Tag Archives: Civil UAV

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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Unmanned Systems Australia Sponsors Honours Student

Unmanned Systems Australia is happy to announce the sponsorship of Kwabena Ansah, a honours student with the Research School of Physics and Engineering at the Australian National University in Canberra.  Kwabena has been working on a master thesis project regarding the development of a delivery mechanism for commercial delivery drones.  Unmanned Systems Australia previous work with Google’s Project Wing inspired Kwabena to design a similar system for commercial applications for use in Australia.  Recently Kwabena conducted a poster presentation in Canberra about his thesis project, where he had to explain and answer questions about the project being undertaken with Unmanned Systems Australia and received positive feedback on his progress.

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We wish Kwabena all the best of luck for the remainder of his studies.

American Millionaire using Unmanned Helicopters to Rescue African Migrants at Sea

Migrants often travel to Europe aboard rickety old fishing vessels which are both unreliable and over loaded. Human traffickers cram them so full that there’s no room left for essential supplies like water or even shelter. Increasingly, voyages are taking place during inclement weather as the traffickers try to avoid their own arrest by Italian authorities.

Since 1993, 20,000 people have died in the Mediterranean Sea while fleeing war-torn Africa for the safety of European shores. Now, the world’s first private maritime search and rescue operation is doing everything it can to help them. And they have already saved thousands of lives.

 

The UN estimates that 207,000 people tried to clandestinely cross the Mediterranean last year. A number that’s accelerating rapidly as conflicts on that continent grow worse. Migrants fleeing Syria and Iraq are adding to their numbers as they travel from the Middle East to Libya before enlisting human traffickers to smuggle them into Europe.

Forget the politics for a second, these are hundreds of thousands of men, women and children taking to the sea aboard what are often unsafe, overcrowded vessels that catch fire and sink and on which they may have inadequate access to food, drinking water and medical supplies.

On October 3, 2013, a boat carrying over 500 migrants caught fire and sank just a quarter mile from the shore of the Italian island Lambedusa. Over 360 people lost their lives, within view of the shore. It served as a wake up call for European authorities.

Schiebel S-100 CAMCOPTER aboard the MOAS in Malta

Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims and called on his followers to help, stating, “Let’s unite our efforts so that tragedies like this don’t happen again. Only a decisive collaboration of everyone can help and prevent them…It is a disgrace.”

In response, the Italian government launched Mare Nostrum, but an American businessman living in Malta, close to the main smuggling routes, also heard the plea.

Christopher Catrambone is an immigrant himself, having moved his family to Malta from his native New Orleans to flee the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Last year, he and his wife Regina say they invested“nearly 50 per cent of our savings” — $US7.5 million — to purchase a 130-foot search and rescue ship, two drones and two inflatable boats, then put them to sea complete with a crew of technical and medical experts. “No one deserves to die at sea,” reads the Migrant Offshore Aid Station’s call to action.

At sea, MOAS patrols the main smuggling route between Libya and Italy, using its two Schiebel CamCopter S-100 drones (above) to search for migrant-carrying vessels that may be in trouble. Each CamCopter is capable of operating at speeds up to 150mph and can remain aloft for over six hours, making the potential search area huge.

If they find a vessel that may be in need of assistance, MOAS then decides to either respond itself aboard the Phoenix I mothership (above) or call in the Italian Coast Guard if the boat in question is in imminent danger. Those extra eyes in the sky are one of MOAS’s main functions, providing additional search and surveillance capabilities to augment the Coast Guard’s own. Identifying at-risk vessels that may be in need of assistance before their situation becomes critical.

“When a migrant vessel is spotted by one of MOAS’s camcopters, we immediately provide visuals to the appropriate official Rescue Coordination Centre to help ascertain the vessel’s condition and the migrants’ needs,” explains the NGO. “We then assist as directed.”

