aspx?sid=133, http://www.xbow.com/Products/productsdetails.aspx?sid=85

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