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Rugged Commercial Applications, the Falcon 8+, and the Future of AI: An Interview with Anil Nanduri, Head of Intel’s Drone Group

Last month we had the pleasure of interviewing Anil Nanduri, Vice President in the New Technology Group and General Manager of the Drone Group at Intel.

In that conversation we focused on Intel’s Shooting Star light show drones, which have been making headlines for the last year, most recently for their use during the promotion of Wonder Woman’s release on Blu-ray.

 

intel-falcon8

We ran out of time during that interview, and there was still the whole world of A.I., industrial / commercial applications, and the Falcon 8+ to discuss, so we scheduled a follow up to cover these topics.

Here we go—

Begin Interview:

UAV Coach: Our team was impressed by the Intel demo at InterDrone, in which the Falcon 8+ was used to perform an automated inspection, and then deliver actionable data by comparing that inspection to a prior one. Can you tell us more about the automation used in that inspection, and what’s next for the Falcon 8+?

Here’s a short clip of the demo referenced above

Anil Nanduri: In automated scenarios, like the inspection done in that demo, the pilot is there to monitor and maintain the machine, as well as stay compliant with regulations and safety protocols, as opposed to actually doing the inspection or surveying work himself. From an automation standpoint, what we were doing at InterDrone is showing the capabilities of the platform.

Whether you’re looking at construction, surveying, mapping, or inspections, automation can be incredibly useful in industrial scenarios, because all of these applications come with a number of factors that have to be considered.

To be able to complete an inspection, you have to know the protocol of the inspection object, whether it’s a bridge, or a building, or a land survey. Automation can take care of both repeatability and safety, which is why the Falcon 8+ was built with triple backups, so there’s no single point where electrical failures or rotor failures can occur.

If you’re trying to inspect the facade of a building, like we were doing in the demo, the biggest challenge is often just to hold a position so that you keep the same distance from the object being inspected. From a distance, when you’re looking towards the building or surface to be inspected, our human eye cannot understand the perception of depth, especially as the drone gets farther away from the object.

Automation gets rid of this concern. If the system can manage the distance automatically, then the pilot doesn’t need to worry about it. Add to this our obstacle avoidance, and you have a platform that can fly safely.

The other critical factor of course is really solid mission planning—that is the last key ingredient to fully unlock the potential of automation.

UAV Coach: Where are you seeing the Falcon 8+ being used? What industries are using it the most, and how are they using it?

Anil Nanduri: The Falcon 8+ is primarily being used in surveying, mapping, inspections, and precision agriculture.

One of our biggest partners is Topcon Positioning Systems, a geospatial company that makes positioning equipment, which uses the 8+ for construction surveying.

For inspections, some of the most common use cases for the 8+ are inspections of assets like wind mills, offshore oil rigs, and other oil and gas scenarios. We’ve also seen it used for airplane and air bus inspections.

Another use case we’re seeing more and more of for the 8+ is precision ag, especially with seed providers. They need very, very accurate information, including flight outputs with high resolution imagery, and we can provide that for them.

Because the 8+ is so sound from a safety perspective, and also because it can fly in high wind and other harsh environmental conditions, you really see it shine in some of these more rugged conditions.

https://vimeo.com/239490735

A srvey of the Cathedral of Halberstadt done with the Falcon 8+

UAV Coach: Given that the Falcon 8+ is such a robust, high end platform, do you have a special training program to help companies learn how to use it?

Anil Nanduri: Yes, we have training programs. Usually we work with operators until they’re very proficient.

We have lots of complicated features, such as electromagnetic interference handling, so it’s important to train the pilot in the ones they’re going to need.

Sometimes we provide this training directly, and sometimes it’s provided by a distributor.

UAV Coach: Can you describe some of the complications that come with learning how to fly the 8+ as opposed to other high end drones built for industrial scenarios?

Anil Nanduri: Flying isn’t really the complication—flying itself is amazingly intuitive with the Falcon 8+, and it’s no different depending on the mode of the remote.

It’s more making sure that the users can handle the advanced features and capabilities of the system in scenarios where they may need them, and also making sure they know how to capture and process the data that’s important to them.

