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Title:
INTERFACE FOR CONNECTING FUNCTIONAL MODULES AND AERIAL VEHICLES, RELATED MODULE AND AERIAL VEHICLE
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2017/207874
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
Connector (208) suitable for integration with a functional module (201), optionally a sensor module, to be attached as payload to an aerial vehicle (101), preferably unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), by the connector, said connector comprising a body (502) for hosting mechanical and electrical connecting means for mechanically securing and electrically connecting a functional module to the aerial vehicle, respectively, a mechanical connecting means (510, 08) configured to secure the connector and related functional module to the aerial vehicle, and an electrical connecting means (524) for electrical power as well as data transfer between the functional module and the aerial vehicle, wherein the connector further comprises an electronic circuit (530) configured to indicate via the electrical connecting means, preferably substantially upon and/or responsive to mechanically and electrically connecting the connector and the related module to the vehicle, information characterizing the functional module to the aerial vehicle to enable the aerial vehicle to adapt its operation responsive to the information. The aerial vehicle is presented.

Inventors:
POHJONEN, Teemu (Heikintie 2, Karstula, 43500, FI)
POHJONEN, Joona (Heikintie 2, Karstula, 43500, FI)
Application Number:
FI2017/050405
Publication Date:
December 07, 2017
Filing Date:
May 31, 2017
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
POHJONEN GROUP OY (Heikintie 2, Karstula, 43500, FI)
International Classes:
B64D47/02; B64C1/22; B64C1/36; B64C39/02; B64D47/08
Domestic Patent References:
WO2016034819A12016-03-10
Foreign References:
US20030066932A12003-04-10
EP2236416A22010-10-06
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BERGGREN OY (P.O. Box 16, Helsinki, 00101, FI)
Download PDF:
Claims:
Claims

1 . A connector (208) suitable for integration with a functional module (201 ), optionally a sensor module, to be attached as payload to an aerial vehicle (101 , 108)), preferably unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), by the connector, said connector comprising a mechanical connecting means (510, 508) configured to secure the connector and related functional module to the aerial vehicle, and an electrical connecting means (524) for electrical power as well as data transfer between the functional module and the aerial vehicle, characterized by a body (502) for hosting the mechanical and electrical connecting means for mechanically securing and electrically connecting the functional module to the aerial vehicle, respectively, wherein the body is substantially permanently or removably integrable with the module, wherein the connector further comprises an electronic circuit (530) configured to indicate via the electrical connecting means, optionally substantially upon and/or responsive to mechanically and electrically connecting the connector and the related module to the vehicle, information characterizing the functional module to the aerial vehicle to enable the aerial vehicle to adapt its operation responsive to the information. 2. The connector of claim 1 , wherein the mechanical connecting means substantially define a push and twist, optionally bayonet, design, preferably male side thereof.

3. The connector of any preceding claim, wherein at least one protrusion (508, 510) of the mechanical connecting means is configured to enter, responsive to pushing of the connector towards the vehicle, a dimensionally compatible recess (308, 310) in a flange (404) of a receiving part, such as receiving connector, of the vehicle and securing the connector thereat responsive to rotating the connector in transverse direction so as to move the at least one protrusion (508) away from the location of the recess (308) in the flange along a lateral groove extending from the recess below the flange outer surface.

4. The connector of claim 3, wherein the protrusion contains at least part of said electrical connecting means.

5. The connector of any preceding claim, wherein the circuit is located on or within the body.

6. The connector of any preceding claim, wherein the electrical connecting means include a number of contact pads, pins, and/or socket contacts, optionally configured to establish connector part of a serial or specifically Ethernet interface.

7. The connector of any preceding claim, configured to signal via the electrical connecting means at least one information element regarding the module or the combination of module and the connector, selected from the group consisting of: weight, weight distribution, dimensions, length, width, thickness, operation requirements, environmental operation requirements, identifier, unique identifier, serial number, manufacturer identifier, class, type, model, power requirements, included sensor, actuator or other technical functionality, parameter control range, and supported communication technique or standard. 8. A functional module (201 ), optionally sensor such as imaging or scanning module, for installation at an aerial vehicle (101 ), comprising the connector (208) of any preceding claim for mechanically retaining the module with the vehicle and electrically connecting therewith for both power and data transfer. 9. The functional module of claim 8, comprising a housing (210) substantially defining a hemispherical or conical, optionally blunted cone, shape.

10. The functional module of claim 8 or 9, comprising at least one element selected from the group consisting of: camera, scanner, laser, gimbal, sensor, lidar, radar, sample collector, gas analyzer, sample receptacle, parachute, winch, lift, actuator mechanism, cargo receptacle, cargo deployment means and cargo holder.

1 1 . An aerial vehicle (101 ), such as a UAV, comprising a vehicle end connector (108) for mechanically and electrically connecting to a replaceable payload module

(201 ), such as an imaging, scanning, other sensor, carrying, deployment, sampling or other functional module, characterized by said vehicle comprising a processing means (622) configured to receive information transferred via the connector and characterizing the connected module, optionally substantially upon and/or responsive to mechanically receiving and electrically connecting to the module, and further configured to adapt the operation of the vehicle based thereon.

12. The vehicle of claim 1 1 , configured to receive weight information having regard to the module via the connector and further configured to compensate for the indicated weight by the adaptation.

13. The vehicle of any of claims 1 1 -12, wherein the adaptation controls at least element selected from the group consisting of: motor power or motor power bias having regard to at least one motor of the vehicle, take off power of motor, used communication method, power delivery to the module, measurement, sampling or sensor device of the module, actuator of the module, deflection of control surface, deflection of wing, aileron, elevator, rudder, spoiler, air brake, blade, and/or rotor, flap position, leveling, rotation, tilt, translational motion and inertial navigation or related control.

14. The vehicle of any of claims 1 1 -13, wherein said vehicle end connector substantially defines a push and twist, optionally bayonet, design, preferably female side thereof.

