PrecisionHawk, Harris, DigitalGlobe and Verizon recently completed initial testing of airspace services, a solution designed to make it safer to integrate unmanned aerial systems into the National Airspace.
The companies integrated various technologies for this solution, including Verizon’s LTE network, Harris’ ADS-B network, DigitalGlobe’s Geospatial Big Data Platform and PrecisionHawk’s LATAS (Low Altitude Traffic and Airspace Safety) platform, according to a news release. Assessment of this ecosystem is taking place through the FAA Pathfinder program and the NASA UTM project.
“We are leveraging satellite-derived information to create consistent information and analytics for safe drone flights,” said Dr. Shay Har-Noy, DigitalGlobe’s Senior Director of Geospatial Big Data, according to the release. “This is a significant collaboration that represents a huge step forward for the FAA and the safety and well-being of the American public.”
LTE networks potentially can allow UAS to deliver sensor data for processing, analysis and decision making mid-flight, as well as receive command-and-control inputs in real time, said David Famolari, Director, Verizon Ventures, according to the release. This helps to make the airspace safer for both manned and unmanned aircraft.
PrecisionHawk’s LATAS platform operates over LTE and through satellites, according to the release, and connects airspace safety technologies such as dynamic geofencing, detect and avoid and aircraft tracking, providing safety as a service for the UAS industry. By using the existing infrastructure of Verizon cell towers, LATAS is scalable for UAS operating throughout the U.S.
LATAS will use DigitalGlobe’s Geospatial Big Data Platform to enable UAS to identify and avoid obstacles, including buildings and cable lines, according to the release.
The Nationwide Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) ground station deployment by Harris is the cornerstone of the FAA’s NextGen surveillance initiative, according to the release, which is designed to improve the quality, accuracy and reliability of flight tracking data throughout the National Airspace System. The data is a synthesis of all FAA system derived aircraft surveillance data available in the U.S. National Airspace System.
This collaboration between PrecisionHawk, Verizon, DigitalGlobe, and Harris can provide the industry with an integrated, complete solution to safely manage UAS traffic, according to the release. The companies will continue to test this ecosystem and bring on other partners to further expand its capabilities.
“With this collaboration, the innovation of the tech community is addressing the timely need for a safety services to accelerate drone integration,” said Tyler Collins, Director of LATAS at PrecisionHawk, according to the release. “Verizon, Harris and DigitalGlobe bring technology components, expertise and credibility that are critical to the success of this ecosystem. We look forward to expanding testing through the FAA Pathfinder and NASA UTM programs in 2015.”
The task force will collaborate on the development of a streamlined registration process for Unmanned Aircraft Systems
PrecisionHawk today announced its contribution to a safety task force created by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the FAA. The task force brings together a diverse group, representing the UAS and manned aviation industries, the federal government, and other stakeholders, to develop an augmented registration process for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
“PrecisionHawk is working on many safety solutions, procedural and technological, that we believe can contribute to safer operations for commercial drones in the national airspace,” said Ernest Earon, PrecisionHawk CTO and co-founder. “The creation of this task force further demonstrates the willingness of the FAA to move forward with industry leaders to promote rapid and safe integration.”
“As a UAS technology company and operator, we know how important coordinated identification is to the environments in which we work,” said Thomas Haun, VP of Strategy at PrecisionHawk. “The goal of this task force, to create a streamlined registration process for UAS, will have a direct and positive impact on the operations of our partners and service teams.”
This task force presents another opportunity for PrecisionHawk to serve as a technical resource to regulators as we move towards the adoption of UAV regulations. Earlier this year PrecisionHawk was also named, alongside CNN and BNSF, to the FAA Pathfinder Program to test and develop technology solutions to solve beyond line of sight operations.
A new civilian fuel cell UAV designed for search and rescue is gearing up for the world’s first ever 300km UAV flight to cross the North Sea, linking Scotland to Norway
Set to take off within days, this historic flight is the result of a joint effort between UAV fuel cell power systems supplier Horizon Energy Systems (HES) of Singapore, and Scottish UAV developer RaptorUAS. The team is working with Northern Colorado Search and Rescue in the US, as a first end-user of the long endurance UAV system.
The Singapore-built fuel cell is able to keep the Raptor E1 UAV flying for over 12 hours, which makes it an ideal support tool in difficult search and rescue operations over large areas of sea or land. Recognized as the world’s longest endurance energy storage systems for electrical UAVs, fuel cells from HES have helped set new world records in the past including the NASA-backed 5kg Pterosoar UAVsystem which flew 128km in 2007.
When I arrived in San Jose last night, the newspaper on the front desk at the hotel had this headline splashed across the front page: “Drones Putting Lives at Risk.” At least five times this year, fire departments trying to battle wildfires in California were unable to fly their helicopters close enough to assist teams on the ground because small drones flown by ordinary citizens were in the airspace capturing footage of the blaze.
