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Valor Tactical Stealth sUAS

A low-cost multi-mission modular stealth UAV system

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Valor sUAS is an advanced stealthy quadcopter designed to serve as a multi-mission tool in tactical environments, search and rescue operations, general surveillance, payload delivery, etc. The system consists of the rugged UAV, Spot-T optics pod, field controller, battery charger, and ground station. Unlike commercially available systems every part of the system is modular, built using commercially available low-cost parts, and designed under an open architecture. This allows Valor to quickly and dynamically adapt to virtually any mission requirement.

At its core Valor, sUAS can offer a real-time First Person View (FPV) Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) feed to multiple operators on the ground with its advanced SPOT-T optics pod. Valor can simultaneously carry out secondary missions by carrying optional payload modules that simply snap into place.



What Makes Valor sUAS Different?

There are many drone systems out there, why make another one? What makes this one special?

Low cost: The whole system uses commercial off-the-shelf parts, it's much cheaper to build or repair compared to commercial solutions! The total R&D cost of Valor was less than a comparable commercial solution, and mass production of this system means the price can be dropped even further. 

Ultra modular:  Payloads can snap onto the outside of the UAV by common standard connectors and thumbscrews: all internal structural and electronic components are easily accessible and replaceable! Want to power Valor UAV with hydrogen fuel cells? Design a new pod that slides under its belly rail. Want Valor UAV to be tethered with power and data? Add a module to the integrated side payload rails! But this isn't just for the UAV, the ground support equipment all operates off of open standards and hardware, so designing new terminals and ground stations catered to specific missions is extremely easy to do!

Future proof:  Another benefit of ultra modularity! Drone airframes and ground support equipment haven't changed much over the years, but drone payloads change at a rapid pace! One of the technologies that change rapidly over the years is cameras and radios. The SPOT Optics Pod, Payloads, and Radio suite (On the UAV and on the ground) can all be upgraded very easily as the technology matures!

Designed not only for the air but also for the ground: IR strobes, laser designators, IR illuminators, optional radio repeaters, video streams capable of streaming to multiple ground video terminals, a ground station that connects to multiple user devices on the ground; the Valor Unmanned Aerial System easily interoperates with people on the ground! 

Full user FPV Immersion:  Typically a UAV can only stream video to a single operator. The operator is then responsible for relaying this FPV information to other operators on the ground. Often this involves the archaic process of relaying what is seen to the operator via voice communications which can lead to confusion and other issues. Another method is streaming the video to multiple terminals. This involves streaming the FPV video to the ground station, then networking that information to a field server. This is complicated and adds latency. How Valor sUAS solves this is with a direct link to every ground FPV video viewing asset negating the need for complex networking. 


Valor sUAS System Overview

Valor sUAS is a system consisting of the UAV and multiple ground devices. Multiple open-source projects have allowed the system to interoperate and relay data to multiple ground users. Valor UAV acts like an aerial LoRa Node running Meshtastic, allowing it to seamlessly integrate into a simple ATAK setup. This effectively extends the range of the network and allows personnel on the ground equipped with a Tac Mesh Communicator (Spin-off of the RTE-1 Project) to know the location of the UAV asset. Command and Control (C2) can be managed by handheld controllers or a ground control station (GCS). For ground units that require a direct video feed from Valor, a modified Tac Mesh Communicator with an onboard video receiver can stream a live video feed from the UAV.


Read more about the development of each part in the respective logs



Valor UAV Features & Specs

  • Fully autonomous and semi-autonomous
  • Max 10 KG payload capability
  • +30 min Flight Time
  • 10+ km range
  • Fully weather-resistant
  • Built-in modular HD video link/telemetry radio suite
  • Built-in IFF Infrared strobe & FAA Night Flight compliant visible white strobe
  • LTE, extra sensors, embedded computing cores, and other accessory integration/upgrade ready
  • Optional power supply accommodations (tethered, hydrogen, li-ion, lipo) 
  • Backup internal battery/ Avionics hot start capable
  • Swarm capable
  • 3D printed CF Polycarbonate/epoxy carbon fiber reinforced hybrid body
  • Fully Modular, field-swappable...
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  • Teaser Video and Stealth Blade Demo!

    Canine-Rocket-Technologies01/04/2023 at 04:42 5 comments

    Teaser Video 2

    Give it a watch, it's eye candy, we worked hard on the cinematography! If you've been reading these logs, you will recognize many of theses snippets we filmed during R&D!