For example, if you’re flying near a power line and need to use the electromagnetic interference handling, making sure you know how to do that. What should I do if there is interference? And so on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okJ29yuywB8
Watch the video to learn more about Intel’s Falcon 8+

 

UAV Coach: We’ve seen the Falcon 8+ priced anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000. Is there a base price point, or how do you price the 8+?

Anil Nanduri: We actually don’t publish pricing from our side, but our partners and distributors do. Pricing can vary greatly depending on the unique customer’s request, since there is such a wide range of capabilities for the platform.

You might have an inspection pay load, which has a floor camera and, say, a 20 megapixel RGB camera. So depending on how you’re configuring it, your cost will vary accordingly.

UAV Coach: During his keynote Intel CEO Brian Krzanich spoke about how the development of drone technology is pushing forward the development of A.I. Can you describe how this is happening for our readers?

Anil Nanduri: Regarding A.I. the key question is, How do we automate data capture and then also automate the production of actionable insights from that data?

If you think of a drone as a tool that helps perform certain tasks, the customer really doesn’t care about how you capture the information. What the customers wants are the insights produced from the data the drone captures.

So if you’re doing an oil rig inspection, the customer wants to identify any faults, defects, or cracks. He’s not looking for a thousand images from a drone, just the insights about his assets.

The same goes with inspecting a bridge, where you’re going to be looking for corrosion and cracks. Are there any deviations or any deformities, and things like that.  Or if you’re looking at surveying, the customer will want to know the terrain model, and he wants it to a centimeter level of accuracy, so he can automate the construction flow and feed that back to the architects and designers—again, not the images, but the output.

We’ve proven that a drone can be a very effective tool. It’s more efficient, less expensive, and safer for all of these types of use cases we’ve been discussing. But the next step is, how do I make inferences from the data a drone captures? If it takes 50 people to analyze the data, that not going to help anyone.

You need to be able to automate this process, so you can get the inference and the actionable insights automatically. Once you have the data, wouldn’t it be great if your computer automatically told you, “Hey I detected 10 cracks on this bridge. Here’s the precise location of each one, and heres what they looked like the last 10 times you did that inspection.”

That’s where A.I. comes in.

UAV Coach: How do you see this technology being used five years from now?

Anil Nanduri: I see a day where drones are actually flying automated patterns—not just one of them, but many of them—and they are both capturing information and analyzing it.

For inspections, I can see scenarios where drones are finding corrosion and cracks, flagging them, and then delivering the information through a text message that sends the data file to the right person, and lets them know when something needs to be taken care of immediately.

This isn’t just for commercial inspections either. This same technology could be applied for search and rescue missions where you have a missing person, and it could be a fleet of drones doing this kind of work.

I think these capabilities will evolve rapidly. If you look at where we were five years ago to where we are today, you see drones getting much, much smarter.

And this technology actually already exists inside other industries. Machine learning is being used with data from our smart phones, our pictures. If you start using this same technology for crack detection, or rust detection, and you’re able to develop that domain knowledge, that is the path forward.

First we have to get a lot of data into the cloud, and as it gets analyzed it will be interpreted and classified, and the ability to classify it will continue to get better. At first you’ll need a human inspector to review the data, but as the system gets better it will become more reliable, and eventually it will become better than a person, and will even be able to predict changes over time, once it has enough information to see what has happened in the past and project the likelihood of degradation in the future.

This is where the systems we have and AI will come in. The goal would be for a whole lot of data to come in, and then be automatically classified into sections that say, okay I see seven potential problems. Three are critical, two are risks, and the last two seem to be okay for now.

The technology exists, it just needs to be adapted to this ecosystem and to these applications. I’m confident we’ll get there, and I think it will happen soon.

The post Rugged Commercial Applications, the Falcon 8+, and the Future of AI: An Interview with Anil Nanduri, Head of Intel’s Drone Group appeared first on UAV Coach.

White House Pilot Programs to Explore Sharing Airspace Regulation with Local Authorities

The White House is expected to announce model pilot programs to test federal-local sharing of airspace regulations within the next few days.

