What to Know About the FAA’s New Rules For Flying Drones at Night

On Dec. 28, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it has finalized “final rules” for unmanned aircraft systems – also known as UAS or drones.

There are two “final rules” to be exact: 

Elsewhere, we’ve written about what the rules mean for remote ID requirements and flying drones over people. In this snapshot, we’re going to focus on how it impacts your ability to operate at night, and what it means for the UAS industry as a whole.

What do the current rules say about flying drones at night?

The current rules for the commercial use of drones weighing less than 55 pounds are often referred to as “Part 107.”

Finalized back in 2016, these rules prohibit flying a drone at night without a waiver, which clearly outlines factors such as:

  1. How the operator(s) will maintain VLOS throughout the operation;
  2. “See-and-avoid methods” employed to avoid a collision;
  3. Methods the operator will use to maintain continuous knowledge of the sUAS’s Location and Movement; and
  4. Training and knowledge verification for all participants in the operation.

For years, Consortiq’s drone consultant team has helped clients obtain waivers for special use cases such as operations that involve flying over people, BVLOS operations, and night operations, and we’re excited that these use cases are about to be normalized with the operations rule.

Woman flying drone at night - uas night operation
Woman flying a drone during nighttime hours

So, can my organization fly drones at night now?

Yes, under two conditions:

  1. The remote pilot in command must have completed a current initial knowledge test (“Part 107”) or recurrent training. This is to ensure that he or she is familiar with the risks and appropriate mitigations for nighttime operations.
  2. The UAS must have lighted anti-collision lighting that is visible for at least 3 statute miles and has a flash rate that the FAA deems, “sufficient to avoid a collision.”

I heard that the knowledge test rules have changed….

You’re right, and we’ve got you covered!

Check out this article we wrote on the new knowledge test and recurrent requirements.

How do I know if my anti-collision lighting meets the requirements?

Luckily, the final rule states that remote pilots can rely on manufacturer statements indicating that the anti-collision lighting is visible for three statute miles, and has a flash rate that is sufficient to comply with the drone requirements.

You’ll just need to include it — along with the procedures, equipment, internal training requirements, and other key information — in your organization’s operations manual. 

Why does this matter?

Night operations waivers have been, by far, the most commonly granted waivers by the FAA over the past few years.

In a previous article, we outlined some high-value use cases that require nighttime drone flights.

These include:

  • Emergency response, which can be needed at any time of day,
  • Thermal sensor inspections, which are sometimes best done at night, because the temperatures of objects change once the sun goes down,
  • News and cinematography footage collection, which can require the documentation of an event that happens to take place at night.

These are just a few examples of instances in which nighttime drone operations could be desirable, or even necessary. By largely removing the need for nighttime operation waivers, the new drone rule could catalyze the expansion of drone use across a variety of sectors.

Ready to take your drone program to the next level? Whether you need training, consultation, and even someone to help you do the work, we’re here to help!

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Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

The FAA’s New Rules for Drone Flights Over People

On Dec. 28, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced the release of “final rules” for unmanned aircraft systems – also known as UAS or drones.

There are two “final rules” to be exact: 

We previously wrote about how the remote ID rule essentially states that, if you are flying a UAS in United States airspace, you will need to broadcast your drone’s location and identification either within 18 or 30 months of Feb. 26 of this year, depending on whether you’re using a drone with a built-in transmitter or one that requires an add-on remote ID device.

In this article, we’re going to focus on how the Operations Over People and at Night Rule impacts your ability to fly over people, and what it means for the drone industry as a whole. 

What do the current rules say about drones flying over people?

The current rules for the commercial use of drones weighing less than 55 pounds, often referred to as “Part 107,” date back to 2016 and prohibit flights over unprotected people on the ground unless:

  1. The people are directly participating in the UAS operation
  2. The people are under a covered structure
  3. The people are inside a stationary vehicle
  4. The operator(s) have obtained a waiver from the FAA

At Consortiq, our drone consultant team helps clients obtain waivers for special use cases, such as operations that involve flying over people, BVLOS operations, and night operations, and we’re excited that these use cases are about to be normalized with the operations rule.

drone flying over people
Drone Image Taken Over Uninvolved People

What’s the rationale for changing this?

