Long-range cargo delivery drones upgraded with collision avoidance systems

Aug. 28, 2020
Computer vision algorithms allow drones to make intelligent decisions to detect and avoid other aircraft.

In this week’s roundup from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which highlights some of the latest news and headlines in unmanned vehicles and robotics, developments in long-range automated cargo delivery, the success of drone pilot integration programs, first responders are granted expanded permissions for drone deployment, and drone swarms detect and clear naval mines.

Iris Automation selected as exclusive airborne detect-and-avoid provider to Avidrone Aerospace

Avidrone Aerospace, a manufacturer of long-range, cargo delivery and sensor payload aircraft and autopilot systems, has selected Iris Automation as its exclusive airborne detect-and-avoid (DAA) provider.

As a result of the partnership, Avidrone customers will be able to conduct Beyond-Visual-Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) flights for commercial delivery operations.

Iris Automation’s Casia is the first onboard DAA platform to enable commercial BVLOS operations for UAS. Using the system, UAS can see and react to the aviation environment around the aircraft.

After detecting other aircraft, Casia classifies them using computer-vision algorithms, makes intelligent decisions about the threat they may pose to the drone, and then triggers an alert to the pilot in command and automates maneuvers to safely avoid collisions.

“Combining the capabilities of Avidrone and Iris Automation brings a new range of advanced DAA delivery operations that the industry is demanding,” says Scott Gray, CEO of Avidrone Aerospace.

“This partnership further removes red-tape to a host of new commercial operations desiring the full BVLOS capabilities that our tandem rotor, heavy-lift drones are specifically designed for.”

Avidrone Aerospace develops and manufactures complete aircraft and proprietary autopilot systems that enable aerial applications “that go to new levels of range, payload and capability.” According to the companies, Avidrone's fully automated tandem rotor is 10 times more capable than the average drone – with a payload of 25 kilograms, a range of 120 kilometers, a top speed of 100 kilometers per hour, and 1.3 hours of fly time.

The companies say that the partnership “opens a vast number of new use-cases to commercial airspace applications seeking new ways to move goods, resupply, and survey assets by drone.”

Avidrone will now provide the option of Casia integrated onto all of its drone platforms out-of-the-box. Combined, the two companies provide customers with an all-in-one package ready for advanced missions, including safe BVLOS operations.

Speakers tout success of UAS IPP program during Episode II of FAA UAS Symposium

With the current iteration of the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) set to conclude in October, speakers during Episode II of the 5th annual FAA UAS Symposium – Remotely Piloted Edition reflected on the success of the program, and the immense value that it has provided over the last three years.

“It is spectacular to be seeing this IPP coming to a successful…I don’t want to call it an ending because it’s a continuing journey, but we are coming to the final report here and we have learned a tremendous amount,” said Earl Lawrence, executive director, Aircraft Certification Service, FAA.

As Lawrence noted, the IPP itself as we know it may be concluding, but the operations that began under the program will continue, and the FAA will continue supporting those operations.

“The IPP served its objective to get us moving and get these operations going,” Lawrence said.

According to Jay Merkle, executive director, Office of UAS Integration, FAA, the agency is working with the Department of Transportation (DOT), the White House and Congress on what will follow the IPP. Applying the lessons learned during the program, Merkle said that what will follow the IPP “will be very targeted.”

“We’re not taking a gap year,” Merkle said, before adding that the industry is going to “flow into a new set of agreements,” which are currently being worked on with interested partners.

Biggest return on investment from the IPP

Along with sparking many lessons learned, the IPP also has the potential to have a significant return on investment, according to Rick Domingo, executive director, Flight Standards Service, FAA.

“We’re continuing to use the IPP and 107 experience to shape UAS policy and also future rulemaking efforts, because that’s going to be informative as we want to move towards performance-based rulemaking,” Domingo said.

“I think that’s where we’re going to get the biggest return on investment. [We’re not going to] be so prescriptive on how to do it, but [we’ll] put the standard out there and let people achieve that. And that also spurs the innovation that this part of the industry definitely has in its back pocket.”

The IPP has provided the FAA with the opportunity to learn from issuing exemptions and waivers. That experience, along with the many discussions that the FAA has had with various participants in the program, has provided the agency with a wealth of knowledge that can lead to performance-based rules.

“We’re going to promulgate those [performance-based] rules based again on what we talked about earlier: what we know, what we’ve learned. That’s going to go a lot longer and [result in] much faster integration than where we were when we started out with the IPP with no background and no performance knowledge, other than smart people bringing smart solutions to the table to begin with,” Domingo explained.

Domingo pointed out that the FAA hasn’t traditionally been a fast moving organization, but the work that’s been done during the IPP has helped the agency keep pace with the constant innovations over the last three years.

“Normally the FAA doesn’t move very quickly. But what you’ve done, what the industry has done at keeping us informed and keeping the pressure on us, has enabled us to move forward with the pace and momentum that we need to continue to integrate UAS operations into the NAS,” Domingo said.

