The AUVSI Recap 2018: Maturing Tech in a Turbulent Market

The AUVSI 2018 Recap!

Welcome to another installment of this, year at the 2018 AUVSI – where you get the curated scoop on the biggest, most comprehensive drone industry conference in the world! The Commercial UAV Industry showed a step towards market maturity in many market segments and celebrated a major milestone in regulatory achievement. While the look of the small unmanned aircraft have not changed much; the processors, payloads, and software solutions have. What’s most important, reiterated throughout the show, was the need for industry baselines and best practices to help grow the competencies, performance, and return on investment.

Counter-UAS

Holy Smokes Batman! Counter Unmanned Aircraft Systems Technology is  really starting to hit it’s stride this year as Remote ID, Tracking, and Mitigation strategies begin to take over rule-making processes all together. The jive seems to be that C-UAS tech will be a major industry going forward as stories of drug and ordinance laden drones begin to capture the minds-eye of law enforcement, event planners, and insurance groups. From technology that identifies and tracks wayward drones like the systems from DeDrone to the more active systems that are kinetic, cyber, or electromagnetic in nature – the systems are merging now that may actually resemble a mitigating barrier for unwanted drones. This may have a huge implication on the ability for projects to be approved (since we can determine the good vs the bad) and may help to protect sensitive infrastructure from the emerging concerns posed by flying robots.

Policy Summary 
Impact driven policy announcements from the U.S. Transportation Secretary on the UAS Integration pilot program and BVLOS Pathfinder results set the path for a maturing industry. Both announcements mark an advancement in large ROI use cases across all segments of the Commercial UAS industry. While the initial announcements are focused exclusively on 10 pilot programs, the FAA determined that access to airspace is possible beyond these specific proposals. Wolf UAS, of course, is eager to help those looking to advance their operations through safe and secure policy.

Department of Transportation
The UAS Integration Pilot program announced the number of participants has expanded to ten programs. Insights from the keynote presentation identified the DOT sees a future in package delivery and the UAS Integration Pilot program is the mechanism to provide support. Following the conference a full list was announced and can be found here!

PrecisionHawk’s BVLOS Concept

Program Overview: The purpose of the UAS Integration Pilot Program is to explore safely expand cutting-edge drone operations into the National Airspace by pairing state, local, and tribal governments with unmanned aircraft operators. This gives a wider range of private operators and localities the chance to propose solutions to the most difficult integration challenges. Safety rules will be developed on a case-by-case basis and will depend on the type of planned operation and will undergo FAA review.

Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Pathfinder darling, PrecisionHawk, has worked diligently with the FAA and forged a path for BVLOS acceptable methods in the U.S. national airspace.   Their rotary sUAS is equipped with Acoustic-base Aircraft Detection System (SARA-PANCAS), LiDAR, and Real-time Manned Aircraft Flight Data Feeds (LATAS) for live airspace tracking. The combination of these are the secret ingredients to the FAA BVLOS cocktail. This is the grandest announcement in the industry from a policy stand point. While BVLOS has been a struggle to achieve in the U.S. airspace, international firms such as Delair, Aeryon, and Insitu have been flying BVLOS international for years. While PrecisionHawk earned the benefit of first mover advantage, expect to see a large surge in BVLOS providers this time next year. If you’re looking for help with your BVLOS operations, Wolf UAS LLC can help drive support your operations.  

Low Altitude Authorization and Notifications Capability (LAANC) 
Announced before AUVSI this year LAANC set the stage for some major software improvements. Companies proudly displayed their software’s LAANC integration, which allows operators a nearly instantaneous FAA approval. The demonstrations were impressive, and I believe LAANC enhanced operation systems will be required by commercial sUAS customers. Current suppliers are AirMap, Rockwell Collins, Skyward.io, The Team at X, and a few others.  

Unmanned Vehicle Review – A Closer Look at the Tools Themselves! 

While the look of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems has not change over the years, the hardware under the hood has. Advancements in payload sensors, and processing power on-board the aircraft have expanded the definition of what possible and for how much. Notable achievements seen at AUVSI for me are from Aeryon’s RD60, DJI’s Matrice 200, Intel’s Falcon 8, and the Trimble AUX-15 UAS circuit board.  

Aeryon Skyranger RD60 – This has been a long time favorite of mine due to HD Zoom and Infrared sensor packages, toughness in weather, and real-time video feed user experience. The new price point for the RD60 makes this much more accessible for purchase for fleet operations. I rate it high in storm response capabilities, which from what we saw last year’s hurricane season comes in very handy for owners of critical infrastructure. Another advertised feature is the AES-256 Encryption to protect data transfer. The customer service and replacement policies are another differentiator that makes Aeryon an exceptional sUAS.

DJI Matric 200 series – This continuation of DJI’s 200 series product line stepped up the appeal for infrastructure operators looking for flexibility in operations. It features rain resistance, duel batteries, and flexibility in modular expansion ports, a variety of payload options, top and bottom mounting positions, and a duel gimble option. With the announcement of DJI partnership with Microsoft, the fog of data security could be lifted to the joy of many DJI owners out there.