The FAA believes that, as drone technology improves and the value of use cases increases, there will be increased demand for UAS operations that involve flying over people, flying at night, and other advanced use cases.

By changing its regulations to accommodate for drone flight over people, the FAA hopes to allow for growth of the industry sector and advancement of drone technology, while maintaining its safety standards.

So can I fly my drone over people now?

It depends on what type of drone you have.

In the Final Rule on Operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Over People, the FAA has designated 4 categories of drone operations and corresponding permissions requirements.

OK, what are the categories?

To operate in Category 1, drones can have a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 0.55 pounds (including everything that is attached to the aircraft) and must have no exposed rotating parts that could cause lacerations. 

It’s worth noting that there are currently no unmodified DJI drones that will fall into Category 1. DJI’s smallest platforms,  DJI Mavic Mini and DJI Mavic Mini 2, both weigh less than 0.55 lbs without propeller guards, but when propeller guards are added, they supersede the MTOW limit for Category and thus would be eligible for Category 2 operations instead of Category 1.

To operate in Category 2, drones can weigh more than 0.55 pounds, but they can’t be capable of causing injury to a human being that is greater than or equal to the severity of an injury caused by transferring 11 foot-pounds of kinetic energy. They also can’t contain any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin. 

To operate in Category 3, drones can’t be capable of causing injury to a human being that is greater than or equal to the severity of an injury caused by transferring 25 foot-pounds of kinetic energy and also can’t have any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin. 

To operate in Category 4, drones must have an airworthiness certificate issued under 14 CFR Part 21 and must be operated in accordance with the operating limitations specified in the approved flight manual or as otherwise specified by the administrator. 

How does category impact my permission to fly over people?

Category 1 operations are seen to have the lowest levels of risk relative to the other categories, so if you’re operating a drone that weighs less than 0.55 lbs at takeoff without exposed rotating parts, you can operate over people without applying for any additional permission, with the exception that you can’t operate over open-air assemblies unless the operation is compliant with the FAA’s Remote ID requirements. 

Meanwhile, if your drone is greater than 0.55 pounds at takeoff, in order to fly over people, you’ll need to qualify for Category 2 or 3 operations, which requires a Means of Compliance (MOC) and Declaration of Compliance (DOC).

What’s the difference between the MOC and DOC?

The means of compliance and declaration of compliance are confusingly similar sounding. The FAA’s operations over people and at-night rule states that the means of compliance is how you show that your sUAS:

  1. Doesn’t exceed the applicable injury severity limit on impact with a human being and
  2. Doesn’t contain any exposed rotating parts that could cause lacerations

Meanwhile, the declaration of compliance is basically a statement you submit that says that you’ve met the applicable injury severity limitations, the exposed rotating parts prohibition, or a combination of these requirements through an FAA-accepted means of compliance. 

In other words, you need the MOC to get the DOC, and the FAA must accept your MOC before you can use it to declare compliance with the requirements of this rule. 

Furthermore, if your MOC and DOC are approved, you’ll need to ensure your drone has an FAA-approved label indicating the category of operation for which it’s been approved.

What about Category 4 operations?

As alluded to above, if your drone isn’t eligible for Category 1,2, or 3 operations, but you want to fly over people, you’ll need to get an airworthiness certificate under 14 CFR Part 21.

This will enable you to operate over people in accordance with Part 107, so long as the operating limitations specified in the approved Flight Manual or as otherwise specified by the Administrator, do not prohibit operations over human beings.

What about flying over moving vehicles?