These proposed programs will explore sharing airspace oversight between the FAA and state, local, and tribal, authorities.

federal-local-drone-regulations

Image source

The details are still fuzzy, but the broad strokes outline is that the FAA would continue to have authority over commercial drone operations between 200 and 400 feet in these pilot program areas, while drones operating at lower altitudes would be regulated by state, county, tribal, and other local authorities.

Eventually there would be ten of these programs in place throughout the U.S., although the initial roll out will most likely be with fewer sites.

Split in the Drone Advisory Committee

Apparently these proposed pilot programs are the result of the fall out from a split in the federal Drone Advisory Committee (or DAC), which happened a little over a week ago.

On October 10, the Wall Street Journal reported that the DAC “couldn’t reach consensus on basic questions regarding categories of drones” that should require remote identification and tracking.

Two days after the WSJ article, AUVSI CEO Bryan Wynne wrote an open letter to President Trump, co-signed by 29 stakeholders in the industry including Intel, DJI, and Amazon, in which he advocated for exactly the type of pilot program now being drafted by the White House:

For months, we have advocated on Capitol Hill for a pilot program that allows state and local governments, along with UAS industry stakeholders, to develop a coordinated effort with the FAA concerning UAS airspace integration . . . A pilot program would allow for a data-driven process, within a controlled operational environment, to explore the best options for states and municipalities to address their needs, as it relates to different types of UAS operations.

This is speculation, but it seems that drone industry stakeholders are trying to anticipate the concerns of local government and security forces by taking their own steps to both ensure safety and appease local authorities, before the decision is taken out of their hands.

Some in the industry have even interpreted DJI’s release of AeroScope last week—a new solution that remotely registers and identifies drones—as an attempt to placate security and local authority interests.

The AUVSI letter was written in part as a response to Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios’ recent call for “working across federal, state, local and tribal lines toward a common goal of safely integrating UAS into the national airspace.”

It looks like those who penned that letter will be getting what they asked for in the form of these federal-local pilot programs to test the sharing of airspace authority.

One lingering concern as we dive deeper into the debate about sharing airspace authority is that, if every locality can create its own rules concerning commercial drone operations, the result could well be a hodgepodge of regulations, penalties, and fees, and the individual operator will find it nearly impossible to work.

Only time will tell if these pilot programs lead to the consensus and stability Kratsios and others have called for, or if they actually represent a Pandora’s box, opening the door to local involvement in airspace authority which will be impossible to close, and which will throw the industry into such tumult that solopreneurs and others simply can’t do business any more.

Want to know who’s on the Drone Advisory Committee? Here is a list of the members of the DAC.

As you’ll see, the list includes drone industry leaders, as well as representatives from local governments and airports. Conspicuously absent from the list is anyone in law enforcement / national security (although we wonder if the member from Lockheed Martin, whose official domain is omitted, might fill that role).

The post White House Pilot Programs to Explore Sharing Airspace Regulation with Local Authorities appeared first on UAV Coach.

Skyward Announces Instant Airspace Authorizations via LAANC

Yesterday Skyward announced that they have been approved by the FAA to give commercial drone pilots instant access to controlled airspace using the new Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC).

laanc-skyward
LAANC will enable businesses to access airspace that previously required the submission of a manual request for authorization. Most importantly, LAANC will automate the approval process, reducing the wait time from months to seconds.

The first airports where the LAANC program will be rolled out are:

  • Cincinnati International Airport (CVG)
  • Reno (RNO)
  • San Jose (SJC)
  • Lincoln (LNK)

The FAA has promised to include 49 airports in total by the end of the year (down from 50 a few months back), with more coming in 2018. Scroll down to see the full list of airports where LAANC has been promised for 2017.

Operators have had to wait 60-90 days to receive authorization under the existing system. Now, with Skyward and LAANC, enterprises can get approval to fly in just two clicks. With this hurdle gone, we can expect to see substantial adoption of drone technology at the enterprise level.

– Mariah Scott, Skyward Co-President

Skyward is not the only private company from which we can expect to see a LAANC announcement.

AirMap has also been rumored to be preparing a release that will allow commercial pilots to request instant authorization, and there may be at least one other company preparing a LAANC release.

Want to learn more about instant airspace authorizations via LAANC from Skyward? Sign up for their upcoming webinar on Thursday, November 9 at 10am PST.