15. The vehicle of any of claims 1 1 -14, wherein said vehicle end connector defines a flange (404) with a local recess (308) configured to receive a protrusion (508) of a module end connector when the module attached thereto is pushed towards the recess with the module end connector in front, and a lateral groove in connection with the recess below the outer surface of the flange to enable twist locking the module end connector and thus the related module responsive to rotation action moving the protrusion away from the location of the recess while maintaining or establishing the contact between electrical connecting means (424, 524) of the vehicle end connector and module end connector.

16. The vehicle of any of claims 1 1 -15, wherein said vehicle end connector comprises a preferably spring-loaded cover (422) configured to move from a sealing position to open position responsive to pressure subjected thereto by the module (201 ) or in particular, module end connector (208).

17. A system comprising a vehicle (101 ) of any of claims 1 1 -16 and at least one functional module (201 ) of any of claims 8-10, the module containing a connector (208) of any of claims 1 -7 via which the module mechanically and electrically interfaces the vehicle.

Description:
INTERFACE FOR CONNECTING FUNCTIONAL MODULES AND AERIAL VEHICLES, RELATED MODULE AND AERIAL VEHICLE

FIELD OF THE INVENTION Generally the present invention relates to aerial vehicles and different functional modules, such as sensor modules, thereof.

In particular, however not exclusively, the present invention pertains to interfacing a functional module to an aerial vehicle using mutually compatible connectors with mechanical and electrical connecting features both at the module and the target vehicle, thus enabling removably connecting and securing the module to the vehicle without tools.

BACKGROUND

During the past few years, the advent of various aerial vehicles such as so-called UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), or 'drones', has considerably changed the dynamics of many related technological fields and business sectors. The emerged availability of relatively low-cost, portable options for performing different aerial activities that were earlier available to only a few due to e.g. high price and awkward usability has raised the general interest in applying different airborne devices also for purposes previously served with completely other type of equipment, often capable of ground operation only.

The aforementioned UAVs may generally vary from low altitude and tiny affordable toy or hobby grade gadgets to professional, e.g. military, level costly tools that are huge with even tens of meters wingspan and capable of reaching several kilometers height and several hours flight time without problems. Nevertheless, the devices more or less roughly falling under the UAV class of flying devices include e.g. different multicopters (rotorcrafts with more than two rotors) as well as planes, which may be capable of autonomous flight based on e.g. satellite or inertial based navigation systems, and/or are remotely controlled, typically by a ground crew of one or more persons via a ground station that sends e.g. radio frequency (RF) control signals from a transmitter thereof to a compatible receiver of the UAV. In a simple scenario, the ground or other type of control station may consist of a single hand-held radio apparatus fully managed by a single operator. In more complex applications the control station may involve e.g. a vehicle-installed considerably more comprehensive control and monitoring equipment. The communication involved may be unidirectional or bidirectional. The communication may be bi-directional in a sense that the UAV sends e.g. telemetry data acquired by a number of sensors disposed in connection with the UAV back to the station for analysis, storage or immediate inspection, with reference to e.g. (camera) image data, whereas the information sent by the station to the UAV mostly includes control parameters for flight maneuvers and e.g. payload such as sensor operation.

Indeed, the UAVs may be packed with different functional elements such as sensors that are perhaps not at all critical to remaining airborne but may be arranged to execute a number of important tasks from the standpoint of the ground crew and general flight objective. The functional elements may include video or still cameras, radars, other sensors, lights, sample collectors, robotic arms, cargo racks, etc. Certainly some of the elements may be passive in a sense they do not have to be electrically powered or harnessed to communication with the hosting UAV or other elements, while some other, e.g. sensor-type, payloads indeed require electrical power to operate and often also communication connection with the host.

Having regard to different applications the UAVs already have, few explicit examples are next provided herein thus including but not limited to e.g. intelligence, surveillance, security, search and rescue, advertising, pollution watch, traffic monitoring, weather monitoring, package/item delivery, inspection of power lines and farming fields, farming and agriculture related harvesting, seeding, pollination, animal tracking, scientific experiments and measurements, aerial photography, mapping, surveying such as construction or geological surveying, and generally remote sensing/monitoring. Obviously, there is no sense in adapting a single UAV type, model, or unit for all the above and other potential use scenarios. Together with the required complexity, weight, size and price to come up with such an extreme jack-of-all- trades, also the vulnerability of the concerned UAV to different technical malfunctions would unavoidably increase. Further, some applications may require so different attributes from the UAV that they also necessarily lead to rather different related optimum design parameters in terms of e.g. size, shape, payload capacity, flight time, flight characteristics, etc. Yet, instead of or in addition to utilization of fully use-specific UAVs, there still is, however, room for more versatile UAVs that are capable of being dynamically adapted for executing a variety of tasks that may be in the interest of a concerned UAV operator. For instance, the UAV operator may provide his/her services to a multitude of parties that have different uses for aerial operations, considering e.g. a real estate broker that is willing to obtain nice aerial footage of his most recent properties available for sale, or a local university eager to collect air or water samples in a target area. Accordingly, a single UAV could be adapted to perform these mutually somewhat different tasks if equipped with necessary sensors and suitable collecting gear.

A modern flight controller or e.g. a receiver found in some contemporary UAVs may be already operatively (basically electrically) coupled to certain removable optional/modular features such as sensors so that the associated data and power transfer becomes possible.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned simple electrical connectability between e.g. selected sensors and some flight controllers/receivers, and as various thinkable functional modules of a UAV may bear rather different characteristics in terms of weight, shape, dimensions, communication features/requirements as well as power requirements, their proper installation in the UAV may turn out tedious if not practically impossible when the UAV is not initially designed for carrying mutually different, alternative or simultaneous payloads. There may not be enough space in the UAV to properly accommodate or align the modules by keeping e.g. the resulting aerodynamics and weight distribution in mind, or electrifying the modules may be difficult with all the necessary wiring that has to be separately considered for each module from the standpoint of its particular installation location, for example.