    Stealth Blade Demo

    Check out the acoustic test demo of our stealth blades! Decreasing volume at the RPM we're working with is very hard, but by raising the pitch and tightening the resonating frequency, it further helps mask the acoustic signature of the drone by eliminating the familiar chopping sound associated with drones! Keep an eye on the waveform!



  • Battery Charger & Testing Rig Development

    Canine-Rocket-Technologies12/31/2022 at 16:42 0 comments

    Ruggedized Battery Charger Build

    Having a reliable charging solution for a UAS system like this is critical. However one of the many challenges is how fragile and complicated drone chargers can be. The idea here was to treat the charging system as an integral part of the entire drone, ground station, and ground support ecosystem by making a rugged portable all-in-one charging solution. 

    V1 Prototype 

    With V1 the plan was to make the entire charger from scratch, including the Li-Ion balancing circuit. This was a mistake! During testing, it overcharged the cells and damaged one of the test batteries. It also failed to demonstrate proper balancing. The root of the issue was the cheap battery management control board, it's low-quality components and cheap build quality yielded very unreliable results. At this point the charger was too dangerous to operate, so we decided to scrap it and move onto a different route. 

    CAD view of V1 charger design

    View of V1 during integration and assembly

    View of V1 during its first charge test before fully being enclosed


    V2

    With V2, we decided to rely on a reputable charger, the ISDT Q8. Making reliable custom Li-Ion chargers, as learned from V1, is not a simple science, and relying on reputable commercial modules (not some cheap off-brand battery charger modules) made the most sense. To maintain a small rugged form factor, we built the charger into a pelican 1200 case. Overall for anyone familiar with drone battery balance charging, it's a pretty straightforward build. The power supply is all built into the charger, so any AC power source can plug directly into the unit. Thanks to the Q8's DC input, there's also an XT-60 DC input for other power sources. A manual switch allows you to select between either power source. One unique aspect of this charger box configuration is the single charge/balance port. Utilizing a JX-9 connector, we were able to cram in a high current-rated discharge port, and all nine balance and ground contacts needed in a single small form factor port. 

    View of Pelican 1200 case

    View of charger assembly inside the case

    Close-up view of charger assembly


    Testing/Tuning Rig Build

    Testing both statically and dynamically is the core of any drone development project. With Valor, we experimented with custom rigs to run validation tests from the comfort of our lab!


    Flight Test Cage

    We used a PVC frame and sports netting to fabricate a custom flight test cage. This will allow us to provide some basic FOD protection during lab tests, do small hovers, and provide a flight test space for future mini UAV projects!

    View of flight test cage in our lab

    View of Valor UAV inside flight test cage for fitment checks

    Test Stand 

    We wanted a multi-purpose test stand where we can test the entire drone and different motor and prop assemblies. We went with a 1010 aluminum frame maximizing modularity. With custom 3D printed fixtures, we can quickly mount the entire drone, specific components, or even a load cell, motor, and prop, and put them through various conditions in our flight test cage! 

    CAD view of the modular test stand

    View of stealth prop on the test stand in its load cell configuration 



  • Handheld Controller Development

    Canine-Rocket-Technologies12/23/2022 at 22:42 0 comments

    Development Overview

    The handheld controller is one of the critical parts of the Valor sUAS ecosystem. It allows operators on the ground to take control of the UAV without the need for a bulky ground station. The role of the handheld controller is critical to understand, it isn't intended to carry out the full mission capabilities of Valor UAV, but rather offer basic control, live views of the camera, and some basic payload controls. 

    V1 Dev

    The V1 controller was a really bulky and large design. Overall the ergonomics were decent, but the extremely wide geometry and bulky frame made it really heavy. It was manufactured with a 3D-printed shell that was skinned in carbon fiber for ruggedization. The overall goal with V1 was learning more about the control layout and feel.

    View of CAD design of V1 controller

    View of carbon fiber skinning process before epoxy binding

    View of V1 controller after carbon fiber skinning and sanding

    View of partially integrated V1 controller

    *Since we got all that we needed to learn from the V1 controller, we didn't bother integrating components any further. 


    V2 Dev

    V2 was the first step into slimming down the entire device to a far more compact form factor and shedding off weight. There were two key differences; for one the joysticks were moved to the top of the display to reduce the width of the device, and secondly, the entire body was molded out of carbon fiber. The overall weight of the controller body was shockingly low. We were relatively happy with the design, except the ergonomics were pretty horrible. Having a very steep angled ledge from where the hands grip the joystick is very uncomfortable, and embarrassingly enough this is the primary reason v2 was scraped. The expensive lesson learned is making simple mock-up models of the handheld device first and rapidly prototyping them first, before designing the final model. From this point on all designs involving ergonomics, we always 3D print a simple mock-up to study the feel of the device.

