Celebrating International Women's Day 2018

The theme for 2018's International Women's Day (IWD) is #PressForProgress - there are many aspects to this, for example challenging statements that limit women and assuming women want opportunities until declined.

Engineering - and the drone industry - are somewhat infamous for their masculine culture. Oftentimes if we talk about flying for a particular project, or discussing the design of our drone, you'll hear things like "when can the boys go and fly?" or "can you check with him about this aspect?".

This seems like a minor difference in language, but the assumption that drone pilots or engineers are automatically male is part of the inclusive mindset that IWD advocates for.

I've personally worked with remarkable drone pilots and engineers, both female and male, and the best results usually come about when we work as a team and are able to communicate with each other.

Studies on teams in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) have shown that achieving gender parity within the group is key to improving collective intelligence and group performance, and "having a few 'token' women on scientific teams does not appear to be sufficient in order to improve performance."

In other words, our actions now will have an effect on future STEM team performance and allow women in STEM teams to perform to their fullest.

I was fortunate to be keynote speaker for the Department of Employment, Small Business and Training's Alice Through The Looking Glass IWD event to encourage young women in high school to choose entrepreneurship and non-traditional STEM careers and in the process, break through glass ceilings.

Having a mechanical and aerospace engineering background and currently the Head of Operations for Skyborne's aerial services division, I'd like to lead by example and show what opportunities are available to these young women. 

  Photo: Andrea Ambrosio

Photo: Andrea Ambrosio

Enjoying the lolly bar

The splendid Salt House in Cairns was also host to an IWD luncheon to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House Charities. I was privileged as guest speaker to present what we can achieve with drones, ranging from beautiful promotional material to aerial photogrammetry and LiDAR surveys.

One of the themes for IWD is to challenge stereotypes and how better to demonstrate this than to extend what we expect from drones (photography) and the image of the drone pilot and engineer?

Sneak peek of our Cerberus prototype amongst charity auction items - stay tuned for more news!

One of the most groundbreaking examples of this technology is the discovery of a huge Mayan megalopolis in the Guatemalan jungle - the overgrown vegetation has hidden the pyramids and roads for centuries. Flying over the site with a UAV equipped with LiDAR, the laser beams penetrate through the treetops and to the rock structures beneath, allowing for even more research possibilities and adding to our collective knowledge of previous civilisations.

Spoilt by Salt House!

Chocolate heaven

International Women's Day doesn't start or end on March 8 - it's a continual challenge to our inherent biases, to genuinely respect the abilities of each and every person, and paying attention to our day-to-day behaviours.

Skyborne supports giving opportunities to capable individuals and will continue to stand for equality.

How much work goes into engineering and producing aerial videos?


Skyborne is proud to share this engineering-focused video of the Sunshine Coast University Hospital. We filmed the entire video with drones, including the interior shots! The intention was to combine stunning aerial footage with an overwhelming amount of engineering and services facts, which may mean you'll have to watch the video several times. 

This video really highlights some of the functional areas of a building that may not always be appreciated - for example, we don't usually think about how the air conditioning system is designed or how it's been made more efficient in operation. Similarly for the engineers who worked on the mechanical plants or the structure of the building, their efforts usually go unnoticed.

It's also a wonderful example of how much effort goes into producing a video. The footage for this video spanned an entire day from morning to night and obviously involved a great deal of flight planning and coordination on the day. Flying drones is physically demanding and under an Australian summer sun this can quickly become taxing.

Once all the aerial footage was shot, post-production came into play. It may be surprising to learn that selecting appropriate shots or gathering all the necessary factsheets involved several people and is not a straightforward exercise. On top of that, each fact and each accompanying arrow, line, or shape were added and timed individually. It's not a trivial matter to add text to follow the underlying footage, despite how simple it may seem. And of course, things like colour correction and ensuring the video flowed well were considered.

This labour-intensive process is well worth the effort if the vision is to create a high quality, full production aerial video. At Skyborne we pursuit excellence and always aim to create the best work we can. To see more of our work and find out how aerial footage works for you, click here.


Our aerial flythrough of the SCUH.

Motor and Propeller Performance - Going beyond analytical results

A lot of thought goes into designing an efficient flying vehicle - if you've ever seen flaps on a passenger jet's wings, you'll have some idea of how many parts are involved in keeping a plane stable.

