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The sky’s alive at AUVSI’s Xponential 2017

May 12, 2017  - By

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Xponential 2017 show, May 8-11 in Dallas, convened a global community of commercial and defense suppliers in intelligent robotics, drones and unmanned systems. It showcases the broad forefront of autonomous vehicles generally, but in-flight in particular, and there were plenty of expanded capabilities and expanding applications on display.

In one of several keynotes over the course of the four-day show, Intel Corporation CEO Brian Krzanich predicted that in the oncoming era of driverless cars and autonomous aircraft, the most important aspect of such vehicles will be the data they collect rather than their performance. Big data and cloud processing are somehow tied into UAVs in his vision of things. Sometime soon, he forecast, autonomous devies “will have the ability to make decisions.”

Swarming drones have military potential, according to a 33-year career Marine who now works at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. Bill Powers described how a Navy program, the Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) uses drones to jam enemy communications and waste its resources by drawing fire. The Naval Research Laboratory dploys Close-in Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft (CICADA), with onboard sensors that relay atmospheric conditions as well as possition, time and altitude relating to battlefield conditions.

Watching the Watchers

With all the drones in the air, managing them and keeping the commercial airspace safe and uncluttered has become a towering problem. Several companies at AUVSI introduced unmanned traffic management (UTM) systems.

Unmanned traffic management becoming a priority (image courtesy Gryphon Systems).

Unmanned traffic management becoming a priority (image courtesy Gryphon Systems).

Among them, Gryphon Sensors introduced Mobile Skylight, an operational mobile UTM system designed for rapid deployment.

Drone security applications span, according to the company, airport security, critical infrastructure protection, VIP security, embassy protection and border security. In the beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) realm, UTM applications to be enabled by Mobile Skylight include: first responders (EMS, fire and police), precision agriculture, delivery, utility and infrastructure inspection, media and entertainment, mapping and surveying, construction and mining.

In short, everywhere drones go, they will need to be tracked and managed.

Mobile Skylight combines multiple technologies and an array of self-contained sensors, to serve as a mobile command center. The system is provided in a four-wheel drive van with off-road capabilities. It also integrates with third-party sensor inputs, and automatically records essential data for post-mission analysis and playback.

Using a dual-band mesh network, Mobile Skylight is capable of forward deploying a multispectral suite of sensors. Its integrated radar has been designed for 3-D detection of low-flying, small UAS and general aviation at ranges out to 10 kilometers and 27 kilometers, respectively. The system has built-in target tracking and classification to help quickly identify cooperative and non-cooperative targets. It also tracks multiple, simultaneous targets, providing a comprehensive picture of the airspace.

See related story, Traffic management systems for unmanned aircraft requested.

Yeah, Heavy

One novel application is heavy-lift drones for the construction and perhaps open-pit mining, quarrying and other weighty sectors. Griff Aviation, a Norwegian company that has set up a manufacturing plant in Florida, displayed its Super Heavy-Lift model, the Griff 300.

Super Heavy-Lift Drone from Griff Aviation

Super Heavy-Lift Drone from Griff Aviation image courtesy Gryphon Systems

The GRIFF 300 is an unmanned aircraft with customizable payload options that make it suitable for a variety of professional applications. The company states that it can lift 225kg (496lbs) in addition to its own 75kg (165lbs) weight. It features a flight time of 30-45mins, depending on payload. “The next model that will be produced will be able to lift 800kg (1,764lbs). Then we will continue to increase lifting capacity even further,” said CEO Leif Johan Holand.

Skylift Global drone prepping for flight.

Skylift Global drone prepping for flight. image courtesy Gryphon Systems

Several aisles over on the show floor, Skylift Global also featured a drone in the heavy lifting class.  “Current prototype is 100 pounds and carried an additional 100 pounds easy. Currently undergoing testing for up to 400 pounds,” says its CEO Amir Emadi.

Skylift has signed agreements with companies in southern California to start deliveries of cold-chain logistics. Its heavy-lift capability can carry the added weight of refrigeration (think Amazon Fresh, says Emadi). Skylift also is in collaboration with JPL and Caltech to showcase a platform to DARPA for autonomous sense and avoid.

Neither company has GPS aboard their workhorses yet but see no problem and plenty of opportunity in adding it as their business develops.

Experienced GNSS Companies

NovAtel had on display its range of high-precision GNSS receivers, antennas, and augmented systems for ground, marine and airborne unmanned applications. Its equipment meets requirements for military and commercial applications, and specific to UAV applications the company offered the OEM625S SAASM GPS+civil RTK receiver, GAJT anti-jam antennas, TerraStar PPP correction services and SPAN GNSS+INS for 3D position, attitude and velocity.

The latter will be featured in the cover story of GPS World’s June issue, differentiating performance of various grades of IMUs in a tightly-coupled inertial/GNSS integration. Exploring IMU specifications and correlating them to performance of a final product can be daunting, as differences between MEMS sensors are not always apparent. The article will present achievable performances in fusion technology across a range of IMUs among the best in their respective performance categories.

Spirent Communications took a dual approach, displaying what they termed an entry-level simulator (although fully upgradeable as needs develop) for UAV manufacturers who are new to GPS signal testing, and even the need for it. They also had on hand their fully configured GSS7000 for multi-frequency testing, also with a modular approach to enable the precision GNSS simulation system to expand with users’ needs.
The GSS7000 series offers emulation of all civil GNSS systems and regional augmentation systems, and allows devices to be tested under a multitude of operating environments and error conditions, the company said. The GSS7000 has the flexibility to reconfigure satellite constellations, channels and frequencies between test runs or test cases. Four software control variants are offered.

About the Author: Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron is the former editor-at-large of GPS World magazine.