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Rapid rise in drone operations require optimal mission-planning, Traffic Management, and drone management software

Drones are increasingly making an impact on society and economy. Drones are used by the military for intelligence gathering, anti-aircraft target practice, and also for weapons platforms. They are also used for many civilian roles such as agricultural surveillance, mapping, tracking, search and rescue, traffic monitoring, firefighting, weather monitoring, engineering applications and photography.


In future,  drones would be delivering food and goods to doorsteps, hovering around backyards for family fun or over highways for traffic monitoring. An estimated 700,000 unmanned aircraft systems, called UAS, but commonly referred to as drones, are expected to be roaming the sky by the year 2020. Many have questions about how such a big change to the airspace will affect our lives and safety.


Drones are equipped with different state of the art technology such as infrared cameras, GPS and laser (consumer, commercial and military UAV). Drones are controlled by remote ground control systems (GSC) and also referred to as a ground cockpit. An unmanned aerial vehicle system has two parts, the drone itself and the control system.


A veritable cottage industry of drone logistics has emerged concurrently, with companies like Precision Hawk and Delair — both of which provide hardware and software solutions that helps companies launch and support drone operations — leading the pack. Some, like telepresence drone piloting company Cape, have partnered with first responders like the Chula Vista Police Department and San Diego Fire Department, and others like Matternet have strategic partnerships with private industry


Running a drone operation is not easy.  Aside from the everyday business challenges, program leaders face shifting demands from the drone industry. Technology developments are accelerating, regulations are in a constant state of flux, and of course, the big data issue. As more commercial businesses and governmental organizations work with drones on a daily basis, there is a need for efficient flight planning, safe integration of drones into the airspace, and compliance support for drone operators.


One of the well known problems caused by civilian drones is their interference with aviation systems. There are a number of rules, and then you need to follow these rules and guidelines that have been established by FAA.  U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) rules regarding drones are fairly strict, they currently prohibit the use of commercial drones within 500 feet of “non-participating” people and structures. But efforts are underway to loosen those restrictions. In 2016, the FAA passed new rules allowing drones to be used commercially in the U.S., and it’s granted small-sized air carrier designations — which allow pilots employed by licensees to oversee multiple unmanned aircraft making commercial deliveries simultaneously — to companies like Alphabet’s Wing and UPS’ Flight Forward. Additionally, it’s extended select companies licenses under its Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) program, which allows commercial operators to fly drones in controlled airspace, like near airports, in exchange for sharing data with the agency. In 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration began to develop standards for integrating UAVs into the airspace, including solutions for operations beyond visual line-of-sight (VLOS) and of multiple small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).


Challenges for drone management and integration into NAS

In order to accomplish many missions, the UAS must operate within the NAS. However, this integration may present issues such as impacts on safety levels. An important challenging issue facing the drone integration process is how to control the airspace traffic. More precisely, when the airspace is going to be shared between drones and manned aircraft, the whole air traffic control system has to be redesigned in order to deal with the new and continuously variable operational parameters introduced by the integration of drones.


SESAR highlights four requirements to integrate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) safely, which can also be applied to other types of UAS (e.g., fully autonomous aircraft):
• ‘‘The integration of RPAS shall not imply a significant impact on the current users of the airspace’’;
• ‘‘RPAS shall comply with existing and future regulations and procedures’’;
• ‘‘RPAS integration shall not compromise existing aviation safety levels nor increase risk: the way RPAS operations are conducted shall be equivalent to that of manned aircraft, as much as possible’’;
• ‘‘RPAS must be transparent (alike) to ATC and other airspace users’’.


All the air traffic communication, display, and information processing facilities have to be updated to handles traffic of both manned
aircraft and drones. Also, air traffic controllers will be forced to interact with drones in ways different from those used with manned aircraft. For example, they have to be able to understand the actions of the drone without communication, manage traffic sequence, and even order unexpected flight procedures to maintain a safe operation.


We have a high throughput, reduce delays, reduce congestion, promote access to the new entrants in airspace, such as commercial space transportation or unmanned aircraft systems, drones, a lot of other new entrants that are coming up. People are also imagining personal air vehicles. So, how do you make sure that we enable access to all the new entrants in the airspace in a safe and efficient manner? That’s what airspace operations is really focused on. The integration is a complex system-of-systems problem and the key challenges  are sense and avoid, UAS autonomy, and UAS system safety.