This morning, at NASA’s UTM Convention, Amazon announced details of a plan designed to solve these kinds of problems. The company laid out its vision for a multi-tiered superhighway in the sky, one in which all drones flying above 200 feet would have the ability to communicate with — and ideally sense and avoid — other aircraft. It’s an attempt to put an end to the Wild West atmosphere that has been the norm for uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) over the last five years, replacing it with a next-generation air traffic control system. It hopes to establish a basic regulatory framework and set of technical standards that manufacturers can work toward. All this would prepare the airspace for a time when thousands, even tens of thousands of drones fly over the average city delivering parcels, monitoring air quality, and handing out parking tickets.
Amazon’s proposal, which is in line with similar ideas floated by NASA and Google, would create a slow lane for local traffic below 200 feet and a fast lane for long-distance transport between 200 and 400 feet. Altitudes between 400 and 500 feet would become a no-fly zone, and anything above that is already against FAA regulations for hobbyists. While some commercial drone operators are pushing to fly large UAS above 500 feet, Amazon is avoiding that discussion for now.
Commercial aircraft are governed by FAA’s Air Traffic Control, and in Amazon’s vision, there would be a similar central command and control network that takes in data about the position of each drone and shares it with every other vehicle connected to the network. There would also be vehicle-to-vehicle communication, similar to what we are starting to see with autonomous automobiles. Access to the different layers of the airspace would be governed by how well your drone can communicate with its pilot, the command and control network, and other drones. “Everyone can have access to the airspace,” says Gur Kimchi, who heads up Amazon’s Prime Air program. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a hobbyist or a corporation. If you’ve got the right equipment, you can fly.”
If you’re operating a radio-controlled quadcopter with no internet connection, then you would be relegated to the area below 200 feet. That may rub some hobbyists the wrong way, but given that even cheap consumer drones are now connected to the internet through their apps, it seems unlikely that there will be too many UAS which fall into this category. And while complex sense and avoid (SAA) technology is not yet widespread among consumer drones, we are already seeing it appear on units like the Lily, in software from Skydio, and in developer hardware like DJI’s Matrice. If the pace of development in this area continues, sense and avoid technology will be standard on consumer drones within a few years.
Still, startups working on consumer facing drones took issue with parts of of the plan. “Amazon’s proposal to create a commercial airspace dedicated to drones is smart thinking for the future of its business proposition,” said Antoine Level, CEO of Squadrone System, the company behind the HEXO+. “The uptake of drones means that regulation will need to change to adapt; however, given the utility of personal-use application of drones, regulation must be careful not to regulate commercial use in such a way that drones become too costly to deploy and inaccessible to consumers, as this will in turn create a bar to their usage and adoption.”
In traditional air traffic control, humans have handled much of the work. But with small UAS, the number of aircraft in the sky at any given time is likely to be many times greater than the number of commercial aircraft. So Amazon is proposing we let the machines handle more of the work themselves. “Right now the standard is an aircraft that can basically fly itself, with a human at the controls to take over at anytime,” says Kimchi. “But with UAS, there won’t be a single operator for every drone. We need a lot more automation than we have with the traditional model.”
Amazon says its drones would automatically adjust their path if they are on a collision course, and also warn one another about obstacles. “I am from Seattle, there are many seagulls,” Kimchi says. “Our drone would automatically get out of the way and also alert others in the area.”
This new air traffic control system would also link UAS with traditional aircraft. If a helicopter from the fire department needed to fly low over an emergency, for example, it would be able to communicate with command and control, warning drones it was in the area, and creating a geofenced area around itself that would become a no-fly zone, as depicted in the graphic above.
PrecisionHawk will work with the FAA to develop aircraft standards and operational procedures for extended line-of-sight to identify a pathway for safe integration of drones into the National Airspace System
Raleigh, NC — PrecisionHawk has entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration to advance the research around unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) across rural areas. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced the partnership this morning at the AUVSI Unmanned Systems Conference in Atlanta.
PrecisionHawk will be the only UAV manufacturer, joining CNN and BNSF Railway, in this partnership forged under the Pathfinder program, an operational concept validation set up by the FAA to help integrate commercial drones into the US national airspace.
“Even as we pursue our current rulemaking effort for small unmanned aircraft, we must continue to actively look for future ways to expand non-recreational UAS uses,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “This new initiative involving three leading U.S. companies will help us anticipate and address the needs of the evolving UAS industry.”