The final rules permit sustained flight over moving vehicles for Categories 1, 2, and 3, only when the operations are within a closed- or restricted-access site, and people located within the vehicles have advance notice of the operation.

If the operations are not in a closed- or restricted-access site, the operator can “transit” the airspace above moving vehicles but cannot maintain sustained flight over them.

Meanwhile, category 4 UAS can operate over moving vehicles as long as the UAS are “operated in accordance with the operating limitations specific in the approved Flight Manual or as otherwise specified by the Administrator.”

When will this “final rule” come into effect?

The rules will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

While it’s not clear exactly when that will happen, it is expected to be sometime this month (January 2021).

Why does this matter?

Influential UAS industry stakeholders, such as Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) CEO Brian Wynne, have noted that this is a huge step towards the integration of drones into the national airspace, as many types of complex operations can require flights over people. 

In particular, the operations rule could accelerate the development of drone delivery solutions. As we’ve written previously, companies such as Google, Amazon, Uber, UPS, DHL, FedEx, and even Domino’s have tested various types of drone delivery solutions.

However, despite some companies receiving waivers to test the technology, there is still no widespread drone delivery. FAA Administrator Steve Dickson has stated that the new rule is getting the US “closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”

Need support with your drone operation?

At Consortiq, we offer comprehensive drone services, training, and consultation for drone operation all around the world.

If you want to get your program off the ground and need support, just complete the form below for your risk-free consultation

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Get Your Drone Program off the Ground? Complete this form to get started!

Will Skydio Overtake DJI as the Next Big Drone Manufacturer?

Autonomous drone company making a push to become the top UAV manufacturer.

Without question, DJI products have dominated the global commercial drone industry for years now.

In fact, the company controls between 70% and 80% of the market share and, for several years, it’s faced little competition. With such a high percentage of drones coming from DJI, many manufacturers, namely in the United States, have struggled to remain relevant. The tides of fortune, however, may be changing.

Skydio, an autonomous drone manufacturer, currently recognized as the largest in the United States, may just be poised to dethrone the drone giant in the near future.

Adversity in Recent Years for DJI

In 2017, the United States government began raising concerns over the possibility of “cyber vulnerabilities” with DJI drones.

At that time, numerous military units were using popular DJI platforms, such as the Phantom series. In light of the security concerns, the U.S. Navy released a memo on May 24, 2017, titled “Operation Risks With Regards to DJI Family of Products.

By August, the U.S. Army cited the memo when it banned DJI drone use. And, by May 2018, that ban was enforced across all U.S. military branches.

Military experts cited concerns over the security of the data collected by DJI drones. In their opinion, it was relatively easy to hack into the signal to steal both location and visual information from users.

It was also possible to take control of drones during flights. Fears that hacked drones would expose military strategies rose to the highest levels.

Further issues arose for DJI in December 2020.

The United States Department of Commerce placed DJI on its Entity List. Published by the Bureau of Industry and Security, the list identifies people or businesses which the United States government believes pose a security risk.

The commerce department said their primary reason for adding DJI to the blacklist was due to the company “enabl[ing] wide-scale human rights abuses within China through abusive genetic collection and analysis or high-technology surveillance.”

Now, anyone looking to conduct certain types of business with DJI drones, such as exporting or re-exporting products, must now obtain a license to do so.

However, the list doesn’t make it illegal to purchase or use DJI drones, and the company was quick to point out this fact in their official reply. Per DJI’s response, “DJI is disappointed in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s decision. Customers in America can continue to buy and use DJI products normally.”

Skydio's Opportunity

DJI’s problems have opened the door for other drone manufacturers in the United States.

Perhaps no manufacturer is in a better position to capitalize on the situation than Skydio. Founded in 2014, and based in Redwood City, CA, Skydio designs, builds, and supports its drones domestically. The company is known specifically for its AI-driven engine, Skydio Autonomy™.

