Embry-Riddle compiling sUAS consumer guide

By Luke Geiver | November 05, 2015

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide intends to bring its aeronautical know-how to the expanding consumer small unmanned aircraft systems industry. Led by Brent Terwilliger, program chair of ERAU’s Unmanned Systems College of Aeronautics, the ERAU team is working to compile a consumer guide intended to provide first-time or experienced UAS pilots and buyers with a detailed review of several platforms. According to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, roughly 700,000 to 1 million small UAVs could be purchased during the 2015 holiday season.

“There are a lot of people that understand technology but not aviation,” Terwilliger told UAS Magazine. The ERAU team believes it can help. Although it won’t be completed before the 2015 gift-giving season, a full consumer guide could be available by summer 2016.

Initial research on the creation of the consumer guide started roughly 18 months ago. The team identified more than 500 UAVs, 375 of which were under 55 pounds and classified as small UAVs. Terwilliger said the team created a list of qualifications for platform selection criteria, including stipulations that the sUAVs had to be commercially available off the shelf and feature a replaceable battery, among others.

After forming the initial qualifications for adding platforms to the review list, the team created 13 attributes used to compare and contrast platforms. The rating variables, both qualitative and quantitative, are: max speed, endurance, payload capacity, camera quality, pricing, comm range, utility, critical metrics, construction quality, operator ease, accuracy and user support. The ratings are used to develop a score for each system.

Preplanned flights will also be used to reveal the platform’s ability to operate a preplanned mission. ERAU students will examine and review the flight findings, Terwilliger said. The students will also review other consumer review pieces on sUAVs that already exist to highlight differences or similarities in reviews. Part of the challenge in comparing drones, Terwilliger said, is that sometimes the process is not comparing apples to apples.

The guide “will really help a lot of users understand how they can best apply the technology,” he said. But, it doesn’t solve some of the issues with inappropriate use of UAS, he added. Because of that, the ERAU team believes the guide can be more than a tool for purchasing the correct platform. The effort is also about public outreach and education, Terwilliger said.

“These are aircraft. With that understanding comes a level of knowledge, skills and ability that really needs to be applied in their operation. To be able to maintain safety and effectiveness of this technology we need to make sure folks have access to the tools they need to succeed,” he said.

The guide will help to educate users on regulations and appropriate operational practices that will ensure safety.

To complete the work, ERAU has created a crowdfunding effort to compile the funds needed to perform the flights and reviews. The effort is also being undertaken by the team to purchase or acquire sUAV platforms that they have not yet reviewed.

“This guide will be prepared to help users evaluate options for purchase, appropriate to their skill and experience levels, while introducing key metrics for future consumer comparison,” the team said.

To view the crowdfunding page, click here: