South Africa: The engineering team that developed South Africa’s first commercial satellite, SumbandilaSat, is now developing an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can snap pictures of farmland. The project aims to provide farmers with an affordable way to survey their properties from the air.
At present, farmers who want an aerial view of their land rent helicopters or small fixed-wing aircraft, which cost them around R2000- R8000 an hour. The UAV will cost about R1300 an hour, according to project leader Thomas Jones, an associate professor of engineering at the University of Stellenbosch.
The camera mounted on the vehicle would provide more detail than satellite imagery, Jones said.
The user could programme the vehicle’s flight path and where it should hover and take pictures.
The images could be viewed at the ground station. A user could redirect the helicopter in case he wants a closer look of any particular object. Prof Jones said the UAV will be available in market in the next two years.
The unmanned aircraft’s airframe is a German Vario XLV helicopter with a 2.5m rotor, fitted with an onboard computer to control its flight and a camera. It can travel up to 10 km away from its base station, and stay airborne for about 45 minutes.
The Civil Aviation Authority is devising regulations for unmanned aircraft. The development project has been funded by Stellenbosch University, Armscor, Denel, the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Research Foundation, the National Aerospace Centre of Excellence and the aerospace and defence company Advanced Technologies and Engineering.