The partnership will leverage PrecisionHawk’s extensive work in the global agriculture landscape to formulate a framework for various types of UAVs, fixed wing and multi-rotor, to operate in the areas of agriculture, forestry and other rural industries. Beyond this use case focus, PrecisionHawk will also test LATAS (Low Altitude Tracking & Avoidance System) its traffic management system for UAVs. Testing will include on-aircraft transponders as well as LATAS traffic management ground-based hardware and software. By introducing an operational tracking system that works with any UAV platform, the FAA and PrecisionHawk can safely test operations beyond visual line of sight in low risk, ‘non-populated’ areas, such as farmland.
“For the commercial drone industry to achieve its maximum technological and economic potential, we need to test reliable hardware and software solutions that will address safety. We also need to provide the data that will prove that reliability to regulators and the public,” said Christopher Dean, PrecisionHawk CEO.
In 2013, I made my first trip to Ethiopia. Knowing a bit about the country’s economic circumstances, I fully expected the grim poverty that I’d later encounter. After all, like millions of Americans, I watched the devastating famine there unfold on television in the 1980s.
At the same time, Ethiopia has made great strides since then. Ethiopia halved the number of its undernourished people from 75 percent to 35 percent in two decades, according to the United Nations. Still, that 35 percent is considerable – the U.N.’s World Food Programme estimates that3.2 million Ethiopians need food relief assistance.
So imagine my surprise when I entered a restroom in a small town outside Addis, the capital, and found sensorized urinals – the kind that self-flush. I don’t normally notice urinals, but in Ethiopia, where electricity and indoor plumbing are unreliable at best, sensorized urinals catch your attention. To find something as relatively advanced as a sensorized machine in a small Ethiopian town doesn’t necessarily say much about the country; but it says a lot about the machine.
In particular, it illustrates the potential of sensors and how they could hold the key to significantly reducing the world’s hunger problem. Sensors are everywhere and in everything, at least in developed nations such as the United States. They’ve revolutionized our mobile phones, and are now powering the next wave of wearable tech devices. Sensors are the reason the automotive industry is poised to deliver a driverless car.
The best thing about sensors, aside from their potential? They’re dirt cheap. The average smartphone holds five to seven sensors that cost about $5 combined. In 2007, an accelerometer, which comes standard in all smartphones today, cost $7 — now it costs less than 50 cents. The steep price decline, which has been in place since the early 1990s, is a function of strong competition in the smartphone arena and the growing number of applications using sensor technology. But nothing mandates that sensors are for smartphones only.
Which brings us back to Ethiopia. Now that you see how cheap sensors are today, the notion that a small, dusty town in Ethiopia can afford a sensorized urinal doesn’t seem all that remarkable. But let’s take this one step further. Sensorized devices are multiplying across every sector of the economy. Heavy industry uses sensors to increase productivity. Airplanes employ sensors in their “fly-by-wire” systems. Physicians can prescribe digestible sensors to monitor and wirelessly transmit biometric data.
According to the Digital Universe report from the International Data Corporation, the total number of “connectable things” – everyday objects that can be linked to the Internet – in the world is around 200 billion. Of those, about 20 billion are actually wired and talking to the Internet right now. They’re able to do so through a network of roughly 50 billion sensors that track, monitor and feed data to those connected devices. And the IDC estimates that by 2020, the number of connected things will increase by 50 percent to 30 billion, while the network of sensors will number in the trillions.
So, what does this have to do with solving the global food crisis? There’s enough food in the world to feed every person on the earth, yet through a combination of inefficiencies, supply-chain obstacles and oppressive government regulation, hundreds of millions of people are undernourished. Indeed, many food shortages arise because of misallocation of information. Suppliers of food are unaware of shortages and unaware of market prices. I’ve heard stories of food rotting on African farms only miles away from desolate starvation.
Equipping food-supply material such as storage containers, warehouses and shelves with sensors allows us to know instantly the moment a shortage exists. And I mean instantly in the literal sense. With sensors, we don’t need to wait for a person to count hundreds of containers to realize that there won’t be enough food for the community –a time-consuming process that too often doesn’t happen anyway. Sensors help remove those layers of inefficiency, shortening data’s transmission chain, skipping potential inhibitors and triggering faster response times.
A few days ago the people in Deer Trail, Colorado made national news with a proposed ballot initiative to allow hunting licenses to shoot down flying drones.
Deer Trail would charge $25 for drone hunting licenses, and the town would offer a $100 bounty reward for shooters who bring in debris from an unmanned aircraft from the U.S. government.
This perfectly illustrates the growing paranoia associated with UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) often referred to as drones.
But the good people living in the farming community of Deer Trail have obviously not been paying attention to the positive uses for drones, more specifically, the use of drones in agriculture.
Even though the vast majority of drone use today is government and military, one of the big emerging markets will be agriculture. Several new companies have begun moving into the ag-drone space, but there are a few short-term problems.