To cope with these described and other related challenges and problems, a modular solution is herein proposed where a UAV can be dynamically provided with at least one removable functional element, or 'module', such as a sensor module at a time. Between different missions the installed functional module(s) may be replaced with different one(s) incorporating e.g. different sensor(s) and/or exhibiting other characteristics such as a sample collector with related receptacle. The replacement or installation procedure of a functional module is designed to be rapid, simple and reliable, resulting in airborne-ready vehicle without excessive hassling, delay and case-specific tuning having regard to positioning, adjusting or electrifying the module, which has so far been more rule than exception with the existing solutions.

SUMMARY

It is indeed one objective of the present invention to at least alleviate one or more afore-reviewed drawbacks related to the prior art solutions in which an aerial vehicle such as a UAV is used for various different purposes or a single purpose where replacement of a functional element is nevertheless more or less regularly required.

The objective is achieved by the various embodiments of a connector and aerial vehicle as defined in the appended claims.

In one aspect, a connector suitable for integration with a functional module, such as a sensor module, to be attached as payload to an aerial vehicle, such as a UAV, by the connector (via a compatible payload connector integrated with the vehicle), the connector comprising a body, optionally generally defining a shape or profile of a ring or round disc, for hosting mechanical and electrical connecting means for mechanically securing and electrically connecting a functional module to the aerial vehicle, respectively, wherein the body is substantially permanently (e.g. through molding) or removably (fastenable e.g. via applicable retention means such as screws or bolts) integrable with the module, a mechanical connecting means, such as a number of flanges, lips, other protrusions or generally mechanical connecting members of or on a surface of the connector body, configured to secure the connector and related functional module to the aerial vehicle, and an electrical connecting means, such as a pin, socket, plug, contact pad, or a number of other electrical connecting members, for electrical power as well as data transfer between the functional module and the aerial vehicle, wherein the connector further comprises an electronic circuit configured to indicate via the electrical connecting means, optionally substantially upon and/or responsive to mechanically and electrically connecting the connector and the related module to the vehicle, information characterizing the functional module to the aerial vehicle to enable the aerial vehicle to adapt its operation responsive to the information.

In some embodiments, the mechanical connecting means substantially define a push and twist, optionally bayonet, design, and preferably male side thereof.

For example, at least one protrusion of the mechanical connecting means may be configured to enter, responsive to pushing of the connector towards the vehicle, a dimensionally compatible recess in a flange of a receiving part, such as receiving connector, of the vehicle and securing the connector thereat responsive to rotating the connector in transverse direction so as to slide or generally move the at least one protrusion away from the location of the recess in the flange along a lateral groove or similar slot extending from the recess below the flange outer surface.

The protrusion may accommodate at least part of said electrical connecting means. In some embodiments, the circuit is located on or within the connector body. In some other embodiments or variations, however, the circuit could, as being still conceptually and functionally part of the connector, be physically located e.g. within the module (housing) and electrically coupled to the connector via necessary conductive structures and elements, for instance. The circuit may include an integrated circuit.

In some embodiments, the electrical connecting means may include a number of contact pads, pins, and/or socket contacts, optionally configured to establish the connector part of e.g. a serial or specifically Ethernet interface.

In some embodiments, the connector, or specifically the circuit thereof, may be configured to indicate via the electrical connecting means at least one information element regarding the module or the combination of module and the connector, selected from the group consisting of: weight, weight distribution, dimensions, length, width, thickness, operation requirements, environmental operation requirements, identifier, unique identifier, serial number, manufacturer identifier, class, type, model, power requirements, included sensor, actuator or other functionality, parameter control range, and supported communication technique or standard. Accordingly, a functional module, optionally sensor such as imaging or scanning module, for installation at an aerial vehicle, comprising the connector as suggested herein for mechanically retaining the module with the vehicle and electrically connecting therewith for power and data transfer. In some embodiments, the module comprises a housing substantially defining a hemispherical (e.g. 'dome') or conical (e.g. blunted cone, i.e. with rounded ogive) shape.

In various embodiments, the module may comprise at least one element selected from the group consisting of: camera (of visible and/or e.g. infrared (thermographic) band), scanner, laser, gimbal, sensor, lidar (light detection and ranging), radar, sample collector, gas analyzer, sample receptacle, parachute, winch, lift, actuator mechanism, cargo receptacle, cargo deployment means and cargo holder.

Still, an aerial vehicle, such as a UAV, comprising a vehicle end (or 'vehicle-side') connector for mechanically and electrically connecting to a replaceable payload module as described herein, such as an imaging, scanning, other sensor, carrying, deployment, sampling or other functional module, may be provided, said vehicle comprising a processing means configured to receive information transferred via the connector and characterizing the module, optionally substantially upon and/or responsive to mechanically receiving and electrically connecting to the module, and further configured to adapt its operation based on the information.

As generally suggested herein, the characterizing information is preferably provided to the vehicle end connector by the electronic circuit of the module end connector. In some embodiments, instead of e.g. UAV, the vehicle may refer to other aerial vehicles such as manned aerial vehicles. In some applications, the vehicle could also be a ground vehicle or e.g. a marine or generally waterborne vessel.

In some embodiments, the vehicle and specifically the processing means thereof may be configured to receive weight information having regard to the module via the connector and further configured to compensate for the indicated weight by the adaptation.

In some embodiments, the adaptation controls at least element selected from the group consisting of: motor power or motor power bias (resulting in e.g. rpm/speed control) having regard to at least one motor of the vehicle, take off power of motor, deflection of control surface, deflection of wing, aileron, elevator, rudder, spoiler, air brake, blade, and/or rotor, flap position, leveling, rotation, tilt, translational motion, and inertial navigation or related control. In some embodiments, the vehicle end connector substantially defines a push and twist, optionally bayonet, design, preferably female side thereof.

For example, the vehicle end connector may define a flange with a local recess therein configured to receive a protrusion of a module end (or 'module-side') connector when the module attached thereto is pushed towards the recess with the module end connector in front. There may be a lateral groove in connection with the recess below the outer surface of the flange to enable twist locking the module end connector and thus the related module responsive to rotation action sliding or generally moving the protrusion away from the location of the recess while maintaining or establishing the contact between electrical connecting means of the vehicle end connector and module end connector.