Air Traffic Control (ATC) plays an essential role in optimizing the airspace operation, especially considering that safety and efficiency are vital aspects of airspace operation. The ATC is divided into ATC units, which is a ‘‘generic term meaning variously, area control center,
approach control unit or aerodrome control tower’’ . These units are organized in a manner to accommodate all airspace users by the creation of control sectors. The Air Traffic Controllers (ATCo) are responsible for controlling aircraft in each control sector. The ATCo responsible for a given sector must communicate to ATCos responsible for other sectors to provide smooth conduction of aircraft throughout their flights, especially when the aircraft fly through different ATC operation areas. Moreover, the Air Traffic Control (ATC) provides Air Traffic
Services (ATS) to flights through ATCo instructions. The primary goals of these services include avoiding mid-air collisions and collisions with obstacles and optimizing and maintaining an orderly flow of air traffic.


Among the several safety threats in airspace operation, mid-air collision can be highlighted, which depends on a set of events despite issues in aircraft mechanical systems, such as high ATCo workload levels and loss of the minimum separation established between aircraft. In order to improve the airspace operation, new technologies are under development, such as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)  and Decision Support Tools (DST) for ATCos (e.g., Arrival and Departure managers). These new technologies present advantages in many aspects, such
as safety, efficiency and airspace capacity.


“I think of self-driving cars, which have lidar sensors, and cameras, and different things that help let it understand its environment. Obviously, you can put some of that stuff on a drone so it knows where it is in 3-D space, but it seems like with too many of them or things moving too fast, you almost need to have them interconnected to each other. They need to know exactly what that other one is doing, almost like a hive, or else it’s just going to be really difficult to work,” said  Parimal Kopardekar, NASA’s senior technologist for the Air Transportation System at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.


The interesting part of the drones is the larger the drone, the drone has a capacity – what we call “SWAP,” size, weight, and power – to handle the sensor packs and things like that. Here, if the drone is smaller, 55 pounds and below, and it’s carrying some kind of a package, then you’re trying to optimize the configuration of the vehicle such that you are able to carry more goods or offer services in the form of payload. So the size, weight and power is somewhat restricted for the smaller drones. An interesting part of all that is we are miniaturizing the sensors, and the ability to detect wires in the airspace, or detect other manned aircraft or unmanned aircraft in the airspace.


Yeah. Fundamentally, what we are after is five basic principles: every operator has to authenticate to enter the airspace. The second is every operator has full awareness of constraints in the airspace – so other operations, or any geofence areas, or bad weather patches. The third one is the drones avoid each other and drones avoid manned aviation. One of the requirements for drones to operate is that manned aviation has a priority. The last one is public safety has a priority over all of them.


So when we did the tests, we looked at these principles and said, “How do we actually convert it into a system?” So we allowed multiple operators to go beyond the visual line of sight. It was a combination of beyond visual line of sight and line of sight operations. Now, we are looking at the future, where the drones, the vehicle technologies themselves, can get to beyond the visual line of sight, because you can track yourself better, and you can basically do your planning better, and there is a battery capacity to go beyond the visual line of sight, and things like that. And you can perhaps detect wires and other obstacles in the airspace. Then the question comes, “What happens when you have multiple operations going beyond the visual line of sight? How do you know of each other’s existence?” That requires a system – what we characterize as “unmanned aircraft system traffic management.”


So they connected through a common protocol that we established. The first one could connect, and the second one could see that there is a preplanned area of operation, and the third one, and the fourth one, and so on and so forth. So they could plan their area of operations staying clear of each other’s airspace. That was the first layer of safety.


And then there is tracking involved. You track all the vehicles, and make sure that they stay within the airspace that they said they were going to be. We also studied what happens when there is a deviation from the planned area of operation. It’s like defensive driving. One vehicle drifts, but then you need to make sure the other vehicles get alerted right away, that the operators get alerted right away, and they stay clear, because even though you didn’t cause the conflict, you need to make sure that you don’t get hurt in that process, just like defensive driving.


Because the technology is also moving fast and improving, things will change on the drone side as well. So we see the UAS traffic management as collaborative. Basically, the traffic management, airspace management kind of approach could be used for all uncontrolled airspace, regardless of the size of the vehicle, the weight of the vehicle, or the height or altitude they operate. It could be 60,000 feet and up, where the Facebook and Google’s Loon, and other vehicles will operate, you could possibly think about using this approach of exchanging information to each other about areas of operation, and staying clear, and managing by contingencies rather than in usual vehicles. This is an approach that we are researching, and that’s our primary focus. And we postulate that approach if successful at the low altitudes, it could also apply to the other altitudes, said  Parimal Kopardekar.


NASA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management

NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley has set out to create a research platform that will help manage large numbers of drones flying at low altitude along with other airspace users. Known as UAS Traffic Management, or UTM, the goal is to create a system that can integrate drones safely and efficiently into air traffic that is already flying in low-altitude airspace. That way, package delivery and fun flights won’t interfere with helicopters, airplanes, nearby airports or even safety drones being flown by first responders helping to save lives.