    View of CAD design of V2 controller

    View during demolding of carbon fiber controller body

    View of a quick test of electronics during integration


    V3 Dev

    V3 was by far the best controller designer; the body was slim and light, everything was more compact, and we studied the feel via mockups before progressing with the model. This iteration took a hybrid approach to manufacturing. Both skinning and molding carbon fiber takes a lot of effort and time. On V3 the entire body is 3D printed, but a layer of carbon fiber is bonded to the front plate for added ruggedness. It came out to be the cleanest layup job by far.

    View of CAD design of V3 

    View of the controller during carbon fiber layup 

    View of the controller after final polish and clear coat

    View of the controller after all the hardware was integrated (looks like a wifi router)


    V4 Direction

    After three iterative prototypes, we learned one simple fact: For the intended users of Valor sUAS, the overall direction with the more handset approach was wrong. A handheld controller is relatively bulky, and the antenna orientation is not optimal in all circumstances. By looking at commercial options the obvious solution is to separate the radio module from the screen and joystick. 

    Quick concept mock-up: controller and radio module separated

    For much more of a tactical configuration, it's common to mount the radio module to the back of a plate carrier and have the screen and joystick mounted on the chest.

    Quick concept mock-up: controller and radio module together

    For applications such as search and rescue, however, having an all-in-one handheld controller may be more practical. The concept we came up with is the ability to mount the radio module terminal to the back of the controller via a custom modular port. By doing this we keep the system interactable with a variety of applications and adhere...

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  • SPOT Optic Pod Assembly

    Canine-Rocket-Technologies12/21/2022 at 22:12 0 comments

    Gimbal/Enclosure Assembly & Starlight Electro Optic Dev

    The gimbal-stabilized enclosure pod is the heart of the ISR part of Valor sUAS. Building a gimbal isn't too tricky nowadays with great open-sourced gimbal controllers and a wide selection of motors, which we made sure to take full advantage of. The next challenge was building a weatherproof and aerodynamic pod to compactly cram in multiple optics. The optics pod enclosure had the most amount of full revisions in CAD out of any assembly we designed for Valor sUAS, with development on the SPOT dating back to 2020, but we managed to cook up a very good geometry and intuitive assembly to make integration and tuning a breeze.

    One of the challenges we faced was miniaturizing the optic pod. To provide operators with an effective and practical FPV feed, the ISR package needs to be able to zoom into a subject. Initially we looked at large zoom camera modules that required heavy lenses and a large overall dimension. This would mean to achieve the same mass/form factor budget for the SPOT optic pod, the laser and thermal camera could not be added as part of the package. The solution we came up with was what modern phones have adopted, taking advantage of multiple lenses and sensors to effectively create a hybrid zoom! By using 2 sets of optics and sensors with carefully selected focal lengths, we ran multiple bench tests to create the best combination till we reached an insane range of 170 degrees if wide angle camera feed to 30x zoom equivalent maximum zoom. With 2 tiny cameras and lenses, we effectively reached an equivalent performance of most medium size fixed wing ISR drone optics!

    3D Printing the prototype enclosure pod. The final version is SLS 3D printed.

    The enclosure is a 3D-printed sealed pod that houses all the electronics. The prototypes are FDM 3D printed, however, the final version is SLS 3D printed with a waterproof coating. FDM 3D printing is not watertight, which is problematic for an optic enclosure, we really don't want condensation or any moisture overall. 

    View of machined optical frame

    View of vibration dampener assembly

    View of electronics enclosure and vibration dampener assembly

    Like the airframe, carbon fiber was the material of choice for most of the gimbal's structural components for its superior strength-to-weight ratio. The vibration dampener isolating the optic pod from the vehicle interface is a critical component in preventing video jitter. For this application, carbon fiber, a material with very high stiffness properties is preferred to prevent resonance.

    A lot of optics pods seem to have the optics built into the enclosure. We did the opposite by building the enclosure around the optics. This means if the optics need to be removed for maintenance, it slides out of their slots with the removal of only four screws. The carbon fiber optics frame holds everything together in one piece, so lenses can be easily swapped out and changed, any kind of tuning or even swapping the sensors requires minimal tools (Only an allen wrench). 