UAS offer significant tool for public agencies despite challenges

Many sectors have benefited from UAS technology, but one sector that has benefited greatly is public safety.

“These systems are great at doing a lot of things that we don’t want to do. The dull, the dirty, the dangerous stuff,” said Rich Gatanis, public safety training director at drone company FlyMotion.

UAS have been especially valuable for law enforcement agencies, who use this technology for a variety of operations such as hostage situations and search and rescue. But getting to a point where an agency can actually launch these aircraft into the sky can be a difficult process, according to DJ Smith, a surveillance agent for the Virginia State Police.

One of the primary issues that agencies face when it comes to utilizing this technology is the public perception surrounding law enforcement’s use of drones. Smith says that the public tends to express cynicism when they learn that law enforcement agencies are using UAS for everyday or operational use cases.

According to Smith, the way to overcome this issue is to have clear transparency about the scope and mission that agencies are using the technology for. It’s also important that agencies explain to the public that they are using the technology to make their jobs easier and keep their people out of harm’s way.

Transparency, and community engagement in general, was something that speakers emphasized the importance of during the Symposium. Jay Merkle of the FAA discussed how important a role community engagement played during the IPP to ensure that the public knew and were conformable with the operations taking place in their neighborhoods.

“Community engagement and community involvement is central to the IPP,” Merkle said.

“Trying to develop aircraft design or operations that don’t integrate well into the community would be absolutely pointless because they wouldn’t be accepted, and the entire industry would be stifled.”

Another issue that agencies have faced is funding. The process to launch a UAS program for a law enforcement agency, combined with the reoccurring costs that go along with that, can be “dauting,” Smith said. A variety of factors must be figured into the budgets of agencies, both large and small, including how much it will cost to train people, get them Part 107 certified, and to have training procedures in place every year.

Other costs that have to be considered are the initial cost of the equipment, as well as the reoccurring costs of the software and the maintenance of the aircraft.

Tied into the funding issue is the constant advancements of drone technology, which is good in the long run, but can provide issues in the short term.

“This is a technology that literally evolves every six to 12 months, and we’re just trying to hold on to the edge,” Smith said.

FlyMotion’s Gatanis added that the “technology is always growing and that’s good, but along with the changing of the technology, the changing of the training and how it’s implemented, the agency needs to be on point with that as well.”

Despite the issues, drone technology can be extremely invaluable for law enforcement agencies, and it’s a tool that all agencies should consider adding to their toolbox.

“When you start talking about UAVs, it’s a very universal tool that can actually effect change in everything you do,” Smith said.

FAA unveils new Public Safety TBVLOS waiver for first responders

To support public UAS operators acting in an active first responder capacity, the FAA has introduced the new First Responder Tactical Beyond Visual Line of Sight (TBVLOS) waiver.

A culmination of more than nine months of work conducted by various key partners, the waiver, which was announced during the Symposium, allows a public safety agency to apply to conduct TBVLOS operations “in a time of extreme emergencies to safeguard human life.”

These temporary BVLOS flights are flown to both reduce risk to first responders and to ensure the safety of the communities they serve, according to the FAA. The FAA will issue in advance, upon receipt of a complete and accurate application, a 14 CFR 91.113(b) waiver that will allow temporary UAS TBVLOS operations within specific conditions and requirements, as laid out by the agency. More information about the waiver and the waiver process can be found here.

Swarms of tiny AUVs to be used to detect and clear naval mines ahead of amphibious landings

In Australia, the Department of Defence will investigate using swarms of tiny AUVs to detect and clear naval mines ahead of amphibious landings.

Designed to “revolutionize mine clearance capability in operations close to shore,” according to Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, the new, $15 million research and development project will be conducted in partnership with Australia’s Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence Cooperative Research Centre (TAS DCRC) and Thales Australia.

During the project, researchers will design, develop and test various teams of micro AUV swarms and Autonomous Surface Vessels (AUS) to develop new systems.

Thales provided an image to iTnews that suggests that teams of AUV and AUS could be deployed from a command platform to survey an area for objects of interest, before returning to the platform.

According to Reynolds, the project forms part of the 2020 Force Structure Plan that was released last month, and is “vital to protecting Australia’s maritime environment and advancing our interests.” Reynolds adds that “developing the capability to autonomously undertake environmental data collection and mine countermeasure missions” relies heavily on artificial intelligence, big data and connectivity.

“This will help to create a safer operating environment for Australian Defence Force personnel,” Reynolds says.

In addition to TAS DCRC and Thales, Australian businesses Mission Systems and INENI Realtime are also expected to play a key role in the project, according to Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price.

“Our local business partners will be part of the team designing and developing a communication, simulation and training solution for the new autonomous technologies,” Price says.

“This will help us accelerate the development and deployment of autonomous systems and solutions in the area of mine countermeasures.”

The various platforms will be designed, developed, tested and evaluated by Flinders University, the University of Sydney, the University of Technology Sydney and Western Sydney University.

Compiled by Brian Sprowl, Associate Editor, AUVSI

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