The Phoenix I’s main mission is distributing humanitarian aid to refugees in-transit: water, food, medical aid and medical supplies. If it finds itself in a position to pull migrants off a sinking ship, MOAS is prepared to and has bring them onboard the Phoenix, but then defers to Italian authorities to decide where those refugees are taken.

“MOAS follows the laws of the sea which oblige all vessels to help in case of distress,” it states. “Thus, MOAS will rescue migrants if it is asked to do so by search and rescue authorities or if the situation is an immediate matter of life or death. But our primary aim is to prevent loss of life at sea, not to ferry migrants from one point to another.”

MOAS is able to liaise closely with authorities in part because it employs ex-government and military officials to run its operation. Its director Martin Xuereb, for instance, was formerly the Chief of Defence for Malta while the ship’s captain was formerly that country’s Search Mission Coordinator. Catrambone himself is a defence contractor, providing medical services and insurance to companies operating in war zones.

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“There are many larger NGOs trying to reduce poverty and conflict in Africa and beyond,” MOAS explains. “Many also work on integration and asylum once refugees reach Europe. However, at the point where migrants are most vulnerable – when it is a clear matter of life and death – there is an immediate need to act.”

“Last year, 3419 men, women and children died while making the dangerous crossing to Europe…mostly by drowning or dehydration,” the organisations says. During its first 60 days at sea alone, MOAS aided about 3000 people.

Want to help? MOAS relies on donations to supply migrants with emergency rations, water and medical supplies. You can help them buy those supplies through its website.

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Courtesy: Gizmodo

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Taking Connectivity to the Next Level @ Internet.org.

The Connectivity Lab at Facebook is developing ways to make affordable Internet access possible in communities around the world. The team is exploring a variety of technologies, including high-altitude long-endurance planes, satellites and lasers.
Hear from Mark Zuckerberg on the challenges and opportunities of a new generation of connectivity platforms. Read the paper
[youtube]http://youtu.be/EMwzdYN2v2U[/youtube]
See more @ internet.org

Civil Drones Improve Humanitarian Response in the Philippines

As Direct Relief’s relief and recovery efforts in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan continue, civil drones are helping our organization and others respond more efficiently to the most pressing needs of people affected by the super storm.

About a week after Typhoon Haiyan struck, an assessment group from Direct Relief’s partner, veterans’ response organization Team Rubicon, sought to determine the operational status of the Carigara District Hospital, located northwest of the city of Tacloban.

Travel along damaged roads was difficult and slow. Rumors of an uncertain security situation were circulating. Comprehensive structural assessment seemed highly challenging at best.

Yet, the assessment group was able to provide local officials and aid groups with a rapid and highly accurate visual analysis of damage to the Carigara District Hospital – at minimal risk to the people conducting the assessment – by deploying the latest in close proximity aerial imaging technology with a Huginn X1 civil drone.

The assessment provided enough information to allow Team Rubicon to proceed with setting up a medical relief station there to help survivors access emergency care. Direct Relief has been supporting Team Rubicon’s medical responders on the ground with critical medicines and supplies.

A civil drone is the peacetime and humanitarian cousin of the aerial robotic units which have been discussed extensively in the press throughout several recent US-led military conflicts. The Huginn X1, manufactured by Anthea Technologies and distributed by DanOfficeIT, is a ruggedized quadcopter drone adapted primarily for search and rescue support. It comes equipped with high definition digital cameras as well as thermal imaging to detect the heat signatures of people on the ground who may be in need of help.

DanOfficeIT contributed the drone technology and manpower free of charge to nongovernmental organizations working on the front lines of the typhoon response to help organizations learn where to focus their work.

Civil drones have had an immediate and substantial impact on the ability of groups like Direct Relief and Team Rubicon to gain high-speed visual awareness of complex situations that threaten to put humanitarian responders at significant personal risk.

Likewise, civil drones allow for detailed aerial mapping in support of operational planning. The Huginn X1 was not only valuable in terms of structural assessment but also as a way to scout locations in advance to determine the best possible routes of approach and assistance.

Read more: Reliefweb