    View of EO/IR assembly mounted on the optic frame

    Side view of EO/IR assembly mounted on the optic frame

    SPOT Optic pod after integration, laser assembly not installed yet

    The enclosure pod acts as a frame holding the Lexan optic windows and the germanium window. Thermal cameras can not see through glass or Lexan, so a special optical-grade germanium window needs to be used. Germanium is like the opposite of glass, completely blocking all visible light and only letting IR through. It looks like a metal disk

    Demonstration of Germanium window and its LWIR transparent property 

    After integration, we proceeded to test the thermal optics and the electro-optics. Details on the thermal optics can be seen below. The visible electro-optic camera sensors were carefully chosen starlight sensors, offering incredible low-light performance on par with commercial digital...

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  • Stealth Rotor Blade Development

    Canine-Rocket-Technologies12/21/2022 at 17:28 0 comments

    Stealth Rotor Blade R&D

    The big part of Valor that gives its "Stealth" title is the optional stealth rotor blades! Drones are very loud creating a very distinctive buzz or whine that's easily audible and recognizable. Making a virtually silent drone is nearly impossible, at least with a quadcopter configuration. However, reducing the travel distance of the sound and masking the pitch closer to background noises is relatively straightforward. The exact methodology behind the R&D work for these blades can't be discussed in detail, but to the more technical individuals, you may have noticed some telltale details right off the bat ;)

    Aerodynamics can be simulated, but until you test you simply don't know. The development of the blades involved rigorous amounts of test stand time, measuring power draw, RPM, thrust, and of course most importantly acoustics. We've taken advantage of 3D-printed props (Using SLS printers) to allow a very rapid data-driven evolutionary cycle of each version. It's more than strong enough for testing, but the final version will be made of carbon fiber.

    Early spectrogram analysis of motor acoustic profile (as a control)

    Early carbon fiber prop prototype 

    Early dev prototype, fully FDM 3D printed (It actually survived full RPM but it was terrifying!) 

    View of blade mounted on the test stand

    *It's on our worktable for maintenance, all tests were conducted in a test cage 

    View of stealth blade prototype not mounted on a motor

    View of stealth blade integrated into motor mount assembly


  • Electronics Integration & Build: Batteries, Avionics, and More

    Canine-Rocket-Technologies12/18/2022 at 04:07 0 comments

    Li-Ion Flight Batteries

    Flight time is a very critical requirement for this project. Typically Li-Po batteries dominate the drone power space due to their ability to discharge very high currents. However, Li-Ion battery cells (Popularized by Tesla's use in electric cars) are inherently able to carry far more battery capacity for the same weight compared to Li-Po cells. The only disadvantage is they can not output the same amount of current as Li-Po cells. There are new higher current Li-Ion cells as the technology advances, but it still isn't near the performance possible with Li-Po cells.  

    The current limitations of Li-Ion cells prevent them from being used on many drones. However, after some simple calculations, newer high-current Li-Ion cells could offer more than enough current for the loitering flight profiles Valor UAV was intended for (It's not going to dump current maneuvering like an FPV racing drone). Because Valor UAV is a decently large drone, we could take advantage of the large payload capacity to design a build a Li-Ion battery pack that meticulously balances weight, capacity, and current. We were shocked at the result, by switching over to Li-Ion cells, we were able to achieve a 10% increase in battery capacity and a 30% decrease in overall mass compared to the top-of-the-line Li-Po cells that Valor UAV was originally intended to fly on. 

    View of prototype battery pack build without the enclosure casing. 

    There are still two issues, the entire Unmanned Aerial System as a whole needs to be extremely durable for field use, including the battery. To save weight, Valor UAV uses skids on the bottom of the battery pack as landing gear. This means the battery pack has to be incredibly durable, so we designed an extremely durable casing enclosure. The enclosure is sealed and waterproof to keep the electronics dry. It features quick-release Picatinny clips at the top; an operator can clip in a new battery into a valor UAV in literally seconds. For anyone who's charged drone batteries, this is a big feature. The battery enclosure features an all-in-one single charge and discharges port separate from the flight discharge port. It's kept underneath a waterproof cap with two thumbscrews holding it in place. 

    The rugged outer casing; Notice the two front thumb screws enclosing the charge port, the Picatinny Quick-Release points, and the flight discharge cable.

    Overall we're really happy with the flight battery! Because the battery is rail mounted and extremely modular, this leaves room to design specialty batteries in the future, including a Li-Po variant, larger cells, different chemistries, ones with features like integrated heaters for winter operations, etc. One person asked if Valor could be tethered with a ground power supply, and that can be very easily done! The possibilities are endless!  