Will I Have to Pay to Use LAANC?

Almost definitely.

Although this information was not included in the announcement made by Skyward, the information we’ve been given is that LAANC will be run by private companies who will collect a fee for providing their services.

Which means that whether it’s Skyward, AirMap, or someone else, you will probably be paying for the fast-tracked services LAANC provides.

Although this is a huge step forward for the entire drone industry, we’re sure to see many commercial operators out there who will feel frustrated by being forced to pay for what was previously a free approval process.

The Motivation Behind LAANC—Both Safety and Efficiency

Although the slowness of airspace authorization requests is a big pain point for many commercial drone pilots, the FAA has made it clear that speeding things up for commercial operators is not the only driving motivator for the creation of LAANC.

For the FAA, LAANC is as much about safety as it is about efficiency.

In the Oct 11 Federal Register, the FAA stated that immediate implementation of LAANC is

…vital to the safety of the National Airspace System because it would (1) encourage compliance with 14 CFR 107.41 by speeding up the time to process authorization requests, (2) reduce distraction of controllers working in the Tower, and (3) increase public access and capacity of the system to grant authorizations.

– The FAA (from the Federal Register published on 10/11/2017)

Here are the 50 airports where LAANC is supposed to be implemented by the end of 2017, according to AirMap:

Note: Apparently one airport has been removed since this list was released, making the total count now 49.

Class Code Airport
B CVG
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
B MIA
Miami International Airport
B PHX
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
C ANC
Anchorage International Airport
C GRB
Green Bay- Austin Straubel Int’l Airport
C LNK
Lincoln Airport
C RNO
Reno- Tahoe International Airport
C SJC
San Jose International Airport
D LHD
Lake Hood Seaplane Base
D MRI Merrill Field
E ABR
Aberdeen Regional Airport
E AMW
Ames Municipal Airport
E ATY
Watertown Regional Airport
E AXN
Alexandria Municipal Airport
E BJI
Bemìdji Regional Airport
E BKX
Brookings Regional Airport
E BRD
Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport
E CIU
Chippewa County International Airport
E CMX
Houghton County Memorial Airport
E DIK
Dickinson Airport
E DVL
Devils Lake Regional Airport
E EAR
Kearney Regional Airport
E ELO
Ely Municipal Airport
E ESC
Delta County Airport
E FFM
Fergus Falls Municipal Airport
E FOD
Fort Dodge Regional Airport
E FRM
Fairmont Municipal Airport
E HIB
Range Regional Airport
E HON
Huron Regional Airport
E HSI
Hastings Municipal Airport
E IKV
Ankeny Regional Airport
E IMT Ford Airport
E INL
Falls International Airport
E IWD
Gogebic- Iron County Airport
E JMS
Jamestown Regional Airport
E MCW
Mason City Municipal Airport
E MHE
Mitchell Municipal Airport
E MKT
Mankato Regional Airport
E OFK
Norfolk Regional Airport
E OLU
Columbus Airport
E OSC
Wurtsmith Air Force Base
E OTG
Worthington Municipal Airport
E PIR
Pierre Regional Airport
E PLN
Pellston Regional Airport
E RHI
Rhinelander- Oneida County Airport
E RWF
Redwood Falls Municipal
E SLB
Storm Lake Airport
E SPW
Spencer Municipal Airport
E TVF
Thief River Falls Regional Airport
E YKN
Chan Gurney Airport

 

The post Skyward Announces Instant Airspace Authorizations via LAANC appeared first on UAV Coach.

How to Incorporate Drones into Police Work: An Interview with Tom Agos, Crime Prevention Specialist for the Gurnee Police Department

Thomas Agos is a Crime Prevention Specialist in the Gurnee Police Department located in Gurnee, IL, and over the last year he’s been working to incorporate drones into the police work he does with the department.

In less than a year the department has gone from not using drones at all to creating a detailed UAS Operations policy, and using drones in emergency and other scenarios.

Agos already holds a remote pilot license, and seven more Gurnee police officers are currently studying to pass the Part 107 test. All of them are Drone Pilot Ground School students—learn more about how we can help you pass the Part 107 test here.

