Unmanned systems: Drone deliveries expand service range, new agricultural robot unveiled, and UAS cover the Daytona 500 for broadcast

March 15, 2019
In this week’s roundup from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) which highlights some of the latest news and headlines in unmanned vehicles and robotics, drone deliveries in Reno, Nevada, robotic agricultural data-gathering, and Fox Sports deploys UAS for event coverage.

In this week’s roundup from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) which highlights some of the latest news and headlines in unmanned vehicles and robotics, drone deliveries in Reno, Nevada, robotic agricultural data-gathering, and Fox Sports deploys UAS for event coverage.

Flirtey granted permission to conduct BVLOS UAS delivery flights under UAS IPP

The city of Reno, Nevada has announced that Flirtey—one of its partners in the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP)—has received approval from the FAA to conduct beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) UAS delivery flights.

With the approval, Flirtey will be able to conduct UAS delivery operations with a pilot controlling the flights from a remote location.

“Flirtey’s industry-leading technology is now approved for drone delivery beyond visual line of sight, a major milestone that brings life-saving and commercial drone delivery another step closer to your doorstep,” says Flirtey Founder and CEO Matthew Sweeny.

Flirtey has received the BVLOS approval with its next-generation UAS, which was specially designed to carry heavier payloads for longer distances. With the capabilities of its UAS, Flirtey will be able to deliver Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) and commercial packages.

One of ten participants in the UAS IPP, the city of Reno chose Flirtey as its partner to deliver AEDs for the immediate treatment of a person experiencing cardiac arrest, which is the leading cause of natural death in the United States. For every minute that a person experiencing cardiac arrest waits to receive defibrillation, their odds of survival decrease by about 10 percent.

Using UAS to deploy AEDs, though, the average cardiac arrest survival rate can increase from 10 percent to approximately 47 percent, the entities note.

The entities add that based on historical data, just one Flirtey delivery drone carrying an AED has the potential to save at least one life every two weeks in Reno. If deployed across the U.S., Flirtey's AED drone delivery service has the potential to save more than 100,000 lives per year and more than one million American lives over each decade to come.

“The City of Reno is proud to partner with Flirtey, the FAA, and our local IPP partners to enable drone delivery of AEDs to Washoe County residents,” says City of Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve.

“Public safety is our top priority, and the use of drones to provide life-saving AED technology to cardiac patients will save lives across our community.”

Cambridge Consultants unveils Mamut autonomous robot for agriculture

Cambridge Consultants has unveiled its autonomous robot, Mamut, which is built to explore crop fields, and capture data on health and yield at the level of individual plants on a large scale.

According to Cambridge Consultants, Mamut automates data capture, providing growers with regular, precise and actionable information on their crops, which allows them to predict and optimize yields.

Powered by artificial intelligence, Mamut is equipped with a wide range of sensors, and can map and navigate its surroundings without GPS or a fixed radio infrastructure. Its cameras capture detailed crop data at the plant level as it makes its way through rows of a field, orchard or vineyard, allowing for accurate predictions of yield and crop health.

Mamut integrates a variety of technologies, including stereo cameras, LIDAR, an inertial measurement unit (IMU), a compass, wheel odometers and an on-board AI system that fuses the multiple sensor data inputs. This combination of technologies allows the robot to not only know where it is, but also know how to navigate through a new environment, in real time.

“Mamut is a practical application of AI, meeting a real and pressing need, particularly for growers of specialty crops where failure carries a high cost,” says Niall Mottram, head of Agritech, Cambridge Consultants.

“AI systems are already being used to understand crop conditions, yield predictions and to enable weed identification, but our autonomous robotic platform can collect valuable and granular data below the canopy, where drones cannot see. This data enables farmers to treat each plant in their vineyard, orchard or field individually, and on the scale of massive industrial farming, optimizing yields and producing more output with less input.”

Cambridge Consultants notes that Mamut’s ability to perform simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), which allows the robot to react and learn from unstructured routes in real time, was developed during navigation trials through the twists and turns of a 12-acre maize maze at Skylark Garden Centre, and at Mackleapple’s orchard, both of which are located in Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom.

Fox Sports utilizes drone to capture footage of Daytona 500

During the Daytona 500, Fox Sports used an untethered UAS to shoot the race live and send the footage straight to the broadcast.

Fox Sports worked with HeliVideo Productions to capture the footage of the race. The two have worked together for years on live drone cameras, but Daytona was the biggest venue that HeliVideo Productions has used its technology at so far.

The race took place at Daytona International Speedway, which is directly adjacent to the Daytona Beach International Airport. There is an FAA-issued Temporary Flight Restriction in the area, and the sporting event is regularly attended by thousands of people. With all of these factors, Fox had to work with the FAA, Daytona Airport Flight Operations, the FBI, the Volusia County Sheriff's Department, Daytona Beach Police, Daytona Beach Fire and Rescue, the owner of the track, and Nascar to get clearance for the flights before they could take place.

“We believe it is the first time an untethered drone was flown legally in a ‘temporary flight restriction’ zone,” says Michael Davies, Fox Sports senior vice president of Field & Tech Operations, via Popular Science.

“The FAA took a very hands-on and helpful approach to shepherding our team through the rules.”

Footage was captured using a DJI Inspire 2 UAS. The final approval to use the UAS was received just two days before the race, and the UAS was only allowed to fly on the backstretch where there is no fan seating, as flying over the track during the race was strictly prohibited.

The Inspire 2 had DJI's Zenmuse X7 Super 35mm camera attached, which allowed the team to send broadcast quality video straight from the UAS into live production. The 1080p camera on the UAS used standard Wi-Fi to connect to the camera operator. It then went on a fiber line to the live production truck, converted to 720p (which is what Fox broadcasts in), and then on to the production video switcher and replay system.

"We tested with drone footage at a Supercross indoors event a few years ago, but not during the live event," says Fox Sports spokesperson Erik Arneson. "We've used it for beauty shots at the US Open golf tournament and at NHRA [drag racing] events."

The use of a UAS for live footage during a major sporting event was a first, especially for such a high-profile race as the Daytona 500.

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