Intel’s Falcon 8 –  Intel’s latest version of the Falcon 8 features multiple new payloads, Intel Imaging Payload with Obstacle Avoidance (20 MP Sony R10C) and an Intel High Resolution Imaging Payload (42 MP Sony RX1R II, 2D and 3D capable). These new payloads are supported by one of the greatest redundancy systems and Intel Insights analytics platforms. Overall, this turn-key system offers a solid end to end solutions available with its pedigree of Intel. While the competition is collaborating to offer similar turn-key solutions, Intel’s full package is top notch.

Insitu ScanEagle3 –  With over 1,000,000 operation hours flown internationally, Insitu is making a full court press into the commercial industry. The revealing of the ScanEagle3 at AUVSI. It offers a more payload capability, longer endurance and flexibility in configurations and industries uses. of payload packages that are easy to swap out. I’m impressed with the modular component of the ScanEagle3 and the support system of the Insitu product family for training/flight services, operations, and processing. If you have a large area mission, the ScanEagle3 is a product you should consider.

Trimble APX-15 UAV – Trimble calls it OEM board a Single Board GNSS-Intertial Solution, I call it a pleasant surprise. It is a single OEM board containing precision GNSS receiver and inertial sensor components plus post-mission Differential GNSS-Inertial office software and delivers high accuracy. What this translates to is this little board reduces/eliminates the need for ground control points (GCP’s) and reduces the amount of sidelap to be flown, increasing a surveyor’s productivity per mission. This is a major time and labor expense windfall for infrastructure companies. 

Software Review 

At AUVSI, the application trends were targeting operations scaling and looking for solutions to help them into their next phase of operations. A complementary technology that also had a large presence was Artificial Intelligence (AI).  Companies like Intel displayed their software solutions supported by AI. This product combination trend is one that is becoming common amid the hardware OEM’s. The combination of the two are becoming standard. Companies like DroneDeploy are offering SaaS solutions for operations that are scaling. Both Intel and DroneDeploy are leveraging Application Program Interface (API’s) that allow for a digital market place to support new add-ons. This means more options are arriving for cloud-based software patrons. 

One of new developments is LAANC – Low-Altitude Authorization and Notification Capabilities systems.Platforms that feature LAANC offer a smooth CONOPS experience and mission planning for LAANC friendly zones.   

Cloud based application have always been a popular solution across the general commercial UAS customer base. However, with risk adverse companies such energy companies and regulated utilities, turning to cloud-based operation solutions has been a more difficult conversation. The 2017 Homeland Security report identifies some insights on this trend.

In 2017, the top five cloud vendors annual revenue run rate were: Microsoft commercial cloud $21.2 billion, Amazon Web Services $20.2 billion, IBM $10.3 billion, and Oracle $6.08 billion. Most cloud based operations were using either AWS or Azure. 

Some key software from AUVSI are as follows: 

SkyWatch –  The aviation insurance app that performs risk assessment and rewards safe operations with lower insurance rates is the first I’ve heard of that is offering rewards for safety.

3D design and walk through using virtual reality. Civil engineers are now able to leverage aerial data with survey data to render models of projects before an investor approved the next phase of funding. Being able to combine 3D models with BIM designs supports a U.S. Construction Industry that spent $1.3 trillion in 2016. 

Tale of two FAA Test Sites

Testing centers have been a safe zone for innovators to test their technology for commercial applications in the national airspace. While all sites are staffed professionally, they have begun to differentiate from each other in their offerings. 

Nevada Institute For Autonomous Systems (NIAS): Companies looking to bring their products to market are turning to the entire state of Nevada and the team at NIAS for a full eco-system of support. Some of the best products cut their teeth under the watch of the test site, preparing their launch into the national airspace. 

Northern Plains Dakota UAS Test SiteA leader in BVLOS technology development, the team at the Northern Plains site can bring the testing to your backyard. You can rent a test site person to come to your back yard and fly extended line of sight to proof out flight concepts in your own back yard. Their support and assistance could help your utility achieve the BVLOS capabilities the FAA granted Xcel Energy. 

Something completely different

Houston Mechatronics is a startup fueled by former NASA roboticists, who have focused their craft on developing something magnificent in under the sea. Their massive orange robot “Aquabot” is being wielded to create safe work environments and improve processes in open ocean waters. By pairing high latency, low bandwidth data transfer with high-resolution environmental awareness and predictive locomotion, these engineers have solved some major painpoints that should lead to wide-spread adoption in the oil and gas and military industries.  These capabilities apply themselves to much more than any other robotics in the water and hits a home-run in using technology to solve dangerous work environments.  

If you have any questions about what you read here, feel free to e-mail us!

Fly Safe!

Mitch Droz, md@wolfuas.com

Leave a Reply