8 March 2014

Kenya: Naivasha 'Flying Object' Is a Helicam, Says Expert

Photo: African skyCAM
The African skyCAM, a piloted drone used to assist journalists.

The "mysterious flying object" that crashed on a Naivasha farm on a Wednesday night is a multirotor helicam, an expert told the Star yesterday.

Ben Kreimer, who works with the drone journalism laboratory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said only the pilot would know why the craft crashed but suggested it was possible it ran out of battery, resulting in a fall or went out of control when it lost connection with the remote control transmitter. Such scenarios are known for causing multirotor crashes.

"It's important to point out that this crashed helicam used the open source Arducopter APM autopilot flight system. The APM software has safety features which the user can turn on and set up based on their needs. For example, the autopilot can engage if the aircraft flies out of transmitter range, flying the multirotor back to the pilot. Or if the aircraft's battery gets too low, the autopilot can automatically land the multirotor, preventing a potentially dangerous plummet to the ground," Kreimer said.

The expert said the APM's safety features is that the user must set up and test them to ensure they function as desired. "The Arducopter quadcopter I have worked with did not come out of the box with the safety features turned on. Nor did it come with a system for monitoring battery levels. Such functionality had to be added and engaged by the user. And while I can't be certain given the lack of information, it's quite possible the user of this crashed hexacopter had not engaged or properly set up the APM's safety features prior to flying," he said.

Although more information is needed to understand why this hexacopter fell in Naivasha, it's very likely that the implementation of safety features would have prevented the crash.

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