Concepts for UAS traffic management (UTM) in urban areas, calls for a UTM system in Australia, Flirtey raises capital, a Great Sand Dunes National Park mapping project, and visualizing the airflow around a quadcopter.
If large numbers of drones are ever to provide delivery services in urban areas, UAS traffic management rules need to be created to safely manage the flow. From the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ 2017 AIAA SciTech Forum in Grapevine, Texas, we learn about some of the concepts that NASA’s Ames Research Center is looking at for UAS traffic management in urban areas.
There are three basic concepts:
Sky-lanes: Vehicles must follow the centerline of each lane, and fly in one direction.
Sky-tubes: Vehicles move inside each tube, and fly only in one direction.
Sky-corridors: Vehicles can fly in any direction, but the vehicles themselves must maintain safe separation.
The Association of Certified UAV Operators (ACUO) wants the Federal Government to “launch a program to design, develop and implement a continent-wide unmanned traffic management (UTM) system as the only viable means of achieving the safe integration of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS)… into national airspace.”
Flirtey wants to be the world’s premier independent drone delivery service. Now the company has raised $16 million in Series A funding. Crunchbase Pro reports that 95 drone companies raised at least $500,000 in equity funding in 2016. The average funding was $6.8 million. Total invested was $482.8 million.
A Swift Trainer fixed-wing UAS from Black Swift Technologies was used to map a portion of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado. The project used precision mapping with high-fidelity remote sensors to measure and monitor the dunes. Participating in the project were UAS Colorado (a non-profit business league), Black Swift Technologies, the National Park Service (NPS), and Wohnrade Civil Engineers, Inc. They plan to take the data they captured and compare it to airborne LiDAR data from the United States Geological Survey.
This visualization of the airflow around a DJI Phantom 3 demonstrates areas of low pressure, areas of high pressure, and disturbed air. To create the animation, a NASA aerospace engineer and a scientific visualization specialist ran a simulation on 1,024 cores of NASA’s Pleiades supercomputer. It took five days to compute. The results offer design implications for UAV efficiency and noise.
Cell coverage provided by drones, sUAS conflicting with aerial applicators, controlling swarms with your mind, another package delivery milestone by Flirtey, a drone pilot is arrested, and using drones to find old land mines.
A Bird’s Eye View of AT&T’s Drone Inspection Program
AT&T uses Cell On Wheels (COW) equipment to temporarily add cell capacity for large events, or bring coverage to disaster scenes. Now the company is looking at a new kind of COW that used drones: Cell On Wings. In the company blog, Drones Taking Our Network to New Heights, AT&T says, “We’re researching how in-flight drones can use our LTE network to send large amounts of data in real-time. This capability may benefit areas such as insurance, farming, facility and asset inspections, and even delivery service companies.” AT&T is already using drones to perform cell tower inspections. (Video above.)
Most groups with an interest in using sUAS commercially are in favor of the Part 107 rules, including the agriculture business. But the National Agricultural Aviation Association thinks “the FAA set the bar a little low” when it comes to safety and certification requirements.
Note: The Small UAS Rule (Part 107), including all pilot and operating rules, will be effective on August 29, 2016. These resources are provided by the FAA:
Arizona State University is researching technology that allows human brainwaves to control up to four robot vehicles. Electrodes on a skullcap pick up electrical brain activity, software processes the data, and the drones are controlled via a Bluetooth connection. ASU says that to make the drones move, the operator watches on a monitor, and thinks and pictures the drones performing various tasks.
Flirtey and 7-Eleven announced they have completed the first fully autonomous, FAA-approved drone delivery to two residential homes in Reno, Nevada. The Flirtey drone delivered a 7-Eleven chicken sandwich, donuts, hot coffee, and Slurpees. The Flirtey drone hovered over the residents’ backyards and lowered the packages. The two companies plan to expand their delivery services in the future.
Two former Afghan refugees are developing technology that would allow a drone to safely sweep an area and destroy old land mines. The UAS would use ground penetrating radar and metal detectors to locate the mines. A small charge could then be placed by the drone and detonated remotely. The brothers are using a Kickstarter campaign to fund the Mine Kafon Drone.
