UAS tech: platforms, sensors, better data streaming and power management

By UAS Magazine Staff | September 17, 2015

As commercial applications for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) grow, new technologies are introduced, ranging from UAS platforms with contrasting capabilities to sensors for specific tasks to significant improvements in data handling and power management.

Two very different UAS platforms were announced by overseas companies. Sony Mobile and its Japanese joint venture partners ZMP and AeroSense Inc. unveiled an experimental vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) UAV called the AS-DT01-E. After transitioning to fixed-wing flight, it has a top speed of 66 miles per hour and can carry a 22-pound payload, including Sony’s high-resolution digital cameras.

Singular Aircraft’s Flyox I completed its maiden flight this summer in Hofn, Iceland. An amphibious remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), the twin-engine Flyox I is capable of landing and taking off on unpaved runways or on water, ice and snow. The aircraft is designed for five applications: hauling cargo, firefighting, search and rescue, agriculture and surveillance. The Flyox I has a wingspan of roughly 45 feet an endurance time of six hours and 45 minutes, a maximum operation altitude of 24,000 feet and a maximum weight of roughly 8,400 pounds.

New gas- and signal-sniffing sensors are now flying on UAS. Security firm Praetorian teamed with UAS startup company DroneSense—both located in Austin, Texas—in a project using Praetorian’s custom “ZigBee sniffing” sensor onboard a DroneSense UAV. The goal was to map Internet-connected devices—known as the Internet of Things (IoT)—in sections of Austin.

The Praetorian sensor is equipped with several special radios that listen for the Zigbee wireless beacons used by smart devices to communicate with each other over the Internet. The combination of Praetorian’s sensor technology and the DroneSense UAV platform will eventually provide greater knowledge on how to secure IoT networks from those who seek to exploit them for nefarious reasons.

Swiss-based Pergam Technical Services Inc. released the first UAS sensor designed to detect and measure methane gas. Based on a commonly used handheld detector, the system has been altered with an eye-safe laser and a filter in the bandwidth where methane has high absorptions along with an algorithm that measures the gas emissions in parts per million. An onboard data grabber records the flight path and the gas concentrations levels. Data from the flight is available immediately upon landing.

The system can be used for line, tank and asset inspections along with landfill emission monitoring and surveys in difficult -to-access areas that typically require scaffolding. Pergam says the booming LNG and the shale gas industries represent markets with huge opportunities for leak detection services with the sensor.

For UAS operators concerned about their drones crashing into walls, buildings and other obstacles, Panoptes Systems Corp. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has developed the eBumper4, a sensor system that keeps UAVs a safe distance away from objects. The company is also developing next-generation collision avoidance technology more useful for UAS commercial operations.

The eBumper4 system is currently available for the 3D Robotics Iris+ and the DJI Phantom 2 line of UAVs. Just as a bat sends out sound waves that bounce back and tell it how close it is to an object, the eBumper4 works on the same principle to keep a UAV a safe distance from obstacles. It can detect an object as far out as 15 feet at speeds near six miles per hour.

“It’s best used for the loitering applications where you’re intentionally flying slowly and the pilot is in the loop,” says Fabrice Kunzi, Panoptes chief technology officer. “The eBumper4 gives a base level of protection for the aircraft and the operator.”

Verizon Wireless and Florida-based Tayzu Robotics, a UAS manufacturer, are developing a site in the Cayman Islands to autonomously test the Skywire miniaturized Ethernet cellular router. Developed by NimbleLink, a Minnesota company, Skywire delivers instant cellular connectivity over the Verizon network to any Ethernet-enabled device and costs less to operate than cable or dsl connections.

Tayzu believes that Skywire will enable it to collect and monetize large amounts of data captured during autonomous flights. The UAVs designed by Tayzu will soon come with a charging station and users can operate strategically placed sUAVs through the push of a button.

Germany-based Skysense is working to develop a new product line for its drone charging stations. The company was one of 10 selected to participate in the Robotics Accelerator through the Qualcomm Inc. TechStars program.

At a Qualcomm facility in San Diego, Skysense is developing an enclosed UAS charging station called the Droneport. It’s a protective, remotely managed structure that holds a Skysense Charging Pad and a UAV. It provides synching of sensor data to the cloud and connectivity within the Skysense Droneport network.

Droneport is weatherproof with IP44 protection level, providing a flat surface for landings and takeoffs. The system can manage and monitor drone fleets online. Additional services include predictive maintenance, bridging of drone telemetry, telemetry black box and data stream downloading in the cloud.

Following the success of its fixed-wing UAV, Trimble has released its first multi-rotor platform. After receiving input from customers around the globe, Todd Steiner, product marketing director for Trimble’s geospatial division, said the company needs to offer a vertical take-off and landing option. The new ZX5 platform, based on a German design, features components designed for heavy  commercial use and multiple safety redundancies.