We know that many public agencies are currently working to incorporate drones into their operations, so we wanted to hear more from Agos on how he helped build the UAV program in Gurnee.

Read on to find out.

gurnee-police-flood
Tom Agos uses a drone to assess damage following a flood

Want to see the Gurnee Police Department’s UAS Operations policy manual?

Download the full document here. (Shared with permission from the Gurnee Police Department. To unlock the document for editing, use the password gurnee.)

Begin Interview:

UAV Coach: Tell us about your work with the Gurnee Police Department. What do you do, and how long have you been doing it?

Thomas Agos: I am a 30-year employee of the Gurnee Police Department. I did 20 years on the street in patrol, and then for the last ten years I’ve been in the office working on special projects, crime prevention, crime analysis, and budgeting.

As part of that job I stumbled across the UAV world, and found it fascinating. I knew right away that this was technology that we would be able to use for public safety. So I started pursuing that, picking away at that thread, and eventually we got to the point where we are today.

UAV Coach: Adoption of a UAV program within a public agency—or any organization for that matter—can require some work to shift the institutional culture, and help people become aware of the value of using drones. What kinds of challenges have you faced as you built the UAV program for the Gurnee Police Department, and how have you overcome them?

Thomas Agos: I like to say that we were blessed back in July, 2016 because we had a propane tank fire.

Propane tanks were actually exploding as a result of this fire, and they were flying across the industrial park where the fire was located. At the time I had my own personal DJI Phantom 3, and I was able to provide air support for the fire department so they could get a view of the scene from the air.

This information was crucial in helping to determine when fire fighters might want to have people evacuate, and how far out the evacuation zone should be—whether it should be a quarter mile, a half mile, one mile, etc., because there were two 20,000 gallon tanks that were close to that fire that they were very concerned about.

Using my Phantom 3 I was able to communicate to the command post exactly where the hot spots were still burning. With this information they repositioned some assets in order to be able to tamp those fires down, and the whole situation stabilized shortly thereafter.

And this is why I like to say that we were blessed by the fire, because everyone involved in that case, both from the fire department and from law enforcement, they were all instantly sold on the necessity of having this technology available and being able to deploy it quickly in a time of crisis.

After that, the decision was made to buy a drone for the police department.

As we were doing research a local construction firm named J.J. Henderson Construction, which usually provides us with funds on an annual basis, approached the department and offered to buy the drone for us. Everything fell into place from there.

[As a side note, the Gurnee Police Department would like to give a big thank you to J.J. Henderson Construction for all of their support.]

UAV Coach: After you got buy-in within the department, what were your next steps for starting to build the UAV program?

Thomas Agos: After we received the funds we purchased a Phantom 4 for the department.

Gurnee-police-drone-kit

At the same time I started the process of applying for a COA with the FAA. Also during that time, roughly beginning in January of this year, I enrolled myself in Drone Pilot Ground School to help study for the Part 107 test.

Fast forward just ten months, and today I have my remote pilot license and we have a team of seven officers studying to pass the Part 107 test. By the end of this year we will have a cohesive team of seven officers plus myself, and we’ll be capable and ready at any given time to use this equipment for public safety purposes.

UAV Coach: Can you tell us about deciding to pursue both a COA and a remote pilot license—what was the thought process there?

Thomas Agos: Just to clarify, we’ve applied for a COA but we haven’t heard back from the FAA yet.

But to answer your question, we feel like it’s smart to do both because it adds a certain air of professionalism to the program.

The licensing of the pilots is for the benefit and protection of our officers, to reassure the public that we are taking all responsible steps to do things safely and by the book, and it’s also for our insurance carrier.

We recognize that flying a drone isn’t a game. It can come down and hurt people, and it can cause insurance claims of enormous magnitude, and so we want our team to be professionally trained. These are the considerations you need to take into account when you’re a pilot in command of one of these missions, and we take that very seriously.

gurnee-police
Aerial shot of Gurnee following a flood

UAV Coach: How do you see drones being incorporated into regular activities with the police department? Will the use of drones be reactive, as fires or other scenarios arise, or are there regular activities planned for your UAV program?

Thomas Agos: I think it’s going to be both.

