Exploring, once again, the brave new world of UAVs

June 19, 2019  - By
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Welcome to Part 2 of our coverage of the mammoth AUVSI Xponential 2019 show in Chicago, which drew 8,000 attendees, featured 300+ speakers on its technical program, and furnished a temporary home for more than 800 exhibitors. It was “Everything Unmanned” and a challenge to cover. Last month we looked primarily at new vehicles. This month’s column focuses on sensors, capabilities and apps aboard those and other airborne drones — and even an anti-drone drone!

Sagetech: For UAVs to gain entry to the US National Airspace System (NAS) and to other controlled airspace all around the world, sense-and-avoid capability is paramount. Sagetech comes from the world of Mode-S transponders, with which the majority of piloted aircraft are equipped. These devices transmit aircraft identification and provide the moving IDs on air-traffic controller display monitors. In the military sector, Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) interrogator-transponders enable similarly equipped aircraft of NATO countries to determine which are friendly aircraft within their immediate airspace, and which are not.

The MX12B Mode 5 IFF with FAA-certified civil modes. (Photo: Sagetech)

The MX12B Mode 5 IFF with FAA-certified civil modes. (Photo: Sagetech)

Sagetech has just released a micro-mode 5 MX12B aviation transponder that enables small unmanned aircraft to interoperate within NATO airborne units. The transponders weigh around 10lb, so mil-spec UAVs operating in NATO airspace can now also carry this light-weight unit.

For civilian UAVs, GPS has been added to provide aircraft position outputs in Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS–B) message format, allowing other aircraft and UAVs to receive a vehicle’s location. The Sagetech ADS-B transponder is small, certified to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards (TSO C-166b) and is affordable. Boeing Scan-Eagle UAVs apparently already carry Sagetech transponder capability.

uAvionThe tailBeacon ADS-B retrofit. (Photo: uAvionics)ics

The tailBeacon ADS-B retrofit. (Photo: uAvionics)

uAvionix: Another avionics supplier has brought out certified ADS-B capable transponders, but with a novel way to add the required capability to general aviation (GA) aircraft, typically smaller private planes. The FAA has mandated that all aircraft should be fitted with ADS-B capability by January 1, 2020 in order to fly within controlled airspace, so uAvionix has simplified ADS-B retrofit for older GA aircraft.

All aircraft have wingtip and/or rear-tail beacon lights; this update replaces their existing beacon with a light which also includes ADS-B capability when paired with the aircraft transponder.

The FYXnav TSO CERTIFIED GPS navigation source. (Photo: uAvionics)

The FYXnav TSO CERTIFIED GPS navigation source. (Photo: uAvionics)

uAvionix also supplies a couple of GPS sensors for external mounting on UAVs: the FYXnav sensor is FAA-certified to TSO-C199 Traffic Awareness Beacon System Class B.

Sensefly released a new inspection application for their eBeeX UAV, specifically designed for solar farms. With a dual thermal/video sensor for data collection and data processing using application-specific Raptor Maps software, Sensefly claims to reduce the inspection time required for a 150MW solar farm to around 1 day, a 300-times improvement on ground inspection using a hand-held thermographic sensor.

Provided an inspection operation could support five 70-minute eBee-X flights during one day, the UAV could over-fly up to 161 acres of solar panels at an altitude of 138ft, gathering anomalies during each flight. This adds up to 150MW of solar panels over the 5 flights. Sensefly claims this to be twice as fast as with multi-rotor dones. The Raptor Maps software then generates an inspection report identifying each anomaly, using the eBee X’s video and thermal imagery to identify, classify, and localize the detected problems.

The Fortem DroneHunter intercept drone. (Photo: Fortem)

The Fortem DroneHunter intercept drone. (Photo: Fortem)

Fortem makes an anti-drone defense combining a radar detection system with a DroneHunter drone that attacks other UAVs, releasing an 80ft net to capture intruders. For those nefarious drones which are hardened against RF countermeasures, this system is also touted as capable of recovering the offending drone without damage, returning it to the operator in a net at the end of a tether. The DroneHunter flies autonomously on its intercept mission, carrying a compact radar system integrated with a ballistic net release system.

Septentrio continued promotion of its Mosaic chip-level GNSS at Xponential. The new chip uses the same proven core DSP with a new RF front-end and a new processor, working with more than 30 signals from the existing six GNSS constellations, and with L-band and satellite-based augmentation systems (SBAS).

Septentrio’s Mosaic chip-level GNSS. (Photo: Septentrio)

Septentrio’s Mosaic chip-level GNSS. (Photo: Septentrio)

The chip appears to be aimed at the high-precision market, replacing the AsteRx-m2 board level receiver family.

The chip runs Septentrio RTK algorithms, is quite small (1.29 x 1.29 x 0.15 in), is designed for high-volume surface mount manufacture, and comes with a set of popular interfaces. The chip is sampling now, with production planned for later this year.

NovAtel is growing, opening new offices in the US and needing more local real-estate to fit its headquarters in Calgary, Canada. The company is now part of Hexagon Positioning Intelligence (Hexagon PI), a partial re-branding that includes VERIPOS correction services and recently purchased AutonomousStuff, specializing in ground vehicles. Each organization still operates individually through its own brands. On the NovAtel booth, existing products were presented through a number of new applications, including those of the growing mil-spec products group.

Summary. While AUVSI Xponential was over in early May, the companies who were there have not rested. All are developing new approaches for UAVs and unmanned ground vehicles, sensor systems for even wider applications than seen in Chicago, and all manner of other added capabilities. This business only gets bigger and more innovative.

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About the Author:


Tony Murfin is managing consultant for GNSS Aerospace LLC, Florida. Murfin provides business development consulting services to companies involved in GNSS products and markets, and writes for GPS World as the OEM Professional contributing editor. Previously, Murfin worked for NovAtel Inc. in Calgary, Canada, as vice president of Business Development; for CMC Electronics in Montreal, Canada, as business development manager, product manager, software manger and software engineer; for CAE in Montreal as simulation software engineer; and for BAe in Warton, UK, as senior avionics engineer. Murfin has a B.Sc. from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in the UK, and is a UK Chartered Engineer (CEng MIET).

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