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Team #6

PG&E: Long Distance Unmanned Aerial System

Final Report
Derek Hollenbeck
Jonathon Madueno
Bryan Galindo
Yi Wang
Marcus Chow
Huong Phan

Team Lead
Safety Officer
Drone Technician


Executive Summary
Overall System Design
Modeling and Analysis
Risk Assessment
Summary and Recommendations

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Executive Summary: A short document or section of a document, produced for business

purposes, that summarizes a longer report or proposal or a group of related reports in such
a way that readers can rapidly become acquainted with a large body of material without
having to read it all.
Sponsor Contact: Francois Rongere, Gas Operations PG&E
UCM Faculty Mentor: Dr. YangQuan Chen
This report was written to document the work of Capstone team #6 for the University of
California, Merced School of Engineering. The project will aim to study and design a
telecommunication system that can control a UAS on long distance, with a request of greater
than 100 miles. Solutions include the use of a high altitude antenna that can be easily deployed in
the field.

Introduction: Give the background and the goals for the proposed project. Discuss similar
designs and what you did that is different or better. Subsections to include overview and
problem background, project objectives and mission statement
Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) play important and reliable roles for the inspection of gas and
electricity utilities. Unfortunately, one limitations is to fly within the line of sight of the operator.
This ensures a permanent active control of the UAS. This supervision issue tremendously affect
the true potential of UAS for inspections of long systems such as pipelines and powerlines. In
order to gain full active supervision of the UAS beyond the line of sight, the device must be in
complete communication with the operator. With this, the new limitation would be the range of
the radio-telecommunication due to the horizon as seen by the antenna of the operator station.
The primary objective to the long distance unmanned aerial system assessment was to design a
reliable long distance communication system to be implemented on any small Unmanned Aerial
System (sUAS) for surveying missions, while optimizing control over geographical landforms,
earth curvature, free space loss and system limitations. Specific numerical constraints were
assigned and are listed below:

Communication: greater than 100 miles, target 200 miles

System Budget: $100,000
Flight Speed: 15 - 30 [mph]
Flight Altitude: 100 - 500 [ft]

PG&E operates a total of 42,141 miles of natural gas distribution pipelines and 6,438 miles of
transmission pipelines, making it the 2nd largest gas transmission and distribution system in the
United States. PG&E regularly survey its 70,000 square mile service area by foot, air and
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vehicle. By foot, PG&E partnered with NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory to bring high
technologies gas-leak detection equipment that are used on the Mars Rover. Through the vehicle
method, Super Sensitive Gas Survey Vehicles utilize a stainless steel sniffer mounted on the
vehicle with Picarro surveying technology. Lastly, the air method involves Bell Long Ranger
helicopters locating new construction sites near pipelines, marking the sites using Geographic
Information System (GIS) mapping data.
New pipeline surveying methods are needed to ensure safe reliable service to customers. This is
extremely necessary due to the San Bruno Tragedy that occurred in September 2010, where a gas
pipeline exploded killing eight people. More recently, in November 2015, a Bakersfield pipeline
exploded when an agricultural worker excavated on a main line. With complete supervision and
communication with the pilot, pipeline surveying methods can assure high quality and safety.