In some embodiments, the vehicle end connector comprises a preferably spring- loaded cover configured to move from a sealing position to open position responsive to pressure subjected thereto by the module or in particular, module end connector upon installation of the module at the vehicle. Yet, a system comprising an embodiment of an aerial vehicle as discussed herein and at least one functional module as also discussed herein, may be provided, the module containing a module end connector as further discussed herein via which the module mechanically and electrically interfaces the vehicle (in practice via compatible connector at vehicle end). The utility of the present invention arises from a variety of issues depending on each particular embodiment thereof. By the provision of a versatile, mechanically sturdy and also electrically comprehensive (supporting e.g. both power and data transfer) interface that exploits compatible, matching connectors in both an aerial vehicle, such as a UAV or a manned aerial vehicle, and a sensor or other functional module, typically rather fiddly, special installation activities of prior art style having regard to each module may be omitted and the required functionalities thus dynamically arranged to the target vehicle upon need without tools. Likewise, the connected module may be cleverly removed, again without any tools, after the flight for replacement with other, potentially functionally rather different module, for instance. The installation and removal procedure is mechanically simple and easy to adopt, and in many cases even possible to execute with one hand only, while the resulting connection is mechanically and electrically very secure.

The used connectors may be configured to implement e.g. a push and twist, optionally bayonet, type interface or and at least features shared or similar with such designs with multi-action attachment and removal actions for added reliability.

Among a group of modules, each may be provided with own, preferably identical, instance of the connector for connecting to the vehicle. Alternatively, multiple modules may share the same module end connector piece so that the connector is passed between the modules upon need but in that case only the single module currently having the connector may be connected to the vehicle via a compatible connector at vehicle end. In any case, the vehicle may contain one or more mutually similar vehicle end connectors compatible with the module end connector, e.g. one connector in the front and other in the back, for carrying payload.

Accordingly, the aerial vehicle may be easily maintained so as to carry only the equipment it actually needs for each mission, which also spares weight and facilitates related technical considerations such as battery selection. Further, e.g. in the case of accidents only the payload currently on board may be damaged instead of all the possible gear. The same vehicle is applicable for various different purposes involving aerial operations.

As several airborne vehicles may be equipped with similar, preferably identical, vehicle end connectors, all the modules arranged with a compatible module end connector may be conveniently switched between the vehicles on the fly without any additional adaptation or installation issues. The parties offering functional (payload) modules with such at least de facto standard connectors may scale their operations without need to consider each potential hosting aerial vehicle in detail.

Correspondingly, the manufacturers of aerial vehicles equipped with the vehicle end connector may be better assured that there likely exists a sufficient variety of supplementary features in the form of functional modules to pick out from by the vehicle operator without need to produce all required modules necessarily in- house. The suggested connectors of the module and aerial vehicle end preferably connect to each other in a solid, sealing manner from the standpoint of e.g. air flow or moisture. Hermetic sealing may be thus obtained. Preferably, also at least the body of the vehicle and further preferably most if not all of the remaining components are substantially watertight to enable operation in wet conditions or e.g. cleaning/washing activities using a hose.

The connector on the module-side may also be integrated with the related module in a sealed fashion, optionally through molding or using seal-enhanced interface such as rubber/elastic sealing ring -incorporating interface with suitable mechanical connecting means, e.g. screws, bolts, adhesive, etc. Preferably the module contains a housing that is aerodynamically practical exhibiting e.g. hemispherical or conical (e.g. blunted cone) shape to minimize air resistance or e.g. turbulence caused by it.

A plurality of different modules may share similar, common housing type in terms of e.g. shape, dimensions and materials. These and other features such as weight may be optionally standardized to at least limited extent with reference to e.g. allowed range of such features/parameters. Two or more standard housings or generally module specifications in terms of selected features may be defined. The implementation of one or more of the above principles preferably lead to a situation where also the operation parameter range on the vehicle-side that dynamically adapts the operation of the vehicle according to the information it receives from the connector regarding the current module preferably upon electrically connecting the two, may be carefully designed upfront to guarantee sufficient functioning of the vehicle and module in most if not all use scenarios involving different modules with different characteristics.

Yet, e.g. the connector on the vehicle-side that may basically remain in the vehicle even if no module is connected thereto, may be provided with a protective, optionally slidable or spring-loaded, cover for protecting the underlying structures and e.g. electrical contacting means such as pins, sockets, or pads from the environmental effects such as air flow or moisture when the particular interface/connector is not in use and protected by the module itself. Preferably the cover is indeed provided with e.g. rail or articulated joint based attachment to the connector so that it remains on board also when the connector is in use with a module connected thereto so that the cover is not lost in the meanwhile. As already discussed hereinbefore, the electrical or in most cases, electronic, circuit such as integrated circuit may be arranged in the interface, preferably integrated in the connector of the module-side (attached to the body of the module end connector or molded therewithin, for instance), to execute preferred hand- shaking activities between the module and the aerial vehicle. Among other transferred information, the connector may be thus configured to convey data on a number of module characteristics such as weight information that the vehicle, typically in particular the control means thereof (e.g. microcontroller, microprocessor, signal processor, etc.), may then cleverly apply for optimizing the operation of the vehicle in terms of e.g. flight behavior (translational motion, rotation, tilt, stops, hovering, starts/take-offs, etc.) and/or power management.

The behavior of the vehicle may certainly be and in most cases advantageously is adaptive anyway as the used flight controller or generally computer on board may adjust various operation parameters responsive to sensor input during flight. However, by means of explicit information obtained regarding the current module via the suggested connector interface the overall adaptation may still be faster, more comprehensive, more accurate and/or more reliable in contrast to estimation activities merely based on monitored flight time behavior without such explicit knowledge regarding the current payload. The circuit may be coded e.g. by a circuit manufacturer, connector manufacturer, module manufacturer or assembler based on the information available on the target module. The circuit may thus store such data in read-only or re-writable memory for subsequent transfer to the vehicle to enable adaptation and/or registration (e.g. logging) of module details. The data may be provided by the module manufacturer/assembler, for instance. At the time of coding, the circuit may reside in the hosting part (e.g. connector body) or be separate therefrom. Pre- coding the circuit e.g. by the circuit manufacturer or connector manufacturer may be expedient in view of easier subsequent installation of the related connector as the coding phase may be then conveniently omitted by the module manufacturer/assembler.

