The patent's assignee is
News editors obtained the following quote from the background information supplied by the inventors: "The present invention relates generally to aircraft guidance and control with differential global navigation satellite systems (DGNSSs), and in particular to a DGNSS-based system and method for optimizing crop dusting with dry materials.
"GNSS guidance and control are widely used for vehicle and personal navigation and a variety of other uses involving precision location in geodesic reference systems. GNSS, which includes the Global Positioning System (GPS) and other satellite-based positioning systems, can achieve greater accuracy with known correction techniques, including a number of commercial satellite based augmentation systems (SBASs).
"Aircraft are often used to spray and dust croplands, forests and other land areas with chemicals, fertilizers, seeds, water, fire suppressants and other materials. These materials may be liquid or solid. An important objective in spraying and dusting crops and in aerial firefighting is even coverage without gaps or overlaps. Another major objective is avoiding exclusion areas, which can be located internally within a field or forest being treated, or externally beyond its borders. Dry materials are typically dropped from fixed and rotary wing aircraft using spreaders. These spreaders clamp to a gate box at the base of a hopper located inside of the fuselage. As the gate box is opened, material flows from the hopper into the spreader and is pushed out behind the aircraft by air passing through the spreader. Historically these systems had to be operated manually, but methods now exist that will allow these systems to operate electronically and/or hydraulically via switches in the cockpit. However, precise distribution control presents challenges with existing equipment.
"Aircraft can use venturi spreaders to distribute seed, dusting material, and other chemicals. Venturi spreaders clamp to a gate box at the base of a hopper. As the adjustable door of the gate box opens, seeds, chemicals and other materials from the hopper fall into the venturi spreader and airflow through the spreader distributes it. The amount the door is opened determines the material flow rate. Optional agitators to help material exit the hopper and gate box assembly can also be included.
"Ideally the material being dropped from the aircraft will entirely cover the property being targeted while avoiding exclusion areas. However, factors such as the altitude of the aircraft, the ground speed of the aircraft, temperature, humidity, moisture content of the material and ambient wind speed and direction can affect the results. Flying too high or too low can distort the swath of the spread and result in misapplication of the material. Guidance systems, such as DGNSS, combined with electronic controllers for the spreading equipment, can optimize crop dusting.
"Aerial photography, videography, surveying and telemetry procedures commonly require accurate navigation and aircraft locating equipment and methods in order to achieve optimum results. Flight guidance has also been automated with autopilots, automatic landing systems, navionics and other equipment. Such procedures can benefit from accurate GNSS-based control systems and methods.
"DGNSS can utilize satellite based augmentation systems (SBAS), including the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) (U.S.), and similar systems such as EGNOS (
"Another benefit achieved by incorporating a GNSS-based heading sensor is the elimination or reduction of drift and biases resultant from a gyro-only or other inertial sensor approach. Yet another advantage is that heading may be computed while movable equipment is stopped or moving slowly, which is not possible in a single-antenna, GNSS-based approach that requires a velocity vector to derive a heading. Yet another advantage of incorporating a GNSS-based heading sensor is independence from a host vehicle's sensors or additional external sensors. Thus, such a system is readily maintained as equipment-independent and may be moved from one vehicle to another with minimal effort.
"An example of a GNSS is the Global Positioning System (GPS) established by the
"In standalone GPS systems that determine a receiver's antenna position coordinates without reference to a nearby reference receiver, the process of position determination is subject to errors from a number of sources. These include errors in the GPS satellite's clock reference, the location of the orbiting satellite, ionosphere-induced propagation delay errors, and troposphere refraction errors.
"To overcome these positioning errors of standalone GPS systems, GPS applications have been improved and enhanced by employing a broader array of satellites such as GNSS and WAAS. For example, see commonly assigned U.S. Pat. No. 6,469,663 to Whitehead et al. titled Method and System for GPS and WAAS Carrier Phase Measurements for Relative Positioning, dated
"Heretofore there has not been available a GNSS system and method for guiding aircraft to optimize various procedures, including the spreading of solid material accurately on a predetermined area within relatively precise boundaries while avoiding exclusion areas with the advantages and features of the present invention."