The reason I say that is because, as you know, a UAV is not something that you just pull out of the closet every six months and go play with. The drone has to be maintained and inspected, and your pilot skills have to be maintained for you to be ready to fly at a moment’s notice.

Along those lines, while our team is studying for the Part 107 test we’re putting together a flight schedule that calls for regular, ongoing outdoor and indoor flights in order for those skills to continue developing and be maintained.

Indoor training is important to us. Even though it’s not technically covered by FAA regulations, there could be a hostage situation or some kind of active shooter situation where the best move is to try and send a drone into a building. And as you know, flying indoors requires training for proficiency, since things get squirrelly when there’s no GPS.

In addition to flight training and maintenance, each officer on the team will have a specific responsibility related to the UAV program. For example, one will be in charge of budgeting; another will be in charge of legislation; another will be involved in policymaking; another will be in charge of equipment maintenance, and so on.

There’s nothing worse than going to get a piece of equipment during an emergency, and finding that it’s not ready to fly. If you don’t stay on top of the firm ware, and if you don’t stay on top of the batteries, it’s entirely possible that you won’t be able to deploy it.

We’re also going to have log books, and a system of accountability so that we have a paper trail for reporting requirements, and to ensure that the system is ready to fly at a moment’s notice.

UAV Coach: How did you develop the UAS Operations policy manual that you now have in place? Did you use existing resources, or build it all yourself, or some combination of the two?

Thomas Agos: The International Association of Chiefs of Police released a model policy regarding UAVs a little while back. Then shortly thereafter, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police did the same thing.

Internally we took these two policies, and we merged them with our own thoughts about how we wanted the program to operate, also making sure to incorporate the FAA’s Part 107 rules. This was not a fast process.

But we worked through it, and eventually we came up with a single document, our UAS Operations policy manual, which all of our officers have to sign off on regardless of whether or not they’re operators.

UAV Coach: Given that drones can sometimes face negative PR in town councils due to privacy concerns, did you face any pushback in Gurnee, politically or otherwise, as you were working to incorporate UAVs into the police department?

Thomas Agos: No, we’ve been very fortunate in that regard.

In our community we’ve had a lot of support from the public and elected officials.

I think that in large part this is because we’ve worked hard to approach our UAV program professionally, openly, and transparently, and with the emphasis that we see the drone as an important tool for certain jobs, not as a toy to use casually in any given circumstance.

We make sure to openly discuss and emphasize the proficiency and training of our officers, and this approach seems to have anticipated and addressed concerns before they really arose.

UAV Coach: Do you have any final words of advice for other people working in police departments or public agencies who are trying to incorporate drones into their operations?

Thomas Agos:  I would say to just look at it from a really basic, practical point of view.

What are you trying to accomplish? What are your goals? How are you going to reassure your public that you’re using it for their good, and so on.

Along the way there will be a lot of trial and error. Some things will work and others won’t. But after working carefully for a while you’ll lift your head up and realize that, surprise, you actually have a functioning, effective UAV unit in your police department. And that is a wonderful place to get to.

Thomas Agos is happy to be a resource for others looking to incorporate drones into their work with public agencies.

Please contact Zacc Dukowitz at zacc[at]uavcoach[dot]com for Agos’ contact information.

The post How to Incorporate Drones into Police Work: An Interview with Tom Agos, Crime Prevention Specialist for the Gurnee Police Department appeared first on UAV Coach.

DJI Nudges Its Way into the UTM Scene with AeroScope

This has been a busy week for DJI, even by their prolific standards.

The day after launching the new ZenMuse X7 camera, DJI announced the release of AeroScope, a solution for identifying and monitoring airborne drones to address safety, security, and privacy concerns.

dji-aeroscope
Image source

This sounds a lot like the technology being created to enable Unmanned Traffic Management systems (UTMs) that NASA has been working on in partnership with companies like Gryphon Sensors and AirMap.

But rather than compete with those efforts, it seems—at least on its surface—that DJI is mainly trying to address safety concerns about its own drones with AeroScope.

Back in April DJI announced a bounty of $145,000 for information related to rogue drone flights at the Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport in China, indicating they have a strong vested interest in preventing rogue pilots from flying in controlled airspace. And of course they do. As more and more drones fill the sky, concerns around tracking and identifying them has only grown, and at least some of the accountability for providing reliable methods has fallen on the shoulders of drone manufacturers themselves.