In cases where an embodiment of the vehicle does not support, or is not at least configured to execute completely autonomous flight, it may be remotely controlled using e.g. an RF (radio frequency) or other wireless controller station such as generally a ground control station incorporating a wireless transmitter or preferably a transceiver to also receive data such as telemetry/sensor data from the vehicle, being therefore compatible with wireless communication means of the airborne vehicle.

In some embodiments, the vehicle and ground/control station may contain several transmitters, transceivers and/or receivers having their own technical characteristics with reference to the used wireless technology (e.g. modulation), frequency band, power, etc. Redundancy may be therefore provided in favor of communication reliability, for example. Alternatively or additionally, different information of e.g. different priority or generally type may be transferred using different technologies with reference to e.g. control commands issued by the control station often considered as more critical data (which may imply using more reliable or longer range communication technology) and telemetry data returned by the vehicle potentially considered less critical (with opposite implications).

Further benefits of the embodiments of the present invention become clear to a person skilled in the art based on the detailed description below. The expression "a number of may herein refer to any positive integer starting from one (1 ).

The expression "a plurality of may refer to any positive integer starting from two (2), respectively.

Different embodiments of the present invention are disclosed in the attached dependent claims.

BRIEF REVIEW OF THE DRAWINGS

Different embodiments of the present invention are next described in more detail with reference to the appended figures, in which Fig. 1 illustrates an embodiment of an aerial device, in this example specifically of UAV type, in accordance with the present invention.

Fig. 2 illustrates an embodiment of a functional module to be introduced as a payload to an aerial device relying on a connector-based interface described herein. illustrates compatible embodiments of module and vehicle end connectors for interfacing the module and vehicle both mechanically and electrically. yields further insight into the embodiment of vehicle end (vehicle-side) connector of Figure 3. yields further insight into the embodiment of module end (module- side) connector of Figure 3 compatible with the vehicle end connector. is a block diagram highlighting few likely elements of various embodiments of the vehicle and functional module connected thereto using the interface generally suggested herein. is a flow diagram of an embodiment of a method in accordance with the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION Figure 1 illustrates, at 101 , one embodiment of an aerial vehicle applicable in the context of the present invention. The vehicle 101 is in the shown axonometric representation essentially of UAV type but one shall acknowledge the fact that the present invention in terms of interfacing a functional module to an aerial vehicle is suitable for use in connection with e.g. manned aerial vehicles as well and even in other uses.

The vehicle 101 is depicted in upright position. It may contain e.g. a centrally located body 102 with a number of fastened and/or monolithic housing element(s). The body/housing 102 may incorporate and accommodate various functional components of the vehicle 101 such as electronics typically including a flight controller and a number of sensors. The body 102 may exhibit e.g. round/spherical or elongated (shown) general shape. For example, aerodynamic properties thereof are preferably considered in the design to minimize the resulting drag.

From the body/housing 102 a plurality of preferably foldable arms 104 (e.g. by means of articulated joint rotatable between a transport position having the arms 104 substantially in parallel with the body and an operation position roughly defining e.g. 'X' shape with the arms 104 as shown), e.g. four arms as shown, may preferably symmetrically extend defining at the remote end receptacles or structures for preferably electric type, optionally brushless, motors with related rotors and propellers 106 such as two blade- (shown) or three-blade propellers. In some embodiments, however the vehicle 101 could additionally or exclusively contain e.g. at least one combustion engine (e.g. gasoline, nitromethane, or diesel run engine).

The body/housing 102 and e.g. arms 104 may essentially consist of or at least comprise carbon fiber, plastics and/or other suitable, preferably durable but light, material . For example, in some embodiments a carbon fiber inner body could be covered with plastic exterior/housing. Preferably the exterior surface generally exhibits smooth surface to avoid (undesired) excessive turbulence and drag. It may further contain grip or other shape(s) that facilitate e.g. handling such as pick up of the vehicle 101 . In the figure, the body/housing 102 defines a top ridge at the very position pointed by the body/housing reference numeral 102 to facilitate grabbing and subsequent carrying operations. The propellers may be of plastic, carbon fiber, wood, etc. depending on the embodiment. Their shape and size may vary as well . Electronic speed controller(s) (ESCs) for the motors 106 may be disposed within the body 102 or e.g. on or inside the aforesaid end receptacles/structures closer to the motors 106 to minimize the length of related 3- phase wiring. Item 1 10 refers to a possible location of a flight pack, i.e. battery, and e.g. related lid, providing electrical power for running the motors and preferably also for other electronics on board, as well as for one or more external modules to be attached to the vehicle 101 via connectors 108.

In some embodiments, though, the vehicle 101 may contain a plurality of packs (batteries) for added reliability (redundancy) and/or for powering e.g. motors with dedicated pack(s) and selected other electronics such as flight controller and/or connected functional module with other pack(s). The utilized battery technology may be e.g. LiPo (Lithium Polymer), Li-Ion or some other feasible technology. The associated voltage depends e.g. on the number of cells the pack (typically 3-12) has and may be selected to best suit each embodiment of the vehicle 101 . The vehicle 101 may support batteries of different chemistry, capacity and/or voltage.

The flight pack mechanism may be a quick-change mechanism. For instance, the pack may be integrated with hard shell, e.g. hard plastic shell, containing a release button for controlling e.g. the movement of a locking protrusion entering a compatible recess in the body 102, or vice versa. In the shown case two connectors 108 for functional modules have been provided in the vehicle 101 but the actual number may vary depending on the embodiments. At least one connector 108 is anyway provided. The connectors 108 may be arranged e.g. in the front and/or back of the body 102 as illustrated in the figure. Also the side surface(s) could be provided with connectors 108 (not shown).