The system is a bit different than the air traffic control system used by the Federal Aviation Administration for today’s commercial airplanes. UTM is based on digital sharing of each user’s planned flight details. Each user will have the same situational awareness of airspace, unlike what happens in today’s air traffic control. The multi-year UTM project continues NASA’s long-standing relationship with the FAA. Throughout the collaboration, Ames has provided research, development and testing to the agency, which is being put to use in the real world. NASA leads the UTM project along with more than 100 partners across various industries, academia and government agencies who are committed to researching and developing this platform.


UTM research is broken down into four phases called TCLs, technical capability levels, each increasing in complexity and with specific technical goals that help demonstrate the system as the research progresses.

TCL1: Completed in August 2015 and serving as the starting point of the platform, researchers conducted field tests addressing how drones can be used in agriculture, firefighting and infrastructure monitoring. The researchers also worked to incorporate different technologies to help with flying the drones safely such as scheduling and geofencing, which restricts the flight to an assigned area.

TCL2: Completed in October 2016 and focused on monitoring drones that are flown in sparsely populated areas where an operator can’t actually see the drones they’re flying. Researchers tested technologies for on-the-fly adjustment of areas that drones can be flown in and clearing airspace due to search-and-rescue or for loss of communications with a small aircraft.

TCL3: Conducted during spring 2018, this level focused on creating and testing technologies that will help keep drones safely spaced out and flying in their designated zones. The technology allows the UAS to detect and avoid other drones over moderately populated areas.

TCL4:  From May through August 2019, the final level demonstrated how the UTM system can integrate drones into urban areas. Along with a larger population, city landscapes present their own challenges: more obstacles to avoid, specific weather and wind conditions, reduced lines of sight, reduced ability to communicate by radio and fewer safe landing locations.  TCL4 tested new ways to address these hurdles  using  the  UTM system and technologies onboard the drones and on the ground. These include  incorporating  more localized weather predictions into flight planning, using cell phone networks to enhance drone traffic communications and relying on cameras, radar  and other ways of “seeing” to ensure drones can maneuver around buildings and land when needed –  all while communicating with other drones and users of the UTM system.


The research results are being transferred incrementally to the FAA for implementation. Based on NASA’s UTM research, the FAA has already implemented an initial operational UTM system known as Low-Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). This partnership between research and regulation agencies, along with the input of thousands of experts and users will set the stage for a future of a well-connected sky. Drones will offer many benefits by performing jobs too dangerous, dirty or dull for humans to do, and NASA is helping to navigate to that future.


Research project on managing multiple UAVs

A Wayne State University research project recently funded by the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) Innovation Hub for Advanced Transportation at the University of Michigan aims to address the knowledge gap on how to manage multiple UAVs in complex operational, environmental and traffic conditions.


“The goal of this project is to create an optimal mission-planning and asset-management system for UAS fleet operations,” said Yanchao Liu, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering at Wayne State and principal investigator on the project. Zhenyu Zhou, a Ph.D. student in Liu’s lab, also plays a key role on the research team.


At present, most outdoor applications of UAS are based on a single vehicle, flown by an individual remote pilot within VLOS operations. However, there is currently a lack of knowledge and resources for safely and efficiently managing a fleet of UAVs in sophisticated urban environments. “Without such a system, the benefit of drone delivery will not be sufficiently materialized,” said Liu.


Liu’s project is multifaceted and includes real-time remote control over the internet, a simulation platform to facilitate algorithm development in advance of physical system implementation, and solutions to account for such factors as network errors or flight formation variants. Each aerial unit is equipped with an onboard computer module with corresponding Cloud-based ground control software.


“In a plug-and-play fashion, the system will turn a collection of heterogeneous multicopter drones into an organized and intelligent UAS fleet,” said Liu.


Drone Management Software

Drone management software provides many features. Flight Logging is critical for flight operations management.  You have to be able to log flights quickly and easily. Aircraft hours and flights are logged when pilot hours are logged, providing users with one-stop reporting to ease the paperwork burden on your operation. Maintenance discrepancies and corrective actions are easily recorded and intuitively reported.


Project Planning features allow to pair up pilots, equipment and customer requirements – ideally balancing multiple projects at the same time with airspace awareness. Equipment Agnostic: With the accelerating rate of tech rollouts and estimate for the lifespan of an aircraft can be as small as 18 months. If hardware is changed, software must be able to handle any manufacturers equipment.


Weather Integration: UAV operations is a weather dependent business; there’s no doubting that.  At a minimum, your software should provide a high-level overview of the current weather in the area you plan to fly. Supervisors can view all entered information from a desktop computer or mobile device, without the worry of updating multiple spreadsheets.