A workshop to teach educators how to introduce drones to students, Flirtey is in the news again with another package delivery milestone, and a report on the Hogan Lovells sUAS Part 107 webinar.
Princess Aliyah Pandolfi updates us on the exciting projects being undertaken by the Kashmir World Foundation. We last spoke with Aliyah when we covered the DaVinci Build-a-Drone workshop in Episode 124. In order to create a more sustainable program and bring this highly successful STEM program to a broader audience, this special workshop was created for educators who can then teach students at their schools and universities.
The first educator workshop is July 11-15, 2016 at Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia. Registration deadline is July 8, 2016. Visit www.kashmirworldfoundation.org for more information.
Aliyah Pandolfi and David Vanderhoof
Aliyah also explains a new project to monitor sea turtle activity with MiSHELL drones. To conduct their research, biologists must painstakingly locate sea turtle tracks on the beach and follow them to the nests. Kashmir World Foundation has partnered with Georgia Southern University at St. Catherines Island to discover how sUAS could be used to greatly increase the efficiency of the process.
In addition, Aliyah is conducting a private workshop this summer for girls and technology. This is sponsored by Eagle Ray, a woman-owned business specializing in strategic transformation services.
As a related resource, the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application(IACRA) is the web-based certification/rating application that takes you through the FAA’s airman application process. Remote Pilot certificates for small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) will come to IACRA in late August 2016.
A milestone for the UTM research platform, controlling drones with brain waves, FAA approval for night flying, rules for sUAS get one step closer, more from the Drone Dealer Expo, and a Flirtey goes into the Smithsonian.
A three-hour field test of NASA’s UAS Traffic Management (UTM) research platform included 24 drones flying in all six FAA UAS test sites. Operators planned operations, entered flight plans, and used a variety of aircraft and software. Up to 22 drones were operated simultaneously. The UTM research platform checked for conflicts, approved or rejected the flight plans, and notified users of constraints. This Technical Capability Level One test addressed rural UAS operations within line-of-sight.
Sixteen pilots at the University of Florida used a brain-computer interface (BCI) to control DJI Phantoms down a 10-yard course. Each pilot was calibrated with electroencephalogram headsets measuring neuron activity, which was then bound to the controller for flight.
Tremco Roofing and Building Maintenance has become the first commercial drone operator to be granted approval by the FAA to conduct UAV operations at night. Tremco plans to inspect buildings at night for energy leaks, rooftop damage, deteriorating façades, safety issues, etc. In partnership with Toronto-based Industrial SkyWorks, they’ve developed the SkyBEAM (Building Envelope Aerial Mapping) UAV using an Aeryon Skyranger quadcopter with HD video and infrared cameras.
Law firm Hogan Lovells reports that “the FAA has sent the Small UAS NPRM to the White House for a final interagency review.” The Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) rule must go through a review process at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the White House. OIRA received the FAA’s Small UAS rule on April 20, 2016. Their review period averages 53 days.
Interview with Drone Nerds from Drone Dealer Expo
Continuing with Tim Trott’s interviews recorded at Drone Dealer Expo, we bring you his conversation with Lance Knowles from Drone Nerds, Incorporated, a distributor for brands like DJI and Monster X heavylift craft for commercial applications. Tim and Lance talk about the impact of regulations, the responsibilities of drone manufacturers and dealers, knowledge exams and check rides for drone operators, and measuring commercial drone operator proficiency.
The Flirtey drone used to make the first FAA-approved delivery in the U.S. has been accepted into the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum’s Innovations in Flight Family Day and Outdoor Aviation Display on Saturday, June 18, 2016, at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. See recreational and home-built aircraft as well as classic automobiles. Enjoy presentations, demonstrations, special tours, and hands-on activities for all ages.
An autonomous package delivery drone, blanket COA altitude limit raised, FAA forecasts UAS sales, in U.S., states eye drone applications, NASA and AFRL developing a fully autonomous UAS, JPL applies Mars sensor technology to earth-bound drone, and the Pentagon will pair manned and unmanned jets.