Overall System Design: Describe your design, design methodology, and how you solved the
challenges encountered during your design process. Subsections to include subsystem
When compiling possible solutions, a few regulations needed to be considered to ensure safety
and accuracy. The constraints are described below, acronyms are used to provide convenience.
Regulations and Assumptions:
i. FAA (Federal Aviation Administration)
ii. FCC (Federal Communication Commission) remember to mention Ham license
iii. UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management)
Both the FAA and FCC had key roles when setting the regulations for this project. The FCC
regulations mainly provided guidelines for the US frequency allocations, with range of
frequencies that cannot be interfered with in order to maintain safety. The FAA targeted specific
requirements such as not violating the current beyond line of sight and frequency power
transmission. This can be linked to a key potential risk factor, such as: losing communication
with the UAV, resulting in dangers of harming property and civilians including intentional
downing of aircraft.
Before implementation, important assumptions had to be made to move forward. The main
assumption was that UTM can and will be implemented in near future. Since UAV traffic control
is currently in the progress, once completed, this will enable UAS systems to navigate safely
with current Air Traffic Control (ATC) systems and other UAS systems. Due to time constraint,
UTM should be considered to be done. The second assumption is that FAAs experimental
aircraft certificate of authorization (COA) is achieved in order for Research and Development
testing to be conducted beyond line of sight. According to the FAA, this process usually takes
about 60 90 days, depending on the current complication of the system and operation. This
allows the team to legally perform flights beyond the line of sight in the future. Lastly, the final
assumption was that existing propulsion systems can reach constraint distances requested,
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therefore the main focus will be emphasized on designing functional long distance
communication solutions.
Initial Solutions:
For the Preliminary Design Review, three solutions were designed.
1. Point to Point Communication

Design ones safety fully relies on the tracking in order to maintain a video feed, in which is
reliable within the curvature of the earth from ground. It is low to medium cost to implement,
due to it being a medium sized system. Little to no maintenance is required.
2. Cellular Network

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Design twos safety is dependent on 3G/4G network for stability, in which is reliable within the
limited range of the network coverage. It is low cost to implement, due to it being a lightweight
and manageable system. Little to no maintenance is required, hardly any fixing is needed when
failure occurs, only troubleshooting.
3. Geostatic balloon relay station

Design threes safety relies on the repeater used and the stability of the balloon, in which is
reliable due to the flexible system and omnidirectional antennas. It is high cost to implement, due
to the many components needed. Resulting in decent maintenance required.

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A conclusion was decided that design three, a geostatic balloon relay station, was the most
reasonable solution. This is assuming that inspection of transmission pipelines are done over
rural and remote areas. This is the most mobile, flexible and safest system to implement
providing the highest theoretical range. It is capable of carrying a payload. To bypass the FAA
BLOS regulation, the system will be tested on the ground in order to simulate flying. A Control
RC car is utilized in a controlled environment, allowing the solution to follow the FCC
regulation regarding the frequency allocation and power limitations.
Our systems:
i. SUAs
ii. Balloon Repeater
iii. Ground Control

With our balloon repeater communication solution, constraints limited possibilities and designs.
Regulations disclosed by the FAA regarding weather balloons are as follows:
1. Cell Phones are not permitted to track high-altitude weather balloons in flight.
2. Payloads cannot exceed a package weight/size ratio of three ounces per square inch.
3. No payload package can exceed 6 lb in weight.
4. Entire weight of all payloads cannot exceed 12 lb in total weight (Excludes weight of balloon).
5. No rope or cable should be used which requires more than 50lb of force to separate payload
packages from balloon.
6. No one may launch a high-altitude weather balloon which creates a hazard to other people and
property. (i.e. Incorrect parachute, faulty rigging, inappropriate launch location)
7. No one may use a high-altitude weather balloon to drop objects (i.e. gliders and projectiles)

Topics and Concepts:

1)Line of Sight & First Person View
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According to the FAA, drones are to only be operated within the line of sight of their pilots. First
person view piloting (FPV), in which the pilot is able to see what the drone sees as it flies, can be
considered as a feasible alternative to line of sight flying. This is possible through goggle like
equipment providing midair situational awareness to the pilots, with a combination of great
peripheral vision and cockpit-esque view for drone pilots. Drone pilots vision are stationed on
the ground, potentially affected by surrounding distractions resulting in collisions. Midair crash
are drastic and can cause plenty of damage including harming civilians and valuable equipment.
This regulation has been vaguely known as the sense and avoid technical solution where
drones are informed to other aircrafts of their locations and automatically steer clear remotely.
This was specifically enforced to prevent failure of equipment particularly when drones are
around airplanes.
2)Free Space Loss

