Category Archives: Beyond Line of Sight UAS

Amazon provides new details on its plan for a drone superhighway in the sky

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.

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SCHIEBEL CAMCOPTER® S-100 SUCCESSFULLY DEMONSTRATES MULTI-SENSOR CAPABILITY TO THE ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY

Vienna / Nowra, 16 June 2015 – Schiebel´s CAMCOPTER® S-100 Unmanned Air System (UAS) has in a series of flights between 2 and 12 June 2015 successfully demonstrated its multi- sensor capability to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and other Australian Government Departments.

The demanding trials took place near Nowra, on the South East Coast of Australia, and encompassed multiple scenarios, performed during both the day and night. The primary goal was to provide RAN with a comprehensive understanding of how an advanced rotary wing UAS could be effectively used to support maritime and littoral Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) tasks.

CAMCOPTER S-100_Australia_01

The three key mission payloads; the Finmeccanica – Selex ES SAGE ESM and PicoSAR radar and the L-3 Wescam MX-10 were operated in realistic maritime security scenarios in the littoral and open ocean.

Hans Georg Schiebel Chairman of Schiebel said „This multi-sensor capability of the S-100 is a key element, showing the comprehensive flexibility of our proven system. We feel honored that we were invited by RAN to this demonstration.”

Selex ES highlighted how the combination of the CAMCOPTER® S-100 with their SAGE ESM and PicoSAR radar can extend the surveillance horizon of naval vessels and enhance situational awareness. The data provided by the ESM and radar sensors is
crucial to understanding the maritime environment, which was proven in demanding conditions throughout the demonstration.
The CAMCOPTER® S-100 is the only UAS in its class that is able to carry multiple sensors combined, enabling customers to gather images with an EO/IR camera, to detect and to identify electronic signatures with a ESM antenna and to use a Synthetic Aperture
Radar (SAR) in real-time with only one system.

Additionally the demonstration allowed RAN personnel to study the pre-flight, operation and post-flight procedures of the CAMCOPTER® S-100 UAS.

Source: Schiebel Press Release.

PRECISIONHAWK SIGNS UAV RESEARCH AGREEMENT WITH FAA TO ADDRESS EXTENDED VISUAL LINE OF SIGHT

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.

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