In Episode 59 we reported that Flirtey was conducting package delivery tests in Australia. Flirtey now says they have successfully completed the first fully autonomous, FAA-approved, urban drone delivery in the United States, in an uninhabited residential setting in Hawthorne, Nevada.
The company successfully used a drone to deliver a package that included bottled water, emergency food, and a first aid kit. The six-rotor drone flew itself along a predetermined delivery route and lowered the package at a precise drop-off location. A Flirtey pilot and several visual observers were on standby during the delivery as a backup to the autonomous system but were never needed.
This test was completed through a partnership with the Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center at the University of Nevada, Reno. Both partners are also working with NASA to develop a low-altitude air traffic management system. Additionally, Flirtey has partnered with the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) and the FAA-designated Nevada UAS Test Site.
After conducting a risk analysis, the FAA has decided to raise the blanket altitude authorization for Section 333 exemption holders and government aircraft operators. Previously, the nationwide Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) limited such flights to 200 feet. The new COA policy [PDF] allows commercial use to 400 feet anywhere in the country, other than in restricted airspace or where the FAA prohibits UAS operations.
Attorney Jonathan Rupprecht describes how the original blanket authorization was written to avoid a COA choke-point. However, many radio towers are between 200 and 400 feet tall, and each of these towers needed a new, 400 foot site-specific COA. This bogged down the system tremendously.
The FAA estimates that the new blanket COA will lessen the need for individual COAs by 30 to 40 percent. The blanket COA also addresses the inconsistency where recreational drone operators can fly up to 400 feet while commercial operators were restricted to 200 feet unless they obtained another COA.
Other changes to the blanket COA include see-and-avoid requirements, reporting involving certain accidents/mishaps involving UAS operations, ATC special provisions, and flight planning.
The latest FAA forecast shows hobbyist and commercial UAS unit sales growing from 2.5 million in 2016 to 7 million in 2020. Hobbyist purchases were 1.9 million in 2016 and the forecast is 4.3 million by 2020. Commercial sales were 600,000 in 2016 and could grow to 2.7 million by 2020.
The FAA forecast for the top five commercial drone markets:
State funding for a drone pilot program at the Palm Beach Florida County Sheriff’s Office should allow them to use unmanned aircraft for “search and rescue, disaster assessment and assistance, interdiction of drug and human-trafficking activities, and situational awareness of a person whose life is in imminent danger.”
Michigan transportation officials are considering assessing bridge decks, traffic monitoring, inspecting confined spaces, and will conduct a two-year study. Minnesota tested a drone to help conduct safety inspections of bridges. Vermont is studying the use of drones to monitor river flooding and assist with road work. Massachusetts has been looking at the pros and cons of drone use.
NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) hope to demonstrate the Traveler UAS that can autonomously plan, launch, navigate, and refuel itself. The FAA supports the idea and will use data from the program to help set future standards for UAS operations. A Traveler project demonstration flight outside of restricted airspace is planned for later in 2016. An autonomous mission without a safety pilot could take place in 2017. The demonstrations will use a modified BirdsEyeView Aerobotics FireFLY6 VTOL UAV, named “Elissa.”
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has successfully flight-tested a miniature, highly sensitive methane gas sensor onboard a small quadcopter. With application for pipeline inspection, the sensor is similar to the one JPL developed for use on Mars.
Deputy defense secretary Robert Work says that the air force will pair unmanned F-16s with F-35s in future battles. The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is developing the autonomy algorithms needed to control the unmanned fighter jets. These algorithms would be hosted in line-replaceable units and thus, could easily be transferred between aircraft.
UAV Propulsion Tech has signed a reseller agreement with DST Control to market their lightweight, high performance gyro-stabilized electro-optical systems, and small, lightweight thermal imagers into the US unmanned vehicle and manned aircraft markets. UAV Propulsion Tech is a U.S. company that markets German, Canadian, Australian and now also Swedish technology into the North American UAV market. This includes propulsion, autopilot, servo/actuator, and rescue/recovery parachute solutions.