    Hot-Start/Hot-Swap Switch System

    Commercial drones are often advertised for their rapid case-to-flight time. What they don't tell you is how slow GPS lock and radio connections for video systems could take. We aim to solve that with the Hot-Start/Hot-Swap switch system, its role is kind of like an APU on a jet. Valor has a small built-in battery that's separate from the flight battery. It's wired to only power the radio, avionics, and GPS. Before deploying the UAV to the mission location, Valor UAV can be powered on in advance, giving it time to gain GPS lock and RF C2/Video connections beforehand. Not only this but when Valor UAV needs a battery swap mid-mission, the Hot-Swap switch can be pressed to keep the necessary avionics on. No need to wait for the avionics to boot up again and regain connection, the vehicle is essentially kept "hot" until the fresh flight battery takes over. Another cool function is if Valor UAV is ever lost and the flight battery dies, the Hot-Start battery can kick in and keep the avionics alive for about an hour. This give operators...

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  • UAV Hardware Assembly & Integration

    Canine-Rocket-Technologies12/15/2022 at 06:33 0 comments

    UAV Assembly & Integration Summary

    It's been a busy few months of in-house fabrication and chatting with some contractors who took care of machining and SLS 3D printing, but the parts are finally in the Lab and being integrated into the UAV assembly for assembly! Even during assembly, there were dozens of part design modifications and iterations pushed in CAD for a truly data-driven workflow. Below are some of the highlights of the now-integrated hardware!

    View of the partially complete airframe during integration with dummy development optic pod placeholder

    View of arms and airframe body before integration

    Machined side payload rail

    View of Central Carbon Fiber Structural Airframe

    View of Universal Payload Interface Plate

    View of custom Nav Light PCBs. Integrated RGB and super right white strobes!

    View of 3D printed airframe piece

    Closeup view of arm assembly



    Iterative Design, Material Selection, & Tight Mass Budget 

    One of the primary design challenges with Valor was balancing out durability, mass savings, and end-user easability. Often times decreasing the mass of the overall structure leads to comprises in durability. Every extra end-user easability feature is added mass that doesn't contribute to flight performance or flight time. All in all, the design requirements appear conflicting, but with careful consideration of material selection and design, the overall goal was achieved. There were simple measures such as switching all hardware fasteners from stainless steel to titanium. That measure alone shed off the weight of fasteners in the totality of 20%, an impressive figure. But this 20% mass shaving is a small save since the overall mass of fasteners is marginally small compared to the entire airframe, in comes the most challenging comprises.

    Initially to save weight we went with a "Exoskeleton" approach, a single 3D printed ariframe that would be skinned in carbon fiber. All the structural component were built into a single large body, including the SPOT optic pod. The critical flaw with this approach was the fact every component was permanently fixated together. In the case of a crash, a single component damage would require the entire airframe to be rebuilt. Not only that, modularity was severely comprised since essentially the entire UAV by and large was a single piece. 


    The V2 was much closer to what we settled with, multiple small modules that would assemble into each other. The problem with this approach was the strange angles gaps produced by the geometry of each module. This made effective waterproofing practically impossible (more or less highly impractical). The primary reason V2 was scrapped was the lack of stuctural integrity. Each arm joint was its own singular piece, and being FDM 3D printer, it was far too flexible to be an effective structural component.

    View of V1 airframe, a single piece design. In this version SPOT was going to be permanently mounted into the drone!

    View of V2 airframe. Much closer to V3, but still had many limitations and shortcomings structurally.

    Now the focus for V3 shifted to structural integrity. Modulairty, waterproofing, and weight are all important attributes, but essentially useless if the airframe can't take any loads in flight or in transport. In the design of V3 is alll came down to frame design and material selection. By making a stacked design, waterproofing was easy and naturally strcutual integrity was maximized. The clear winning material for strength and durability, one of the attributes of Valor sUAS we were aiming for, was alumnium. It checked off everything we were looking for except in mass. It was the singular source of bankrupting our mass budget. The switch to carbon fiber along with optimized print settings was the solution. We were shocked by how much weight we cut out with this simple change

    View of extremely durable (But far too heavy) aluminum airframe dev prototype. 

    View of much lighter Carbon...

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leonhulsebos wrote 01/18/2023 at 17:44 point

what is the Thermal camera. i am looking for a camera for my own project but i can only find the lepton 3.5 as a good option

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Davidsastresas wrote 01/19/2023 at 00:53 point

Not sure about the one they use, but check out infiray ones. They some models similar in price and size to the lepton 3.5, but 4X the resolution. I tested one myself and it is truly impresive, more comparable to a boson than a lepton. Cheers!

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