On a UAV, the same principles apply on a smaller scale. If the UAV encounters a gust of wind (turbulence") or needs to manoeuvre quickly, there needs to be stabilisation to prevent the disturbance from overwhelming the UAV. This is where practical testing for the motor/propeller combination is useful for obtaining actual flight characteristics so that the vehicle design can be improved.

We've made use of these characteristics during our R&D process and enlisted the help of our masters student, Zachary, to design and build this test rig. It features a gimbal-like mechanism to transmit the forces produced by the propeller and wind tunnel along the two axes, a variable force transducer location to utilise the full capacity of the load cell regardless of the electric motor/propeller combination used, and a universal motor mount to permit the mounting of various types and sizes of electric motors. The test rig also rotates on a stand to allow for testing of the propellers at multiple angles of attack (if mounted inside wind tunnel). 

On the primary axis is a subminiature load button load cell with a capacity of 111N (11kg) and this measures forces produced directly by the propeller. The secondary axis has a load cell with a capacity of 44.5N (4.5kg) and it measures the reactionary torque and lesser forces produced by drag of the test rig within the wind tunnel. The signals measured by the load cells are amplified on the data acquisition board and passed to the flight computer to be processed. 

The entire test rig was manufactured in-house from aluminium, along with 2 key shafts in steel for greater stiffness. The data acquisition board was also manufactured in-house. 

Results from this test rig can come from various combinations of fan speed and angles of attack, depending on the desired operating conditions.

  • Thrust is the primary data obtained from these tests - it directly measures how efficient this motor and propeller combination is.
  • Reactionary torque, as mentioned earlier, requires a secondary transducer in the perpendicular axis in order to measure it - this also means it can't be calculated analytically easily, which is why testing is crucial.
  • Impulse testing can also be performed - this determines how long it takes a given signal to reach a stable level, which affects the control systems design of the UAV. 

Are you designing your own UAV and would like real performance data for your chosen components? We can test motor/propeller combinations from anywhere - we can obtain the parts or if you prefer, send the components to us. To download a sample file of the data obtained from this testing, click here.

Announcing the Toadinator 8000

As the R&D lead for the Cerberus drone project, sometimes you get bogged down in detail and end up with a singular all-encompassing focus. This has its advantages, principally the delivery of robust and reliable systems, but one disadvantage is that creativity can be squashed. As a project progresses through its technical stages, innovative input (necessarily) diminishes as the prototype or product evolves.

This is why at Skyborne, we like to take a break from the long-cycle R&D process and just have a bit of fun. We like to give engineering interns intense, month-long challenges on machines that will push their design and practical prowess to the limits. Previously, we designed a 360 degree camera rover comprising of 6 Go-Pro cameras on a tripod, which was in turn mounted on a low speed skid-steer remote controlled base. We also established the viability of an ‘E-Roc’ Electronic Rocket, which looks at using a ducted fan in a long cylindrical vehicle.  

The Toadinator 8000 concept originally came from my girlfriend. She’s originally from North Queensland where toad infestations are out of control. She also hates toads with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. “Why can’t you make a machine to kill these things?” Well actually... maybe we could. Along came intern Josh, a very practical hands-on graduate that would be perfect for the role. With a very limited budget, Josh designed, manufactured, assembled and tested this little beast in just over a month. It has an FPV camera, a headlight, a pan-tilt turret and a Dettol pumping system so that you can sit on your camper chair and eliminate toads at will. For those of you unaware, Dettol kills toads in short order and has the same active ingredient as HopStop, which is sanctioned for toad elimination.

Of course we’ve got a few more mods to make. We need to make it waterproof, more crash-proof, cheaper for you and definitely with more lasers. You can’t have something with the suffix “inator” without a laser!  

Of course, if you’re interested in eventually buying the Toadinator for evening fun, check out toadinator.com and register your interest! We’ll let you know if we float a kickstarter campaign or if the unit becomes available for sale. Also check out and share our video. The more interest we have, the more likely we’ll be able to raise some development capital and push this onto the market. Remember to pay attention to the difference between a frog and a toad and don’t shoot irresponsibly! Other than that, happy hunting.   

So if you have a wacky invention idea, shoot it over! If you’re a well-accomplished engineering student who is looking for some hands-on experience, shoot us an email!