UAV Update: Fuel cells, Droneboxes and hostile drones

November 16, 2016  - By

We might have thought of fuel cells in the past coming from historical problems way back on Apollo 13, or more recently in connection with advanced hybrid cars. But now it seems they are one source of long endurance flight for UAVs. Not really a surprise when there are claims of energy levels of 1000 watt/hour per kilogram versus 150 Wh/kg for lithium batteries.

H3 Dynamics in Singapore has released its Hywings UAV, for which it claims up to 10 hours endurance, provided by the on-board fuel cell. The UAV can carry a high-definition camera, a FLIR thermal camera with data storage and a multispectral imaging camera used for the inspection of agricultural fields.

Dronebox and quadrotor UAV

Dronebox and quadrotor UAV

Dronebox is another H3 innovation designed to enable regular, repeatable, autonomous inspection and remote sensing missions from a field-located drone system.

Dronebox and quadrotor UAV

Droneboxes enable autonomous takeoff and landing of a quadrotor UAV from a remote base. When the UAV automatically lands on the base, rapid contact charging is initiated to “refuel” for the next mission. Power is derived from built in solar-collection panels and from conventional “mains” power.

Drone missions may be scheduled on a regular basis for routine flights to monitor facilities, or be dispatched automatically by an alarm. Data collected by the UAV is downloaded and may be processed and delivered to a client over a cloud service.

Mindful that not all drone operators are of the friendly kind, more UAV detection, location and disabling systems are being developed and fielded. Elbit Systems in Israel has just unveiled what it calls “a unique solution for protection of closed air spaces, national infrastructures and other critical areas against hostile drones.”

ReDrone is designed to detect, track and take-out different types of drones using a wide range of RF transmissions. The system can distinguish between a drone’s signals and its operator’s control signals, as well as determining the direction of both the drone and the operator. The system operates over 360 degrees, providing real-time situational awareness of multiple, simultaneous drones within the protection area.

After detecting a target, the ReDrone system disrupts the radio and video communication between the UAV and the operator, and jams or spoofs the GPS data, sending the hostile UAV off track and preventing an attack.

Meanwhile, General Atomics — the manufacturers of the venerable Predator military UAV — may be seeking to enhance its civilian image by offering one of its company owned aircraft for humanitarian relief efforts. The Angel One is based on the jet-powered Predator-C Avenger UAV, which is apparently able to carry significant internal cargo. Up to 8,500 pounds of Humanitarian Daily Ration packets (HDRs) for 3,400 people can be delivered by Angel One to ensure that urgently needed food and medical supplies quickly reach victims of war or natural disasters around the world.

Angel One can fly up to three missions of three hours each day — so, for a mission to deliver aid to a place like Syria, the base of operations would need to be overseas. An internal cargo bay door release mechanism enables two separate drops of aid per mission. The drop area is then evenly distributed with aid packages, ensuring greater delivery success for people in need on the ground over traditional pallet drops, which can be damaged or lost entirely.

And good news for family visitors to Orlando and California entertainment parks: Disney has obtained a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow them to fly drones over their theme parks.

Disney World and Disneyland have no-fly zones, which were put in place in 2003 before war with Iraq. Disney cited those zones in its waiver request, saying their UAVs “will not interrupt national airspace activity.” Disney asked for the FAA OK last year to fly drones at their parks for entertainment displays, including fireworks displays — the waiver now allows Disney Flixel drones to fly at night. In granting the request, the FAA told Disney that it had established adequate mitigation for risk — probably including flying mostly over water at a maximum height of 150 feet while remaining at least 100 feet away from any visitors.

Finally, AeroVironment in California, who may be better known for its military UAS offerings, has decided to make a run at the commercial market. AeroVironment makes the Raven hand-launched system, which is the most widely used unmanned aircraft system in the world today. They also have a suite of different UAS for various types of applications.

Photo: The AeroVironment Quantix

The AeroVironment Quantix is a vertical takeoff and landing quadrotor drone that transitions to horizontal flight after take-off, providing the benefits of fixed-wing aircraft range, reliability and efficiency. Controlled via software on an Android tablet device using one-touch planning and launch, collected data after flight may subsequently be processed within the AeroVironment Decision Support System (AV DSS). This cloud-based data analytics platform incorporates a high level of automation backed by extensive research, using key algorithms to deliver processed results.

Available by spring 2017, this UAS system is aimed at allowing users to improve operational efficiencies, minimize risk and increase profitability.

AeroVironment’s commercial Quantix UAV airborne.

AeroVironment’s commercial Quantix UAV airborne.

To plan a mission, the operator traces a finger on a map on the tablet to establish an area of interest. The system then guides the operator through an automated pre-flight check of the vehicle and flight plan. Selecting “fly,” Quantix performs a detailed built-in test procedure, optimizes its flight path for maximum coverage, launches, and lands vertically when its mission is complete. On-board color and multispectral sensors gather data over hundreds of acres. The system also includes “land now” and “return home” safety-control features.

AeroVironment’s DSS then processes stored flight data to produce high-resolution datasets and analysis of agriculture fields and vineyards, bridges, railroad tracks, pipelines, roads and many other valuable assets — cloud-based storage enables archiving of large amounts of image data for historical trend analysis.

In summary, we have fuel cells on UAVs that make for extended flight time, and remote “drone depots” for automated, recurring inspection systems, another drone detection and disabling system, a Predator available to dispense humanitarian aid, Disney ready to run Flixel light displays at its theme parks, and another UAS defense contractor turning to the commercial market with a complete UAS monitoring, inspection and data processing solution.

Just a small sample of what’s showing up in the unmanned aircraft system market segment.

This is posted in Opinions, UAV/UGV

About the Author: Tony Murfin

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).