Drone · Bluetooth

What is the smallest device possible that will communicate with a drone helicopter?

Jonathon Lunardi

June 27th, 2016



I am trying to find the smallest device possible that I can embed in a hat or wristband, which will communicate to a small drone helicopter flying above it (about 50 feet above it). The drone will follow the embedded device directly ahead where ever it goes. I know this can be done, but I am not sure what technology is needed for the embeddable device, which I want to be very small (the size of a quarter or less, ideally).

Does anyone know anything about this space / technology?

Adam Pressman

June 27th, 2016

A number of drones in the $800 and up range use a Wifi connection to an Android or Apple phone and have programming to keep them a specific distance and orientation away from that device.   To me, that makes the most sense as you don't need to provide what you seek, most people already have it.  Bluetooth would never have the range to be useful, the aircraft would need to be in session with the device even when the wind or an obstacle forces it to fall out of range briefly. 

Chris Martin Enterprise Software Sales, Business Consultant, Entrepreneur

June 27th, 2016

Hey, I deal in Bluetooth Technology. I have an overstock of tags at the moment that I'm looking to get rid of. Let me know if you're interested.

David Pariseau

June 27th, 2016

Jon,

There are number of options for communications and you can get them in very small packages (the size of a quarter is quite possible).  

The first issue is power, how long do you want the link to be active?  Drone flight times are rather short, so perhaps that's not a huge problem, but you'll have to think through the various use cases to come up with a solution that takes into consideration how this will be recharged etc... For short link distances NFC would work well and wouldn't require any power source, but at 50 feet that's impractical.

The next issue is positioning, how tightly do you want the drone to track the user?  Of course you could use GPS in both etc... but that's expensive and power hungry.  If you don't need super tight tracking you might get away with an RF beacon and a few receivers on the drone (to triangulate position).

It's all about the details.  I would recommend you create a detailed requirements document that explains what you want to do (desired: link distance, link time, recharge time, positioning/orientation accuracy, etc.) and then get input from technical folks on what something like that would take to implement...

One option that occurs to me is that you might be able to use a cellphone and use the on-board GPS there to correlate with a GPS unit on a drone and then simply write a small app to communicate with the drone (perhaps over WiFi) and simply relay the desired GPS coordinates for the phone as the next target for the drone.   That would be a much simpler implementation and wouldn't require any hardware (aside from finding a drone with both GPS and WiFi, which it seems would be pretty available at a reasonable price).  And, most folks have cellphones, so all you need then is a pretty simple app, and with the cellphone interface you could then make it do other things (adjust it's height, have it trail or lead you... etc).

I'd be surprised if this didn't already exist.

Dave.

Steve Owens

June 27th, 2016

An IR diode would be the smallest - a little bit bigger than a grain of rice - not including the battery.  

Randall Shane, PhD Data Scientist & Developer

June 27th, 2016

It is largely going to depend on what you mean by control.  A simple analog signal is much different than full digital control.  I have recently had experience with an embedded programming project on the raspberry pi platform using both wifi and Bluetooth connectivity to iPhone.  Bluetooth will not work for your application but wifi might be the right idea.  Bandwidth is good but range will be limited.  Have you considered Apple Watch to iPhone to drone?  Existing hardware solves many integration issues, opens options and makes the project more software than hardware.

If you want to ping me offline, I'm happy to help you research.

Jonathon Lunardi

June 27th, 2016

Super big thank you to all those who answered this!  I will be connecting with you off this board to carry the convo further.  Great responses, seriously impressed!  Thanks again!

David Pariseau

June 27th, 2016

There are lots of details here, not only do you need heading but you also need to maintain a fixed distance, so a simple sensor (by itself) isn't going to help you.  For example, even if you could get an IR sensor working in an environment with lots of other IR sources (perhaps by outputting a known carrier and detecting that with a receiver) it would still have to be line of sight and could be easily obstructed by objects (your body included).  And, even if that is worked out there's no way for the drone to determine the distance to the IR target without some kind of on-board triangulation...