Attenuation of electric field intensity in free-space

Free space path loss is the disappearing of an electromagnetic waves signal strength. This results
from a signal traveling through a line-of-sight path free space, commonly occurring in air. This is
due to no obstacles nearby, not allowing reflection of diffraction to occur. The free space path
loss can be determined through the following formula (insert it here), resulting in units of
3)Antennas: directional and omnidirectional

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Two variations of antennas were used during the process of prototyping, directional and
With directional antennas, the signal coverage is performed in a specified linear direction. The
directional must be targeted at the direction of the signal transmitter or receiver for the best
strength and quality. This is why we choose to installed this ___. By knowing the width of the
reception cone of the antenna, the aim can best be ensured, this can be quickly judged by the
decibel isotropic (dBi) rating. The higher dBi rating, the further the distance covered with the
direction you point the antenna. This does not refer to the area. Directional antennas are best
used to gain reach due to a signal being sent or received in one direction, providing many
different applications.
Omnidirectional antennas can cover a large wanted area in all directions. They are most
commonly used to transmit or receive a signal when the transmit location is known or close by.
Unlike directional antennas, these do not need to be pointed in a specific direction since the
radiation cone is 360 degrees providing coverage in all directions. Similar to directional
antennas, the dBi rating can determine the performance of the antenna, the higher the value the
larger the area covered. Uniquely, the lower the rating, the further the signal will be reached on a
vertical plane, eliminating the horizontal reach. Likewise, the higher the dBi rating, the further
distance is reached on a horizontal plane, also loosing strength on the vertical reach.
4) Telemetry
Telemetry is the sensing and measuring of information at some remote location and then
transmitting that information to a central or host location. It can be monitored to control a
process at the remote site. Various mediums or methods of transmitting data from one site to
another have been used. For instance, data radio provides a wireless method for transmitting the
information. Telemetry using radio waves or wireless offers several distinct advantages over
other transmission methods. Some of these advantages include:

No transmission lines to be cut or broken.

Faster response time

Lower cost compared to leased lines

Ease of use in remote areas where it is not practical or possible to use wire or
coaxial cables
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Easy relocation

Functional over a wide range of operating conditions Properly designed radio

links can provide low cost, effective and flexible data gathering systems that operate for
many years with very little maintenance.
5) Batteries
An inspiring case of fully functional propulsion systems can reach constraint distances requested
is Utah State Universitys Blue Jay. This sUAV utilizes Aggieairs newest platform, compacting a
maximum take-off weight of 26.5lbs while covering a total distance of 160 miles with this
maximum payload. The aircraft function off of two 22 A.h lithium polymer batteries, allowing
3.3 hours of flight at a rate of 51 miles per hour.
When searching for batteries that can be compatible with our system, three options are focused:
lithium polymer, ion and iron phosphate. These three were rated as most commonly used. A
comparison was completed among three 22 A.h batteries in order to maintain consistency.
Lithium polymer batteries are sleeker and thinner than lithium ion weighing about 2.7 lbs.
Lithium ion batteries have higher densities, yet costing less to manufacture varying from 3.5 to
4.8 lbs. Lastly, lithium iron phosphate batteries can be used as storage cells and power sources.
These usually weigh around 6 lbs and are said to be one of the longest lasting batteries
Modeling and Analysis: Present a discussion of your design drawings, stress analysis, and
computer or mathematical models. Place figures, screenshots, and tables where they
enhance discussion in the text. Graphs and statistics are always useful to summarize large
amounts of data, and are desirable in technical documents. Subsections to include
prototype rational, prototype design, prototype costs
All of the equipment used are for the ground control system, the balloon repeater system, and the
sUAS system to begin preliminary testing.
sUAS - With current systems we would have to send telemetry and video data separately to the
balloon repeater system and capture it using two tracking systems. A software defined radio
system to multiplex the video and telemetry data to reduce the number of antennas to one.
Balloon Repeater System - On top of using a tracking system, the range can be increased from
adding a diversity controller to the system to allow switching between a directional and omnidirectional antenna. This will allow the user to fly close range and long range.
The following figure summarizes the specifications of the components used

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Balloon/ Relay Station

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Quantity link

teflon tape

gas regulator

1" diameter PVC tube

to fill balloon with helium

Balloon w/ Rope

add cost and other needed accessories.