Which is all to say that the release of AeroScope shouldn’t be a surprise. Back in March, DJI released a white paper describing the benefits of using electronic identification for drones, and they’ve consistently been on the side of safety and compliance in the drone industry.

How Does AeroScope Work?

AeroScope uses the existing communications link between a drone and its remote controller to broadcast identification information such as a registration or serial number, as well as basic telemetry, including location, altitude, speed and direction.

The AeroScope receiver can immediately sense a drone as it powers on, then plot its location on a map while displaying a registration number. That number functions as the equivalent of a drone license plate, and authorities can use it to determine the registered owner of a drone that raises concerns.

Police, security agencies, aviation authorities, and other authorized parties can use an AeroScope receiver to monitor, analyze, and act on that information. AeroScope has been installed at two international airports since April, and DJI is continuing to test and evaluate its performance in other operational environments.

As drones have become an everyday tool for professional and personal use, authorities want to be sure they can identify who is flying near sensitive locations or in ways that raise serious concerns.

– Brendan Schulman, DJI’s Vice President for Policy and Legal Affairs

AeroScope works with all current models of DJI drones, which analysts estimate comprise over two-thirds of the global civilian drone market.

Since AeroScope transmits on a DJI drone’s existing communications link, it does not require new on-board equipment or modifications, or require extra steps or costs to be incurred by drone operators. Other drone manufacturers can easily configure their existing and future drones to transmit identification information in the same way (but of course this means giving up at least a little ground to a competitor).

Keeping Consumers AND Governments Happy

One important aspect of AeroScope that DJI has called attention to in its press materials is that they aim “to strike a reasonable balance between authorities’ need to identify drones that raise concerns and drone pilots’ right to fly without pervasive surveillance.”

DJI has anticipated privacy concerns around AeroScope, creating the system so that it relies on drones directly broadcasting their information to local receivers instead of transmitting data to an internet-based service. Most likely this setup is a response, at least in part, to the backlash after a leaked memo revealed that the U.S. Army had banned DJI drones due to concerns around data security breaches that could happen through open internet connections.

Some pilots might feel like DJI leans a little too far in the direction of appeasing governments, especially those who have frustrations around flying in certain locations due to poorly or incorrectly implemented geo-fencing.

The rapid adoption of drones has created new concerns about safety, security and privacy, but those must be balanced against the incredible benefits that drones have already brought to society.

– Brendan Schulman, DJI’s Vice President for Policy and Legal Affairs

In their defense, much of the technology and related policies needed to normalize drone operations simply didn’t exist a few years ago, and has had to be imagined, and then created, often somewhat on the fly as we learn from real-life scenarios. As one of the biggest consumer drone manufacturers in the world, DJI is a de facto emissary to government agencies when it comes to putting measures in place to anticipate and address safety and privacy concerns, and it’s not hard to understand why they might want to be proactive about appeasing potentially wary governments.

Compliance and Use

Drone identification settings will be included in DJI’s initial drone software to allow customers to choose the content of their own drone’s identification broadcast to match local expectations, both before and after identification regulations are implemented in different jurisdictions.

To protect customers’ privacy, the AeroScope system will not automatically transmit any personally identifiable information until regulations or policies in the pilot’s jurisdiction require it.

It doesn’t seem likely that we’ll see legislation mandating the use of AeroScope in the U.S., which means that it probably won’t get widely adopted here, unless it’s folded under some larger UTM-related effort (and even then, legislation seems unlikely).

Again, the balance here is between privacy and safety. If DJI makes AeroScope transmissions a mandatory aspect of using its drones going forward, there is sure to be an outcry from those concerned with privacy, who have a good argument to make. On the other hand, if AeroScope is optional then only those already acting in good faith will turn it on, leaving rogue drones to continue flying unidentified and unencumbered.

It will be interesting to see where adoption of AeroScope grows fastest, and how it integrates—if at all—with existing UTM technology and research being done in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The post DJI Nudges Its Way into the UTM Scene with AeroScope appeared first on UAV Coach.

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