Columbia University

Technology Ventures

Modular UAV payload systems with centralized control

Technology #cu16238

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Christopher J. Zappa
Managed By
Richard Nguyen

Various industries are increasingly making use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in part because they have longer sustained flight times and lower costs than manned aircraft. However, the breadth of potential UAV applications requires a system that can support a variety of payloads and sensors to be attached. Furthermore, it is essential to minimize the size and weight for these payloads. To accommodate an array of sensor payloads, there is a need for compact, lightweight, and low-cost payload design that can share common hardware components within a centralized system. This technology is a base payload system for UAVs that allows different payloads to share common power supply, data acquisition, and positioning systems. Moreover, this solution enables multiple payloads to be deployed at minimal cost, size, and weight. Utilizable in remote, hazardous areas, this technology can be implemented for a range of applications, from atmospheric and oceanic data collection to oil and gas exploration.

Compact, lightweight, and low-cost UAV payload for swappable instrumentation

This technology centralizes data acquisition, control, and inertial hardware and software and enables modular swapping of individual instruments, such as imaging sensors, broadband radiation sensors, and drone-deployed dropsondes for atmospheric profiling and microbuoys for oceanic monitoring. The base payload includes a radio transceiver that allows real-time data transmission, while on-board storage maintains recorded data. The base payload also facilitates high positional accuracy, samples data from multiple sensors at a uniform rate, and comprises up- and down-facing pyrometers to correct for reflected atmospheric signals. Moreover, these UAV payloads can be navigated in autonomous or remote-control mode.

A prototype of this technology was successfully tested in UAV-based missions over Antarctica for deploying dropsondes and collecting atmospheric profile data, demonstrating its ability to operate effectively in harsh, remote areas.

Lead Inventor:

Christopher J. Zappa, Ph.D.


  • Atmospheric profiling
  • Oceanic monitoring
  • Climate, weather, and environmental model validation
  • Satellite remote sensing validation
  • Oil and gas exploration
  • Geothermal exploration
  • Defense and aerospace
  • Emergency response


  • Modular configuration facilitates swappable sensor payloads
  • Enables in situ data collection in remote and harsh environments
  • Low cost
  • Compact size and lightweight
  • Centralized hardware control
  • Can be controlled autonomously or manually by remote-control
  • High positional accuracy

Tech Ventures Reference: IRs# CU16236, CU16237, and CU16238