Figure 2 illustrates, at 201 , one embodiment of a functional module provided with a connector 208 for interfacing the module 201 with an aerial vehicle such as the vehicle 101 of Fig. 1 . The module 201 may generally exhibit a desired shape. Generally the shape may be e.g. substantially hemispherical or conical as discussed hereinbefore in favor of aerodynamics (lower drag when facing the wind) and e.g. durability with reference to e.g. potential contacts with external objects or ground. The used material(s) may include e.g. plastic. The exterior surface of the module may be substantially smooth for the reasons discussed hereinearlier, for instance. The body/housing 210 of the module 212 may accommodate a number of distinct features 212 such as lenses or apertures for enabling the included electronics, sensors or other elements to duly interact with the environment for measuring, sampling and/or even cooling purposes, for example. The module 201 may include different electronics such as measurement devices in terms of one or more scanners, cameras, other sensors, sample collectors, servos, a gimbal, etc. as contemplated hereinbefore to execute the tasks it has been designed and later acquired for.

The preferably lightweight connector 208 may have been practically permanently fixed, optionally through molding or using some strong adhesive such as epoxy, to the module 201 or it may be retained in a removable manner using e.g. screws or bolts as mechanical connecting means.

The connector 208 may define a protrusion on the module 201 (or specifically on the body/housing 210) surface, which is then configured to at least partly enter a compatible recess of the vehicle end connector 108, or vice versa. Various features and design guidelines having regard to the connectors 108, 208 are provided hereinlater with particular reference to Figures 3-5.

Fig. 3 roughly illustrates, at 301 , the embodiments of the module-side connector 208 and the vehicle-side connector 108. The connectors 108, 208 have been positioned to face each other in the figure such that the back surface (surface facing the module) of the module end connector 208 and the front surface (surface facing the module and module-side connector) of the vehicle end connector 108 are visible. Generally the connectors 108, 208 may exhibit e.g. a shape of a circular disc but also other shapes are feasible. Yet the connector shapes may contain a number of separate or connected protrusions and/or recesses 308, 310 that facilitate securing the connectors 108, 208 together in a removable, toolless fashion. Material-wise the connectors 108, 208 may contain e.g. plastic, metal or some other feasible material that is durable enough to withstand the strain subjected thereto when the vehicle 101 is in operational use and connected to the module 201 via the connectors 108, 208. The connectors 108, 208 may also mutually differ in terms of the used materials.

Fig. 4 shows the embodiment of the vehicle end connector 108 in more detail. In the front (plan) view at 401 , a central recess 310 such as a hole, optionally a through-hole, generally of e.g. a circle shape is clearly visible in the connector body 402. There is also one or a plurality (shown case) of further recesses 308 on the body 402 face, which are connected to the central recess 310 as extensions thereof. These cut or notch type recesses 308 may be dimensioned so as to accommodate matching ears (protrusions) of the module-side connector 208.

At 410, the external side view of the connector 108 shows the potentially planar overall construction generally establishing e.g. a ring or sleeve shape. The connector 108 may have a number of specific locking and/or status checking features 412 that enable securing it to the module 201 (or specifically, module-side connector 208) and/or the target aerial vehicle 101 . The features 412 may include at least one element selected from the group consisting of: recess, through-hole, screw, bolt, pin, nut, spring-loaded element, and spring-loaded pin. As discussed hereinafter with reference to Fig. 5, the connector 208 on the module-side of the interface may contain a compatible feature such as e.g. spring-loaded pin for the hole type feature 412, or vice versa.

At 420, a cross-sectional illustration of selected potential internals of the connector 108 is given. The connector 108 may contain a movable, e.g. spring-loaded, protective cover 422 that otherwise accommodates the space established by the through-hole type recess(es) 310, 308 of the top layer flange/lip 404 unless pushed back, as illustrated in the other cross-sectional sketch 430, e.g. by the connector 208 upon installation of the module 201 , for a duration the module 201 remains connected.

As indicated by the figure, the connector 108 preferably contains electrical connecting means 424, i.e. conductors, e.g. in the form of contact pads, pins and/or sockets for electrically connecting both to the module 201 (factually connector 208 thereof) and aerial vehicle 101 .

At least some of the electrical connecting means 424 may be located e.g. under the front portion flange/lip 404 of the body 402 between the recesses 308 so that they are better protected and remain protected from the environmental effects (dust, water, impulses, sand, sun, etc.).

With reference to a plan view 501 of Figure 5, the connector 208 may contain electrical connecting means 524 that are spatially positioned therein so as to establish contact with the matching, electrical connecting means 424 of connector 108 when the connectors 108, 208 have been connected and secured together in use position. Yet, similar or different, even shared, electrical connecting means may be provided to electrically couple the connector 208 to the module electronics.

For example, the electrical connecting means 524 of the connector 208 may be located in a number of aforesaid ear type protrusion(s) 508 to contact the means 424 upon securing the connector 208 in response to a push and twist (rotation) connecting action, for example, so that the ear(s) 508 slide or generally move under the lip(s) 404 along a groove or corresponding slit type space formed therein and the connection is made. In the shown case there are three ears 508 each provided with means 524 but in other embodiments the number of ears 508 or related means 524 may vary, which mutatis mutandis applies to the connector 108 as well, as being easily apprehended by a person skilled in the art. Each existing ear 508 indeed does not have to be provided with means 524.

Generally speaking, the 'male' connector 208 may thus incorporate or define protrusion shape(s) that fits the recess(es) of the 'female' connector 108. A central protrusion 510 extending from and/or at least partly defining the body 502 of the connector 208 may be provided with a number of ears (side extensions/protrusions) 508 expanding therefrom laterally.

The protrusion 510 of the mechanical connecting means may indeed define e.g. a substantially cylindrical element rising from e.g. underlying or cornering support surface. The ear protrusions 508 may then extend from the end of such cylindrical wall in lateral direction.

A person skilled in the art will further easily realize that in other embodiments, the connector 208 could be the female one with recess(es) while the connector 108 is provided with male type protrusion(s).