**Yagi Antenna**

Mounting Hardware
RX 1.3 GHz


1 airspy

Recieves signal to be diplexed

Gimbal/Servo system (tracking)


1 hobbyking

can use servos and arduino

Microcontroller (tracking)


1 adafruit


MicroCrontroller (Diplexing)


1 adafruit

Raspberry Pi

Dragon link 433MHz transmitter


1 fpvpro


2.4G 6CH S603 Receiver


1 ebay

Purchase if using dx7 from lab

3DR 900MHz Transceiver*


1 ebay

Comes in kit with 2 including wires and


TX: SkyZone TS5823 5.8GHz

32CH A/V 200mW


1 hobbyking



Ground station


Price Quantity link

spectrum dx7, possibly can use ones from lab.

Transmitter Radio 2.4 GHz?

FrSky Radio / reciever

VRX 5.8Ghz
3DR 900MHz Transceiver
Program (Mission Planner)



1 horizonhobby if not look into fysky

comes with x8r receiver.
1 quadcopternyc if purchasing remove s603 6ch receiver

2 hobbyking

autoscan, two a/v ports and RSSI 7.4-12.6V

get 2 if we can afford display.
Dipole antenna included.

already covered in balloon system

1 ebay

shows what pilot is seeing

inputs telemetry data



1 hobbyking

minimOSD for pixHawk/APM

5.8GHz Goggles (FPV) or equiv.


1 hobbyking

diy googles.

antenna included in video receiver

5.8 GHz antenna for FPV



VTX 1.3GHz (800mW 12V)
-SDR transmitter

Price Quantity link/store?


Skew Planar Wheel Antenna

12V Camera


1 Hack RF One


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1 ebay

600tvl cmos, NTSC and PAL

PixHawk APM


1 3dr

Might be able to find a kit which includes

GPS, Telemetry, and Barometer

Pitot-Static Tube
Rubber tubing
Differential Pressure Sensor


1 3dr


1 hobbyking

12V/4.5A out, 7.2-21V in for Lipo (2s-5s)


1 hobbyking

3A/5V out, 6-23V in for Lipo

Lipo Battery? 14.8V?

a few cheap ones.

MicroCrontroller (Multiplexing)


1 adafruit

DragonLink Mini Reciever


1 fpvpro

Raspberry Pi

barometer sensor


Grand Total


Results: Discuss your final design status, performance, applicable testing results, and
implementation predictions. Describe how your design fits in a global and societal context.
Provide actual costs for your project.
New pipeline surveying methods are needed to ensure safe reliable service to customers. This is
extremely necessary due to many instances of gas/chemical leaks affecting the lives of civilians.
With complete supervision and communication with the pilot, pipeline surveying methods can
assure high and safety results when surveying construction sites or leaks.
Risk Assessment
When it comes to the risk assessment of the design, a number of protocols must be followed in
order to ensure the safety of others and the design itself. What follows are a number of risk
factors any user operating the system is advised to keep in mind.

Loss of communication with the UAV can easily result in dangers of harming property
and civilians and intentional downing of aircraft.
FCC, not to interfere with important US frequency allocations
FAA restrictions not to overload current Beyond Line of Sight constraints and exceed the
frequency power transmission.
Other human trial and errors can potentially occur. Therefore, taking precautions are
mandatory in order to conduct safe testing.

Summary and Recommendations

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