Tim Trott has written an e-book study manual in anticipation of the written test requirement for UAV operators that is included in current FAA authorization legislation. The book includes all 11 of the areas listed in the NPRM/14 CFR107 and a 50 question practice test with answer key. This material can provide preparation for the FAA test that may be coming.
Tim also tells us that as of March 31, 2016, there is a checkbox for commercial registration at registermyuas.faa.gov. Once the process is completed, a certificate number is assigned, and a certificate of registration issued for each UAS registered with the company. The new online system provides a certificate ID number instead of an N number. Those who want an N number must use the paper process.
Sense and Avoid by NASA and General Atomics, South African rules by 2015, Amazon’s drone page, package delivery by Flirtey and Google, and cease and desist letters from the FAA.
Maj. Gen. Charles Frank Bolden, Jr., (USMC-Ret.), the NASA Administrator since July, 2009.
In this clip from a longer interview recorded for the Airplane Geeks podcast, Charlie talks about NASA’s activity to develop autonomous flight technologies with the UAS test sites, focusing on sense and avoid. NASA is looking at low altitude sUAS air traffic control, and they are finalizing an agreement with Google on sense and avoid technology for package delivery systems. NASA wants to help the FAA get out ahead of the developing market.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is developing aircraft detect-and-avoid (DAA) systems for unmanned aircraft. First, they’ll conduct software regression and hardware functional testing on their Predator B at the company’s flight operations facility in Palmdale, California.
Then, they’ll move the system to the NASA Predator B Unmanned Science and Research Aircraft System named “Ikhana,” a Native American Choctaw word meaning intelligent, conscious, or aware. Five weeks of collision avoidance trials will be performed where the Predator will be flown against “intruder” aircraft.
The South African Civil Aviation Authority says it will finalize UAV regulations by March, 2015.
The CAA says until then, UAV operation in civil airspace is illegal and operators could be subject to a fine or up to ten years in prison, or both. Flying on private land or in restricted airspace is also illegal.
Amazon.com has officially opened a “Drone Store” featuring the DJI Phantom and the Parrot Drone. Coming soon is the TechJect Dragonfly, a “Wi-Fi enabled robotic insect.”
Mike Fortin, the CEO of CineDrones thinks selling hobby-grade equipment without emphasizing education or safety is irresponsible. But Amazon’s Drone Store web page has a “Fly Responsibly” link that takes you to more “links for informational purposes only:”
In October 2013, Flirtey started drone delivery tests in Australia. They now have more than a hundred successful test deliveries of textbooks, with its partner Zookal, a company that sells textbooks online.
Now Flirtey has teamed up with UAS research center University of Nevada, Reno. The University gets equity in the company, and Flirtey gets collaboration with the University’s R&D labs for design, manufacture, and research. Flirtey also gets access to the University’s graduate students and indoor flight-testing facilities.
Flirtey is going commercial in New Zealand, which is launching Airshare as a UAV hub where commercial operators can log flight information.
The first individual arrested was allegedly flying over the Brooklyn Bridge. He was reported to police by transit workers. The man was visiting from Russia.
The second arrest was for an overflight of the National Tennis Center, hosting the U.S. Open. The operator, a filmmaker, reportedly stated that he thought he was flying in an “appropriate park space.” The National Tennis Center is a private facility adjacent to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which is a public space.
We’ve seen stories about how certain kinds of Lithium-Ion batteries get hot and cause fires on airplanes. Here, a passenger’s hard plastic case in the hold contained Lithium-ion polymer batteries intended to power a remote control drone. Just prior to takeoff, the captain of the Fiji Airways plane detected the smoke from the cargo hold and called a mayday.
In January, Governmentattic.org made a Freedom of Information Act request to the FAA for “copies of any letters, e-mails, or other written or electronic communications requesting or demanding individuals and organizations cease and desist, stop operating, or stop advertising unmanned aerial vehicles.”
The FAA responded with records of 17 “warning letters and e-mails [PDF] sent out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regional offices to individuals…” Most of the cease and desist letters went to aerial video companies, but two universities were asked to stop operations associated with drone journalism studies.
The FAA communications list 3 ways under which UAVs can be operated:
Certificate of Authorization (COA)
None allow commercial operation for aerial photography for hire.