Current FAA rules limit their operation to under 400 feet and to steer clear of airports and crowds on the ground. But that will change in a couple years. The U.S. Congress has mandated the FAA incorporate drones into national airspace by Sept. 30, 2015.
Many in this new industry are chomping at the bit to get started. According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicles International, once drones get okayed for the national air space, the first 3 years will produce $13.6 billion in economic activity and 34,000 new manufacturing jobs will get created.
The FAA estimated up to 10,000 drones could be airborne in the U.S. by 2018. Here’s why that number is far too low.
Today’s Ag Industry Drones
There are many possible uses for flying drones, and as we add capabilities, potential uses will grow dramatically.
We are limited in our thinking to what we see today, but flying drones can be built large enough to move people and houses, and small enough to be invisible to the human eye.
They provide an incredibly flexible platform, and simply adding elements like cameras, lights, audio, sensors, video projectors, or even a robotic arm can increase the utility of a drone exponentially. I’ve written about some of these possibilities in previous articles.
The automation of farming has led to fewer people tending massive estates, with many growing to tens of thousands of acres. This means there are fewer eyes inspecting crops, with less chance of catching problems like disease, infestations, soil issues, or other deficiencies.
Drones, however, have the ability to amp up awareness, giving farmers powerful tools for managing both the plant and its growing environment throughout its lifecycle.
Here are a few current examples of the type of inspections and research that can be automated through the use of drones:
Terrain, rock, tree, and obstacle mapping
Hybrid lifecycle charting
Chlorophyll damage detection
Ground cover profiling
Wind profile and wind shear assessment
Temperature and barometric pressure profiling
Spore, dust, pollen counts
Water quality assessments and survey
Methane, ammonia, and CO2 sensing
Trait assessment for breeding
Wireless data collection from ground sensors
Plant status tracking
Crop status (growing stage, yield estimates, etc.)
Precision Agriculture prescription data
Tiling/drainage evaluation and survey
Time-saving pre-assessment for field tasks
Oblique shots for de-tassel timing
Drainage estimates and topography
Planting evaluation and replanting requirements
Pathogen introduction and tracking + Weed levels
Much of the work in this industry will evolve around the following three phases of development.
Phase 1 – Data Drones
Most of the drones today are focused on developing better information about the plants, soil, and growing conditions. This information will allow farmers to be more aware of crop conditions and make better decisions.
Phase 2 – Protection Drones
Some companies are already working on Phase 2 drones capable of proactively protecting the crops from bugs, birds, disease, and other unwanted problems. Some of these capabilities will include:
Prevent birds from destroying high value crops
Identify insects, worms, and other unwanted plant devastation
Precision pesticide, herbicide, and fungicide application
Detect and track plant disease
Identify and thwart other wildlife that may consume or damage crops
Over time, protection drones may even be able to compensate for extreme weather conditions by applying warm foam during freezing conditions and even using wave frequencies to disrupt hail and other extreme weather conditions.
Eventually there will be flying drones with lasers mounted on them. Because of the possible dangers, their use will be highly restricted, at least for the most powerful ones. However, it’s entirely possible to visualize a type of drone capable of breaking rocks, killing pests, and even shooting mosquitoes.
Much of today’s work in this area is experimental and sounds more like science fiction than real science, but in a few years they may already be in use.
Phase 3 – Seeding, Harvesting Drones
Robotics researchers at the National Agricultural Research Center in Tsukuba, Japan have already experimented with rice-planting robots. And American farmers already ride semi-automatic tractors that use GPS positioning to plant perfect rows of wheat.
Another form of robotic seeding machine is being created by David Dorhout, founder of Dorhout R&D. His autonomous five-legged “Prospero” robot can move around in swarms with the ability to detect ideal planting spots, digging holes, planting the seeds and then applying fertilizer or herbicides.
As prices improve for specialty crops, farmers will invest heavily in automation to meet whatever unique foods consumers are demanding.
Over time, flying swarmbots will replace the ground-based drones, with thousands of tiny machines working in concert to replace the need for today’s massive pieces of equipment. Keep in mind that this will only happen if they provide farmers with a significant advantage over today’s equipment. They will need to be better, faster, cheaper, more efficient, or all of the above.
A recent study by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) predicts that in a matter of years, the drone, or UAV, industry in the U.S. could produce up to 100,000 new jobs and add $82 billion in economic activity between 2015 and 2025.
Aerial drones are about to become an everyday part of our lives. This is an industry in its infancy and agriculture will be the launch point and proving ground for many others.
Farmers will become thousands of times more precise in how they apply chemicals and fertilizers, saving themselves millions in the process.
Saving farmers 1% on inputs like herbicide and pesticide, and increasing their yields by 1%, that alone is a multi-billion dollar industry.
In the end, the world will grow far more food, to far more exacting quality standards, under virtually any weather conditions. And drones will be an essential part of making this happen.