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10 things to consider before choosing a ground control station (GCS)

Choosing the right ground control station can be a difficult and complicated process. Here are some things to consider before deciding on your ground control station.

Ground control stations come in many shapes and sizes and the price can differ significantly. Before initiating the design and purchase of a ground control station it is important to define the “need to have” and “nice to have” requirements. These are impacted by the operations for which the ground control station is being used, and the capabilities of the unit being controlled. Below you find some of the typical factors that can impact your choice of ground control station.

1. Operational environments & conditions:

The operational environment and conditions is an important factor to take into consideration, before designing and purchasing the ground control station. The environmental conditions are important because they directly affect the performance of the operation, the reliability of the equipment, and how efficient the remote workers are.

Some key elements to consider is:
1.Day/night time operations

Operations in dark environments might require special attention and a NVG compatible ground control station. This allows the equipment to be used while wearing a night vision device such as night vision goggles.

2. Operations in environments with radio disturbances

Radio disturbances can impact the operation in various ways such as limiting the range of the video/communication link and thereby affecting the quality output and the reliability of the operation. Radio disturbance risks can in many ways be reduced by choosing the right communication equipment.

3. Operations where other equipment can be impacted by the electromagnetic disturbances caused by the GCS

Choosing or designing a ground control station that is EMC compliant ensures that components do not influence the electromagnetic environment to the extent that the functions of other devices and systems are affected.

2. Operations over longer time spans

Long operations introduce various requirements for the GCS. First of all the battery requirements should be carefully investigated. The battery requirements can be met by choosing a GCS with an extended battery capacity or by being able to “hot-swap” battery modules without interrupting the operation. Other key parameters for long operations are the ergonomy of the GCS. By choosing a GCS platform that is carefully designed in order to ensure the ergonomy, you can improve the operator efficiency and the operator satisfaction. Some key factors to ensure the right ergonomy is weight and physical dimensions.

3. Monitor requirements

Most operators initially want a very large screen since it generally improves the ease of use. However, the choice of screen size should be carefully considered because it directly impacts the operations. The screen size can be affected by factors such as the software being used, the use-case and requirements for portability and ergonomics. Most modern GCS software suites work very well on smaller screens, especially if additional tools such as pointers are being used. Still it should be considered if the screen size being offered matches the operator needs. Besides the size and dimensions of the screen, most operations require sun-light readability and therefore it is also an important requirement to evaluate, in order to ensure efficient operations.

4. Joysticks, buttons, and switches

The choices of buttons and switches and their layout should be carefully considered, since they impact the operator performance, ease of use, and the security of the operations. Buttons, switches, and joysticks come in many different shapes and sizes all directly related to their purpose.

Standard GCS platforms often do not offer customization of the layout, however for custom GCS solutions the buttons, switches and joysticks can often be chosen and customized based on the operator needs. This enables more advanced use cases such as protection of specific functionality with the use of safety switches and ensuring operator efficiency by adding extra joysticks.

5. Setup-time

In order to support efficient operations the setup-time can be a relevant factor. The setup-time refers to the time it takes to set up all the equipment needed in order to initiate an operation. In many cases this time has an impact on the security of the operator and the results of the operation. A shorter setup-time can be obtained by using integrated solutions which directly limit the equipment that needs to be prepared before starting the operation. Simple GCS platforms can furthermore limit the operator stress and reduce the risk of mistakes during the setup.

6. Operating systems

Ground control stations come in various shapes and sizes. Some offer full-functional operating systems (OS) and some only offer joysticks and buttons. The advantages of running an integrated operating system inside the GCS is often an improved operator performance. This enables more advanced control of the unit being operated and generally improves the operator stress by tailoring the software applications to be more user friendly and efficient.

7. Serviceability

The level of serviceability is another important thing to take into consideration, since running an efficient operation often requires a high level of serviceability. This includes the option of purchasing spare parts and the ability to get the ground control station repaired or serviced regularly or in the case of damage. Designing a remote controlled solution using a ground control station consisting of components/parts that is not produced anymore, can pose a major risk.

8. Compliance

Integrators or users of ground control stations can be met with compliance requirements when delivering products or services to certain markets. Therefore it can be relevant to consider the GCS’s compliance in terms of NDAA, ITAR, or standards such as MIL-810G.

9. Platform Security

Security is for many types of remote controlled vehicles a crucial factor. Security risks can come in many variations including: Take-over/hijacking of the equipment, yamming, availability of the GCS, risk of data-loss and data leaks. These individual risks can be reduced by using various types of technology such as communication encryption, updated platform software and by enforcing enterprise cyber security policies. Many organizations are today met with stricter security measures such as control of the vendors/countries producing the parts of the GCS.

10. Integrations

For advanced use-cases it is often required to run software on the ground control station, making sure that it can be integrated in order to receive the input from buttons, switches, and other types of input devices. For an integrator it should therefore be considered which integration methods are possible for the specific GCS. Some key elements to look at is whether the GCS supports the HID interface, which is a standard protocol for integrating input devices with software in Windows/Linux. Another integration method is API, which documents and manages how the software can integrate with the GCS. Besides the software integration it can also be beneficial to integrate the GCS using hardware modules, which can be connected using various methods such as USB, com-port, or other dock-in methods.

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