In some embodiments, the connector 208 contains a number of locking features 512 as already alluded to in connection with the description of Fig. 4. The locking feature 512 comprising e.g. a spring-loaded pin shall match the shape and size of the compatible locking feature 412 of the connector 108 and/or of the module 201 , such as a hole, respectively.

In some embodiments, either or both connectors 108, 208 may contain features characterizing the connection made. For example, indicative elements such as indicative mechanical feature (e.g. pin) and/or a light, e.g. LED (light emitting diode), may be included in the features 412, 512. By the position or e.g. illumination status of the element, a party may identify the status of the connection (e.g. mechanical connection ok, electrical connection ok when the light is on). Proper electrical connection may be configured to close the light circuit to turn on the light, for example.

Yet, with reference to side view at 504, the connector 208 preferably contains the electronic circuit 530 for hand-shaking with the vehicle 101 , said hand-shaking incorporating at least transfer of module-characterizing data thereto. The circuit 530 such as an integrated circuit (e.g. microcontroller or ASIC, application-specific integrated circuit) may be provided as surface or embedded, such as in-molded or laminated, element, for example. The body 502, or particularly protrusion 510, 524, may be configured to accommodate the circuit 530, for example.

Fig. 6 depicts, at 602, merely an exemplary block diagram highlighting few selected, likely elements of the embodiments of the vehicle 101 and functional module 201 connected thereto via the connector type interface generally suggested herein. The vehicle 101 comprises a processing means 622 that may refer to a number of processing units such as microprocessors, microcontrollers, signal processors, ASICs, programmable logic chips etc. that may be at least functionally connected to each other. For instance, the vehicle 101 may be provided with a flight controller with e.g. autopilot, auto leveling, flight stabilization and/or navigation features. Optionally Pixhawk ™ based or other generally available controller may be utilized, for instance, instead of or in addition to a fully proprietary device. The operation logic of the generally available controller may be then cultivated as necessary by replacement code and/or additional software code. The flight control feature may, in turn, rely on a number of sensors 628 such as inertial sensors (e.g. accelerometer, gyroscope), distance sensors (e.g. ultrasonic or optical such as laser or lidar), compass, magnetometer, and/or positioning signal receivers 630 (e.g. GPS (Global Positioning System), GLONASS (GLObal NAvigation Satellite System), and/or Galileo). Yet, the sensors 628 may include e.g. IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) including a plurality of, or at least processing (such as combining) data from a plurality of, e.g. aforementioned one or more sensors for use by the processing means 622. Whether the IMU is thus itself at least functionally considered as a part of the means 622 or as a smart collective sensor, is mostly a matter of opinion. Based on the sensor data and e.g. selected sensor fusion algorithm executed, the processing means 622 may be configured to determine control signals e.g. for the motors, or in practice the related ESCs that are optionally integrated with means 622 if not positioned closer to the motors, and e.g. control surfaces to maintain or obtain a desired flight state, e.g. stable state, with different location, navigational (route or flight plan following), orientation/attitude and/or altitude related characteristics such as so-called holding feature trying to maintain preferred flight parameters such as altitude and/or attitude.

The processing means 622 may generally handle the data and establish the related control signals based on control logic that is typically in software format stored in memory 624. The memory 624 may refer to a number of separate memory chips or a memory that is integral with the processing means 622. The software may be run on top of an operating system that is optionally Linux™- based.

Item 632 refers to different elements controlled by the means 622, such as motor(s), related ESC(s), control surfaces that may be e.g. servo-adjusted, and/or potential further actuators.

A number of wireless, typically radio frequency (RF) such as GHz range, transmitters, receivers and/or transceivers 626 following a selected communication scheme or standard may be provided for communication with e.g. control system or station(s) 634, which in a simple scenario refers to a hand-held controller apparatus, or other entities. Technology-wise the communication may implement a selected spread spectrum technique, for example. In some embodiments, one or more of the elements 626 may be configured to preferably wirelessly communicate with the module 201 and specifically, a compatible communication interface thereat directly, i.e. not through connector 108, 208 -based interface. In such variation of the present invention the physical interface between the module 201 and vehicle 101 may be mechanical only, or the wireless interface may additionally back up or complement failing or insufficient electrical one provided by the connectors 108, 208. In some embodiments, communication to/from a number of external elements not even physically connected to the vehicle 101 may be effectuated with reference to e.g. ground or airborne radio beacons, base stations or fellow aerial vehicles including e.g. UAVs. This may take place in addition to the aforesaid satellite signal reception or control signal reception from a control station 634, the latter typically taking placing either directly or via a number of intermediate elements such as signal conveying transceiver stations (e.g. repeaters or base stations).

In some embodiments, the features 626 may include e.g. Bluetooth ™ or Bluetooth low energy™ compliant or based communication element. Alternatively e.g. wireless LAN (local area network) communication may be supported. Yet, the features 626 may include a wireless tag, tag reader and/or transceiver, such as related NFC (Near-Field Communication) compliant element, for data transfer with external elements or the connected module 201 , or some other onboard element.

The vehicle 101 includes at least one instance of an embodiment of a vehicle end connector 108 described herein for connecting to at least one module 201 and specifically, compatible connector 208 thereof.

Via the connectors 108, 208 the vehicle 101 thus obtains e.g. at processing means 622 useful information provided by the circuit 530 regarding the module 201 such as data on weight, weight distribution, dimensions, length, width, thickness, operation requirements, environmental operation requirements, identifier, unique identifier, serial number, manufacturer identifier, class, type, model, power requirements, included sensor, actuator or other technical functionality, parameter control range, and/or supported communication technique or standard.

Accordingly, the operation of the vehicle 101 may be adapted, basically optimized, as the module 201 characteristics are better known. Generally, e.g. a compensation type adaptation may occur to take the changed flight characteristics (e.g. aerodynamics, weight and/or weigh distribution) into account due to module 201 installation. Additionally, the characterizing data may be stored e.g. in memory 624 for logging purposes and optionally signaled forward either immediately or afterwards e.g. towards the control station 634.

