Frequently asked questions

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Is the flight autonomous?

The SB4 flights are totally autonomous. You can start by defining your flight plan thanks to Belvedere, our Ground Control Software. Once your flight plan is ready and the waypoints are correctly defined, you can upload them to the UAV. After the take-off, the mission will start and the SB4 will fly by itself.

It is also possible to fly in assisted mode. The assisted mode is a mode where you can use the remote control to have a safe manual control over the UAV. The UAV attitude will automatically be stabilized to limit piloting errors.

Do you have evidence of your flight endurance?

Sure ! Have a look at this YouTube video : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95fG79l821Y

This is the log file of a 6h flight made in September 2016 in France. We have made this flight in full autonomous mode. The UAV kept its battery level full during all the flight as the available solar power was twice the power consumption of the drone.

How can I follow the drone when it is BLOS?

When you fly Beyond Line Of Sight, our high-gain long-range antenna enables you to maintain the data communication with the UAV. During the flight, simply use Belvedere to monitor all the parameters (battery level, solar power, position) and change the flight plan is necessary.

Is there a battery in the drone?

Yes, the SB4 has a 2250mAh LiPo battery. The battery is used to store the required energy to maintain the flight in cloudy conditions. During the take-off, the energy required is also too important to rely only on the solar cells. This is why the battery is used during this phase.

How does it take-off?

Easy, you just have to launch it with your hand ! The take-off can be made in assisted or automatic mode. In assisted mode, you have to put the full throttle and ask a second person to hand-launch the SB4. In autonomous mode, just define a take-off waypoint, switch to auto mode on the remote control and launch the UAV !

What is the area required for landing? How does it land?

We consider that for a safe landing, you need a landing strip of 100m of length and 50m of width. There are two ways to land the SB4. You can choose to make automatic landings. To do so, simply define your landing strip using waypoints. The UAV will manoeuver to reach the ground by itself. If you want to perform a more accurate landing in more complex areas, you can switch to assisted mode and make the final approach by yourself.

What happens when there is no more sun ?

When there is no more sun, the available solar power will decease and the battery will progressively take over the solar cells. The battery level will slowly go down indicating that the endurance is now limited. We estimate that the endurance of the UAV is 1h from the moment that solar power is not available anymore.

How much time can it fly when its cloudy?

The endurance when the weather is cloudy really depends on the clouds cover, but we estimate that it can vary from 3h to 5h on average.

What about support? Any spares available? Local maintenance?

We have partners in many countries to assist you and give you support in your operations. They can also provide you with all the spare parts you need and perform local maintenance tasks.

What is the radio link range?

The standard radio link range is 15km. However, this range can vary depending on the type of landscape you overfly. For specific applications, the ground station antenna can be changed for extended radio range. 

How many people are required to fly the SB4?

Ideally, we would recommend 2 people to fly the UAV safely. One person to monitor the mission on the laptop, and one other person responsible for taking over the drone's control in assisted mode.

What kind of sensors do you offer? Can I use my own camera?

Depending on your needs, we can offer different types of sensors :

  • RGB camera : For high definition mapping and photogrammetry applications.
  • Multispectral camera : For vegetation monitoring.
  • Thermal camera : For surveillance applications.

Have a look at our range of sensors here.

After buying a SB4 you are free to make any changes. However in that case the warranty would become invalid.

The SB4 looks fragile, is it designed for rough areas?

The SB4 UAV has a fuselage made of fiberglass. The wings and tails are made of carbon fiber. Sunbirds has chosen those material to obtain a wise merge of stiffness and lightness, allowing the best endurance for solar flights. During the design phase we made sure to maximize the robustness of the structure, even in the event of a crash.

Sunbirds has implemented crash-proof systems. For example, the nylon screws fixing the wings to the fuselage are designed to break first, acting as fuses to prevent any breakage of the fuselage or the wings.

If you need to land on rough areas (rocks for example), we recommend the use of protection parts that we provide and that you can fix under the fuselage.

Can I see pictures taken by the drone?

Yes of course ! Don't hesitate to contact us to ask us what kind of data would interest you.

What is the max altitude?

Ideally, we recommend to fly under 1500m AMSL (Above Mean Sea Level). Most of our flight tests took place under this altitude. It's possible to fly higher, however, the power consumption will be higher. This is likely to reduce the endurance.

Does the drone fly in the rain / high humidity conditions ?

Our solar wing reached the certification according to IEC 61215 which is an international standard laying down IEC requirements for the design qualification and type approval of terrestrial photo-voltaic modules suitable for long-term operations in general open-air climates. Our solar modules have successfully passed thermal cycling and damp heat tests at 85°C and 85% of humidity during more than 1000 hours.