As a supplement to the background information on this patent application, VerticalNews correspondents also obtained the inventors' summary information for this patent application: "In practice, an exemplary embodiment of the present invention uses a GNSS system(s) in combination with a hydraulically-actuated, airborne dispenser for a dry material crop dusting system to optimize the distribution of dry materials over a particular tract of land. The system is applicable to agriculture, but is not limited to that purpose. The system includes a GNSS subsystem with at least one GNSS antenna and one GNSS receiver located on the aircraft. The system also includes an electronic/hydraulic crop dusting subsystem connected to the GNSS. The GNSS ranging signals received by the antennas are processed by a receiver and processor system for determining the vehicle's position and dynamic attitude in three dimensions (3D). A graphical user interface (GUI) placed in the vehicle will give the driver a real-time view of his or her current bearing as well as a calculated 'optimal path' based on calculations and variable data, such as wind speed and direction, material moisture content, altitude, air speed and other conditions.
"Information that GNSS can provide to the pilot of an aircraft includes not only the current position, but extends to providing the pilot with knowledge of the ideal flight path to provide relatively even distribution of dry material over the desired tract of land. An integrated system will use the GNSS system to control the gate box of the hydraulic crop dusting system. The GNSS guidance system will recognize the ideal time to open or close the gate, how far to open the gate and how much to alter the gate opening during flight based on fluctuations in ground speed. The gate positions can also change automatically based on data entered into a pre-designed map of varying rates. The opening and changing of gate positions are intended to achieve a continual optimal desired output while the guidance system is ensuring an even distribution of the dry material. Other exemplary embodiments include an aerial camera for photography or videography, a telemetry device, a laser altimeter and components, including software, for aerial mapping and surveying. Automatic and assisted landing functions can be accomplished with the DGNSS-based control system supplemented with the laser altimeter.
"An ideal function of the present invention is to gather information using an aircraft and a dry gate device and to save this information into a profile to be used during later dusting/spreading sessions over the same piece of land. This profile information will be used to calibrate a gate box assembly and control system as well as the GNSS guidance system. Information stored in the profile will include gate box metering data, GNSS flight path data, and visual imaging or telemetry data gathered by an included camera and/or telemetry device. A crop dusting control system aspect of the present invention includes a GNSS subsystem connected to a controller and providing georeference guidance and positioning, and a bulk material dispensing subsystem connected to the controller and selectively and variably discharging dry material with real-time feedback signals indicating actual discharge rates. A tracking aspect of the present invention uses GNSS with the vehicle controller for tracking An imagery aspect of the present invention uses pre-existing or new, real-time images captured by an onboard camera device and precisely matched with georeference coordinates. A comprehensive system for GNSS-controlling vehicle navigation and material discharge flow control comprises another aspect of the present invention and uses various sensors as input devices and actuators.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
"The drawings constitute a part of this specification and include exemplary embodiments of the present invention and illustrate various objects and features thereof.
"FIG. 1A is an isometric view of a crop-dusting aircraft showing conventional X, Y and Z axes corresponding to roll, pitch and yaw rotation.
"FIG. 1B is a schematic diagram of an airborne flow control system using DGNSS embodying an aspect of the invention in a crop dusting aircraft.
"FIG. 2 is a block diagram of the control system in an airborne solid material crop dusting distribution system.
"FIG. 3 is an isometric view of a venturi spreader and a dry materials hopper, which are installed in the crop dusting aircraft.
"FIG. 4 is an isometric view of the aircraft, particularly showing the material distributing components of the flow control and spreader system and the hydraulic subsystem.
"FIG. 5 is a block diagram of the electronic control components of the flow control and spreader system and their connection with the DGNSS rover system.
"FIG. 6 is a top plan view of the crop-dusting aircraft in operation applying material to a field by overflying a coverage pattern consisting of parallel swaths.
"FIG. 7 is a block diagram of a crop dusting control system comprising an alternative embodiment of the present invention, including a sub-tank within a primary tank.
"FIG. 8 is a diagram of an aircraft control system comprising an alternative embodiment of the present invention and including a laser altimeter."
For additional information on this patent application, see: Guyette, Greg S.; Dearborn,
Keywords for this news article include: Chemicals, Chemistry,
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