The adaptation may involve control of e.g. motor power or motor power bias having regard to at least one motor of the vehicle, take off power of motor, deflection of control surface, e.g. deflection of wing, aileron, elevator, rudder, spoiler, air brake, blade, and/or rotor, flap position, leveling, rotation, tilt, translational motion and/or inertial navigation or related control.

Yet, the adaptation may cover utilization of a technical functionality such as a camera, radar, laser, scanner, other measurement element, communication element, sensor and/or actuator, possibly even a parachute, included in the module 201 and potentially not present in the vehicle 101 otherwise. As one hands-on example of the adaptation, the throttle curve(s) of the motor(s) may be adapted to cater for the indicated weight of the module 201 . For example, if there's only one connector 108 in use e.g. in the front of the vehicle 101 and a functional module 201 of some considerable weight is connected 208 thereto, the vehicle 101 may turn out nose heavy that may be then compensated by raising the throttle curve(s) of the front motors in contrast to the back motors.

The vehicle 101 may naturally contain various other features omitted from the figure.

And as explained hereinbefore, the module 201 may contain various components and elements 612 at least part of which may be electrical or specifically electronic. Different actuators such as servo-controlled mechanisms may be included for control (e.g. alignment of gimbal/camera or other sensor), gripping and/or measurement purposes, for instance. The circuit 530 and/or other electronics provided with the module 201 may communicate e.g. operation parameters of module functionalities to the electronics such as processing means 622 of the vehicle 101 for properly utilizing the functionalities.

The electrical connecting means of the connectors 108, 208 may generally comprise a number of shared and/or dedicated power and data transfer elements such as pins, contact pads, sockets, wiring or other conductive elements. In some embodiments, at least part of the related power and/or data transfer between the module 201 and vehicle 101 could be wireless or contactless and based on e.g. inductive or resonant inductive coupling for the purpose of which the connectors 108, 208 and/or the related host devices (vehicle 101 , module 201 ) themselves should be provided with necessary functionally compatible energy transfer means such as coils and control electronics.

In some embodiments, the vehicle 101 is provided with a ground or 'shore' connection interface (incorporating an applicable vehicle-side connector) for providing electrical power to the vehicle 101 for maintaining electronics active during a battery change, for charging the battery and/or for wired communication with a connected ground device, e.g. controller station 634.

Figure 7 is a flow diagram of an embodiment of a method in accordance with the present invention. The shown diagram is a relatively high level one for clarity reasons as various details regarding the associated technical elements and functionalities have already been thoroughly discussed hereinbefore as being appreciated by a person skilled in the art. Accordingly, a skilled reader can obviously conveniently combine or adapt various already-discussed device category aspects with the teachings of the shown embodiment of the method and vice versa.

At start-up 702, a number of necessary preparatory actions such as acquisition and configuration of the aerial vehicle may be performed. For example, in the case of an auto-navigating UAV, the desired route with related parameters such as waypoints and parameters defining e.g. actions to be executed by a number of connected functional module(s) may be pre-programmed to the flight controller or similar computer residing onboard. A skilled person will appreciate the fact that in many embodiments it is possible to control various functionalities of the vehicle and connected modules also using a remote control station such as a hand-held controller device. At 704, the vehicle-side connector(s) are obtained and installed at the vehicle either permanently (e.g. molded or laminated using adhesive) or removably (using e.g. screws). This may, on the other hand, have taken place already during the manufacture or assembly of the vehicle. At 706, the module(s) are provided with module-side connector(s), respectively, using permanent or removable attachment. Also these connectors may be provided at the time of general module manufacture or assembly.

At 708, the electrical or preferably electronic circuit(s) (preferably one per connector/module), such as a microcontroller or ASIC, is coded to carry information about the related module to be delivered to the vehicle. The circuit may be coded prior to, upon, or after installing at the connector either permanently (e.g. molding) or removably (placed in a socket, for example). The circuit may comprise a wireless and/or wired (e.g. connector-based) programming interface. At 710, the vehicle and the module(s) are connected together using the connectors in accordance with the related, mutually compatible/matching embodiments of the present invention. The vehicle and thus also the module (preferably via the connector interface) may be now powered by connecting e.g. the battery and switching the power on (if e.g. such switch is implemented and in use). Alternatively, the vehicle may have been already powered earlier.

At 712, in response to power-up and/or some other triggering event(s) such as predefined communication event(s) taking place between the vehicle and the circuit, the circuit transmits information characterizing the module and optionally the module-side connector itself, such as associated weight data, to the vehicle.

Generally, communication between the vehicle and the module(s) may apply e.g. selected Ethernet or other serial standard. Yet, e.g. video and/or audio data transferred may be coded according to H.264 or some other applicable protocol/standard. The coded data may be transmitted also to the control station over the air interface or possible wired ground/maintenance or other connection.

At 714, the vehicle adapts its operation (one or more functions or functionalities, such as motor drive control e.g. via throttle curves) based on the received information as contemplated hereinbefore.

The vehicle may take off. It may auto-navigate according to a pre-programmed navigation scheme with various waypoints and/or fly more dynamically according to the control commands transmitted by a control station in real-time using wireless signals. As mentioned hereinbefore, the data link(s) between the vehicle and e.g. control station may be unidirectional (e.g. transfer of module-based data such as sensor data or other telemetry data to the control station or transfer of control commands from the control station to the vehicle) or bidirectional. The vehicle may contain a data structure such as a look-up table linking more implicit or general information received, such as serial number or module model id, to adaptation actions, adaptation rules or technical characteristics subsequently inputted in the adaptation logic. Alternatively or additionally, the information may include more explicit characterization data such as weight data indicative of module weight for use in adaptation.

Adaptation based on the received characterizing information may be a one-time event or process thus executed only once e.g. prior to take-off preferably right after receiving the information from the circuit. Alternatively, the adaption may refer to a multi-step or substantially continuous, regular or intermittent activity.

The received characterizing information may affect the general adaptation the vehicle in any case executes during operation responsive to various adaptation- triggering events such as detection of reduced stability, for example.

The scope is defined by the attached independent claims with appropriate national extensions thereof having regard to the applicability of the doctrine of equivalents.