How are data transferred from the drone?

The way to collect data depends on the type of camera you use :

  • For RGB camera : The pictures are stored in the UAV, you can get them after the landing on a SD card
  • For Multispectral camera : The pictures are stored in the UAV, you can get them after the landing on a SD card
  • For Thermal camera : We provide a dedicated screen on the ground to have a live video stream

Is the drone adapted to dust? To rocks?

Yes. If you need to land on dusts or rocks, we can provide you dedicated spare parts that you can fix under the fuselage to protect the UAV during the landing.

What is the maximum payload weight?

The maximum payload weight is fixed at 300g. We have already selected the best range of sensors adapted to your needs. The integration and control are also integrally managed by Sunbirds. This is the reason why we recommend to use the sensor we have selected instead of choosing a new one. If you have specific needs, don't hesitate to contact us.

How slow/fast can it fly?

The minimum speed of the SB4 is 25km/h, the maximum speed is 70km/h. It's possible to update the flight speed in one click from the ground station.

Do you have a Gimbal?

No, the gimbal devices are currently too heavy for the SB4. However, we plan to integrate gimbals in our futur solar-powered UAVs.

What is the data storage capability of the SB4?

The data storage capability depends more on the camera than the SB4 itself. Our RGB camera allows to store up to 64GB of images. This corresponds to more than 10 hours of mapping. The camera is automatically powered by the drone without limit of battery.

What are the wind and temperature limitations?

We advise to postpone the mission when wind gusts are higher than 40km/h. Usually, the best performances will be reached with a wind of less than 20km/h. The SB4 is designed for high temperatures and has been tested in extreme conditions.

How do we manage strong winds?

When strong winds appear, we recommend to set a higher flight speed in Belvedere, the ground control station software. If the UAV manages to maintain a correct trajectory, it’s possible to continue the mission. If the plane experiments difficulties to fly according to the specified flight plan, we recommend a return-to-launch.

How do you manage geotagging?

Every time an image is triggered, the autopilot records its GPS position, the triggering date and the image’s orientation (roll, pitch, yaw angles). After landing, all those data can be used in a photogrammetric software (ex : pix4D) to create georeferenced orthophotos and 3D point-clouds.

What are the training requirements?

The training requirements depend on your initial skills. Most of the time, we plan a one-week training course. During this session, we have theoretical and practical modules. During the theoretical module, you get an overview of the SB4 system:

  •  System assembly and disassembly
  • Flight planning
  • Safety procedures
  • Mission management

The practical modules are composed of flight sessions:

  • UAV flight simulation
  • UAV flight with a trainer system
  • UAV flight with a complete SB4 system

What is the durability of the drone?

The SB4 life cycle depends on the environment and the level of risk that you will take during the mission. We provide spare parts (wings, tails, and electronics) to ensure the longevity of the product. The average duration of one UAV is estimated at 3 years.

Does it work with GPS RTK to generate pictures with better accuracy?

We currently don’t integrate the RTK technology. However, we plan to provide the RTK/PPK features in the next version of our product.

What is the cost of maintenance?

The only costs of maintenance are due to parts replacements. Those costs can vary, depending on the level of risk you will take during your missions. To get a customized estimation of your maintenance costs please contact us.

Can I have FPV?

Yes, we can integrate a FPV camera on demand. This camera can serve as a front view monitoring for safety or as a vertical view monitoring for surveillance applications.

Can it fly at night?

Yes, it’s possible to fly at night. However, as the sun-power is not available, the endurance will be much lower as the UAV will only use its LiPo battery.

Are you providing services? Operating the drone?

We are a UAV manufacturer, our main activity is to provide solar-powered UAV systems for large territories mapping. The services we offer are the following:

  • Technical support
  • Spare parts
  • Training

We don’t offer direct services such as drone operation. However, if you have specific needs, don’t hesitate to contact us. We will be pleased to help you!

Is VTOL available ?

VTOL (Vertical Take-Off & Landing) can be used to optimize the space required to launch and land your UAV. However, this technology requires a high amount of energy. Integrating VTOL on a solar-powered plane would have a significant effect on its autonomy. This is the reason why we have chosen not to implement it on our UAV.

Do you provide a data processing software?

Yes. Depending on your needs, we can provide different types of post-processing software :

  • Photogrammetry software : Used to generate 2D orthophotos, 3D point clouds or NDVI maps.
  • Custom post-processing software : For high-potential applications, we can decide to develop custom solutions focused on your needs. If you have a specific need to post-process UAV data, don't hesitate to contact us !

Are you looking for a distributor?

We are actively looking for companies which are key-players in their industries and want to jump in the UAV market to create more value in their fields. If you're interested in becoming one of our distributor, please contact us.