Flying hundreds of drones simultaneously while controlling their flight patterns through a software platform was always a technical challenge, but not anymore.
During the week-long Republic Day celebrations in January this year, 1000 drones made by BotLab Dynamics, a Delhi-based startup, created various formations in the sky. Drones in the colors of the Indian national flag can be seen rising, slowly forming a globe, and circling in the air—mimicking the motions of the Earth.
“We were asked to place all the drones and recover them in less than an hour,” said Tanmay Bunkar Co-founder of BotLab Dynamics. “When the Department of Defense approached us, we only had 50 systems, but the demonstration required 1000!” The company accepts this challenge and knows how to scale the technology quickly. They soon realized that scaling might be less of a technology problem and more of a logistical problem.
BotLab Dynamics has demonstrated its technology for almost all Indian military bases—the first in 2019—for the Indian Army. They are the first group in India to display a fleet of ten drones from a ground control station. What is interesting is that these drones can communicate with each other. If one of them does not work, it can assign its role to any other.
The standard BotLab Dynamics hardware suite:
- Motor Controller
- Flight controller
- Precision GPS Module
Drone swarms are the new fireworks! Since defense hardware takes time to mature, the company has also started working on drones. They need to develop native solutions to control costs and build the associated software that makes the drone show happen. “We started with off-the-shelf ingredients,” Bunkar said. “We knew how the controls worked – we just needed cheap hardware to run our logic. So, we decided to build our own systems.”
Using an RTK system and ground base station, they improve the accuracy of their GPS by collecting data and using the data to correct the drones’ positions. “A normal GPS on a good day can give you 2m to 5m accuracy. Our GPS can position itself within 10cm of a designated area,” Bunkar explained.
For each site, they installed spectrum analyzers. Then they moved to the software side. They use animation software and write code that translates an image into a point lump, which is then used to generate flight paths. Because of this, they use simulation software to maintain all the drones. This is done to avoid collisions and profile speeds.
BotLab Dynamics is currently working on a RISC V controller. They have a soft core that works on an FPGA. In the near future, the company hopes to make its own silicon! Bunkar believes that having the necessary technical know-how in-house is very important. This knowledge is exactly what has helped the company grow and scale at a meteoric rate.
This article was put together by EFY’s Aaryaa Padhyegurjar from the Startup Showcase session at VLSI 2022. The session was moderated by Dhanapathy Krishnamoorthy, Principal Engineer at Intel Corporation.