UAVs active across all sectors

September 30, 2019  - By

Different platform configurations rapidly emerge

Drones continue to move further into everyday life and activity as they become more involved in applications that touch almost everyone. Previously a curious novelty, now unmanned aircraft are almost commonplace.

Real Estate. Suppose you are buying a new house. Almost all the exterior home pictures and video on real-estate websites come from dones. The high-definition photo capability of any commercially available drone is well up to providing great panoramic aerial shots — now virtually required to market homes.

Suitable UAVs and their operators are either readily available, or real-estate agents are taking on the job, buying and flying the equipment and managing the video-processing software themselves. Approvals for regular real-estate operations using drones now can be more readily obtained The objective is near real-time approval using the U.S. FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system, with drone operations provided by an expanding list of independent UAS Service Supplier companies, cleared and qualified by the FAA to provide commercial drone operations.

Crop Monitoring. In agriculture, it is virtually expected that a large farm operation will be on a crop monitoring/maintenance program that entails regular drone data-collection flights and automated processing of geo-tagged photographic, thermal and laser crop images. An initial baseline set of images establishes the starting point for the program, and then analysis identifies crop weaknesses. A fertilizer/treatment “prescription” is then drawn up to address deficiencies. After applications throughout the growing areas, follow-up drone monitoring checks whether growth rates have improved or if more remedial action is necessary.

The cycle continues throughout the growing season. A number of large and small companies offer turnkey services to farmers, or farms themselves run subsets of this UAS-based operation.

Chart: GPS World


Construction and Inspection. Mining and construction now also have drone services that gather and process image data to automate significant parts of the process, as does surveying and geospatial information services (GIS).

Facility inspection using drones follows the agriculture model, with initial overflights establishing a baseline status record against which subsequent image data is compared.

Indoor automation with drones also has enabled a huge reduction in time spent in frequent physical inspection of tanks, pressure vessels, holds and more. It also has greatly improved safety for inspection personnel who no longer have to crawl through extensive, potentially toxic environments, such as the containment vessels at Fukushima Daiichi.

News and Events. News gathering has been enhanced by the use of drones. Aerial videos capture the news quickly and inexpensively compared to helicopters, and provide overview situational awareness for the news audience. In the same vein, we can add crowd surveillance at large events, where higher levels of security are required, such as the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Paris.

Chart: GPS World

Chart: GPS World

Package Delivery. One classic drone application — package delivery — still hasn’t arrived fully, but many trials have been underway for several years, particularly for the delivery of medical supplies. It seems now that UPS is making a significant effort to qualify a UAS system that meets existing manned delivery standards (FAA Part 137 operations) by the end of this year. Wish them luck: there are many elements to prove and demonstrate for an unmanned delivery system, particularly in populated areas.

Security and Defense. Extensive use of drones in local and national policing and security operations has become almost commonplace, too. Cost-effective and easy-to-fly UAV systems have begun to replace manned surveillance helicopters, with police forces discovering significant improvements in reaction speed and affordability.

And, of course, the use of drones by defense forces worldwide has expanded greatly. Most people can picture the familiar silhouette of the General Atomics Reaper as their image of what a military drone looks like. Many people might even now know where the Straight of Hormuz is located, following the world-wide reports of an apparent Iranian attack that brought down a Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, followed by the takedown of one or two Iranian drones by the USS Boxer in the same area. Drones would now seem to be predominantly associated by Joe Public with a level of military aerial presence — perhaps more so than in any civilian applications.

New and different configurations of UAS continue to rapidly emerge for any and all applications in both the civil and military sectors. Now that we have operating regulations for small UAS in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world, cost-effective commercial uses abound and support new and existing tasks, and the military is rapidly creating new variations to assist or replace manned ground, navy and airborne forces. Large and small investments in artificial Intelligence for drone automation seem to be announced almost daily – so we can expect some independent drone capability to emerge over time.

There is only much, much more to come.

TONY MURFIN is a GNSS aerospace consultant with several decades experience at leading companies in the GPS/aviation and OEM sectors.

This article is tagged with and posted in From the Magazine, OEM, 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).