Airhub drone management software

AirHub, the complete drone management software platform for commercial drone operators in Europe, announced the launch of the new AirHub application with integrated airspace services from AirMap, the global leading drone traffic management platform.



Flight planning, logging, and management of pilots, drones and batteries takes up almost as much time as the actual flights performed with the drone itself. AirHub provides drone operators with tools to quickly and easily manage administrative and pre-flight workflows so that they can spend more time flying.


With AirMap airspace services integrated into the AirHub application, operators can manage their drone operations in compliance with regulations in Europe and around the world.


Reliable Airspace Map

AirHub features an easy-to-use airspace map and context, powered by AirMap, to help operators understand the airspace environment around them. Within a matter of seconds, operators know of nearby airspace advisories or restrictions, along with any regulatory requirements pertaining to their operating area. Together with AirHub’s built-in weather forecast, operators remain well-informed of airspace conditions before and during their drone flights for optimal safety and performance.


The AirMap UTM Platform supports situational awareness for drone operators with airspace rules and advisories for every country in the world and support in 15 languages, including Dutch, French, German, Spanish, and Czech.


Efficient Flight Planning

AirHub operators can efficiently plan their flights by first selecting team members, drones, and batteries pertaining to the operation. Once selected, an overview of the flight operation will be made and presented. Operators can also easily draw out their operating area and add documents, notes, and authorizations to their Flight Plan to comply with company or regulatory requirements.


Unmanned Traffic Management and Flight Control

Operators using a DJI drone can fly their aircraft directly from within AirHub’s mobile application using Control Hub, providing pilots with an alternative to the DJI GO application with enhanced safety capabilities. With the AirMap UTM Platform integration, European commercial drone operators using the AirHub application can share their flight plans with airspace authorities for safety and compliance monitoring. AirMap provides airspace authorities with a comprehensive view of the airspace environment for both manned and unmanned aircraft operations via the AirMap UTM Dashboard.


Logging And Operations Management

Flights will be automatically logged in the AirHub application once a drone has landed, providing operators with valuable data about the health of their drones and batteries for maintenance purposes. Administrators and managers can even set up teams and assign responsibilities to their pilots, observers and payload operators, thereby creating complete control and oversight over their drone operation.


Earlier this year, AirHub with AirMap integrated contextual airspace services was successfully demonstrated by Rijkswaterstaat – responsible for the Dutch road- and waterways – and the Dutch Air Traffic Control in a trial at Groningen Airport to manage Rijkswaterstaat’s fleet of drones and team of pilots.


“AirHub will help us set up safe and compliant drone operations” says Olaf van Hese, project leader Smart Patrol Services at Rijkswaterstaat. “AirHub with AirMap provides drone operators with an effortless experience that makes situational awareness and flight planning safer and more productive.”



Drone software market

The drone software is used for executing various program functions in drones. The software system includes an obstacle detection system, collision avoidance system, and more. Its use is also important to fuse the signals sent by attached sensors such as ultrasonic sensor, vision sensor, light detection and ranging, and infrared sensor. There is an increased demand for drones in remote areas and places that can be dangerous for humans. The demand is high in the commercial and defense sectors as well. These factors are driving the global drone software market.


According to report analysts, the drone software market is expected to witness remarkable growth in the coming years. From USD 390 million in 2018, the market will record a Common Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 38.9% and reach USD 5380 million by 2025.


Based on the application type, the market is segmented as control and data capture, image processing, and analytics. The analytics segment is estimated to depict substantial growth during the forecast period. The growth can be attributed to data captured by drones, which can be utilized for analytics and delivered to businesses to facilitate their effective decision-making. Drone software are developed suitably to the varied needs of different applications.


Based on the architecture type, the market is segmented as open source and closed source. The open source segment is expected to command the market in the coming five years. The growth of the segment is fueled by the easy availability of open source software and their preference by many companies. Further, as end-users require customized software for operating drones, the segment is likely to depict a higher growth during the forecast period.


Based on application, the analytics segment is anticipated to witness high growth in the drone software market during the forecast period. The data captured by drones can be used for analytics and provided to businesses to help them in decision-making. Drone software are developed according to the diverse needs of different applications.


North America leads the market with major demand from the military sector. Europe is the second-most important region for the software. Technological advancements and increasing use of drone capabilities such as thermal and hyperspectral sensors in flights are boosting the market. There is a high demand for drones for surveillance purposes and commercial applications as well. Asia-Pacific is the fastest-growing region due to innovations in technology and growing product application in the commercial and military sectors. China is expected to grow at the rate of 25.2% in the next few years.


Some of the major players in the drone software market Airware, Inc., Drone Volt, Dronedeploy Inc., ESRI, 3D Robotics, Pix4D, PrecisionHawk Inc., Skyward IO, Inc., and Sensefly Ltd.


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