In the rapidly evolving landscape of drone operations, one of the most significant challenges is navigating beyond the line of sight (BVLOS). Operating BVLOS opens up endless possibilities for industries, but it also brings a host of crucial considerations to the forefront. Flight safety and risk mitigation take utmost importance among these considerations, as the safety of people, property, and the uncrewed aircraft itself is paramount.
Currently, most BVLOS operations require the presence of a vigilant visual observer (VO) who diligently scans the skies for potential obstacles and hazards. If they come across one, they must immediately notify the remote pilot in command to abort the drone's current mission. Therefore, it goes without saying how dangerous any form of communication lapse can be.
The Role of Visual Observers in BVLOS Flights
Before delving into the specifics of the various types and Detect and Avoid (DAA) technologies available, we must first understand the role of visual observers and why they are required. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States specifies the operational requirements that must be met before flying unmanned aircraft systems. There is a requirement for a visual observer to perform the following roles for all drone operations that do not have a Part 107.33 waiver.
However, this human-centric approach can be both resource-intensive and limited in terms of continuous monitoring. There could be objects in the area of the drone operation, such as a small non-cooperative paraglider with no engine noise. It may be difficult for a human to accurately identify that and notify the remote pilot-in-command (PIC).
The Solution: AI-powered Detect & Avoid Technology
Detect and avoid (DAA) system enables operators to sense and avoid other aircraft and obstacles autonomously. These systems use sensors, such as radar, acoustic, and visual, to detect and avoid obstacles in the airspace. With DAA technology, drones can operate safely beyond visual line of sight, expanding their range of capabilities and applications.
Types of DAA Systems
There are several types of DAA systems, including radar, acoustic, and optical systems. Each of these systems has its own set of pros and cons, and the choice of system depends on the specific requirements of the drone operation.
Casia G: Iris Automation’s Ground-Based Detect and Alert System
Based on optical vision, Casia G is a ground-based surveillance system from Iris Automation to continuously monitor airspace and ensure UAS operations are safe from intruder aircraft. The sensors employ Iris' patented AI and computer vision technology to provide a full optical, 360° field of view for detecting and alerting to any cooperative or non-cooperative aircraft within a 2 km radius of the sensor's location.
Integration with FlytBase for Safe Remote Drone Operations
By integrating with the Casia G system, the FlytBasedashboard provides real-time data on intrusive aircraft, including type, live telemetry, and location on the map. Remote drone operators can monitor the status and radius of the Casia G sensor and receive immediate alerts if unauthorized aircraft are detected within their operating area.
BVLOS Approvals with Detect and Avoid Systems
The FAA has introduced a smart approach by incorporating "shielding" into their waivers, acknowledging that flying within 50 feet of the ground or a structure is likely safer for other aircraft. To achieve true BVLOS flights, the FAA requires some form of detect and avoid system, whether cooperative or non-cooperative, integrated into the operations.
The Way Ahead
While human visual observers remain important, technological solutions offer scalability and significant advantages. These solutions should be seen as tactical mitigation measures complementing other safety protocols. Cameras, sensors, and advanced safety technologies provide higher accuracy, continuous monitoring, and real-time responses, enhancing the safety of drone operations and opening doors to more advanced applications in the future.
Continued innovation and advancement in DAA technology are going to be essential for handling complex situations effectively and mitigating risks and safely integrating drones into the world’s third dimension.
The future of drone navigation is here, and it's called Detect and Avoid (DAA) systems. These systems, powered by AI and advanced sensor technology, are revolutionizing the way drones operate, especially in BVLOS operations. As we continue to innovate and advance in this field, we can expect to see safer, more efficient, and more scalable drone operations in the near future.
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