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All sophisticated flying devices need to be aware of their altitude in respect to the ground, allowing for smooth take-off and landing, stable hovering, and maintaining a safe distance from the ground during flights, especially when operating at lower altitudes.

Leading commercial drone vendors are starting to integrate specific distance sensors (also called rangefinders) that perform as altimeters and complement the on-board navigational equipment. And these days, the LeddarOne sensor is catching the industry’s attention.

The LeddarOne is an optical detection and ranging sensor which provides accurate and reliable distance measurements over a typical range of >10 m (and up to 40 m on reflective surfaces). More specifically, it is a single-element, fixed-beam Lidar which uses the time of flight of a light pulse emitted by its LED source to measure the distance between the drone and the ground (or another object below). The small sensor will typically be installed under the drone’s body, pointing vertically towards the ground (see pictures below).

One of the first major UAV manufacturer to leverage the LeddarOne’s advanced distance measurement capabilities is Draganfly Innovations Inc., which integrated the optical rangefinder as a standard feature on its newest model, the Draganflyer Commander.

Integrated into the drone’s underbody, the ranging sensor provides a safe and reliable means to automatically and smoothly take off and land the aircraft. The sensor is fully integrated into the autopilot system, working in conjunction with a precision barometric sensor to provide the best in altitude performance.

Equipped with a LeddarOne, the Draganflyer Commander relies on precise, true height above ground level (AGL) measurements that are not affected by external factors such as noise, vibrations, or lighting conditions.

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Image 1- The Draganflyer Commander integrates the LeddarOne optical rangefinder into its main body to provide reliable above-ground-level (AGL) height measurements to the auto-pilot system.

Greg Wood, Draganfly’s Head Design Engineer, comments on the benefits of the LeddarOne sensor: “The Leddar technology is perfectly suited for UAS requirements: it’s precise, compact, and lightweight. Plus, the Leddar form factor made it easy to integrate to our new Commander design. The reliable measurements provided by the sensor enable controlled auto take-off and landings, even in the most challenging conditions”.

Providing redundancy for altitude measurements also has many advantages. While on-board components (such as the GPS and barometer) generally provide very useful information during flights, they aren’t foolproof and can’t be relied upon when navigating indoors, in urban canyons, or into complex structures. In such situations, the drone and its pilot can rely on the precise distance measurements provided by the optical rangefinder to navigate and land safely.

Leddar technology is also beginning to make its mark in the drone industry beyond the rangefinders, as multi-channel Leddar sensors – which provide a wide field of view and multi-object measurement capability – are being foreseen as a very promising technology to address another key challenge: enabling cost-efficient obstacle detection and avoidance capabilities in large-volume commercial drones.

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