Initially, Skydio produced a single drone model, the R1, in 2018. The aircraft was marketed to consumers as the world’s first fully autonomous consumer drone. This breakthrough technology’s commercial success allowed the company to move from the consumer market into more industrial applications.

Over the last few years, the company released its second aircraft, Skydio 2. With even more powerful AI technology, the drone was well suited for industrial inspections as well as consumer applications. Last year, Skydio’s systems design engineer, Joe Enke, joined the Unmanned Uncovered podcast to discuss its development.

 

As the military shied away from DJI, Skydio joined a list of five approved drone manufacturers, along with French manufacturer Parrot, that was approved for military use.

What's Next?

Manufacturers who operate in the United States, and that are already approved for government use, such as Skydio, are already becoming far more attractive to consumers.

In fact, in October 2020, the FAA granted the North Carolina Department of Transportation the first state-wide approval to fly Skydio drones BVLOS for bridge inspections. The groundbreaking waiver is due to reduce taxpayer spend by 75%, and save up to $14,600 per inspection in social disruption cost, just by switching from traditional inspections to drone inspections.

To provide some perspective, NCDOT inspectors are tasked to inspect 13,500 bridges regularly.

If the military’s approval of certain domestically manufactured drones, and the FAA’s granting of a state-wide BVLOS waiver specifically using Skydio’s platforms, is any indication of what is to come, DJI will surely lose market share. The percentage of the market DJI will lose is yet to be seen.

While it’s doubtful that we will see a significant shift overall, but we should expect to see their position erode slightly, as companies like Skydio grow to a much more respectable level.

Regardless of your position on foreign-made UAV security issues, the current developments will be beneficial. With DJI losing some of its hold, more investments will flow into domestic drone companies.

Further investment means a more diverse selection for consumers, increased competition among manufacturers, and overall growth and advancement of the UAV industry.

Will Skydio succeed DJI? Only time will tell.

Ready to Make the Switch?

Drone inspections and surveys cut costs, save time, and provide a safer, greener way of getting the job done.

At Consortiq, we’re here to help you get the data you need while staying within your budget. Whether you need us to do the work for you, or you want us to help you create a drone program and train your pilots, our team of drone experts will help you achieve your goals. With hubs in the United States and United Kingdom, we’ll come to you whether you’re in North America or Europe!

With drones, there’s always a better way. Ready to get started? Just complete the form below for your risk-free consultation!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

FAA Issues Final Ruling on Remote ID For Drones

On Dec. 28, the FAA released its much anticipated Final Rule on Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft (Part 89).

The ruling will affect just about everyone flying a drone within United States airspace, especially commercial drone pilots.

If you are not familiar with the Remote ID issue, the FAA believes it is the next step in bringing drones further into the National Airspace System.

The administration is always concerned with safety and security. Since drones started to become popular a few years ago, regulators have struggled to monitor their use.

What Does a Remote ID Accomplish?

You may recall incidents in the last few years where drones forced the temporary shutdown of airports.

For example, in January 2019, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey had to hold all flights for about 90 minutes when pilots noticed a small drone near the runway.

Rogue drones, as they are sometimes called, are of great concern to the FAA. Rogue drones and their pilots are difficult to monitor and prevent.

In theory, Remote ID will solve that problem. The new rule will essentially require a remote ID transmitter to broadcast both the drone’s and pilot’s locations, as well as identification information.

Broadcasting the locations will allow law enforcement, along with other public and private agencies, to know who is flying, and where, at all times.

About the FAA's Final Ruling

The final ruling has been a year in the making. In December 2019, the FAA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding the remote identification of UAVs.

Over 53,000 comments were received regarding the NPRM in the first two months that followed its publication. The FAA reviewed each of these prior to publishing the final ruling.

The rule gives drone operators three ways to meet the identification requirements.

  • The first option is to fly a drone with the built-in capability to broadcast identification and location information for both the drone and the remote control (control station). For most pilots, that isn’t an option, but will be soon.

    Eventually, the FAA will require manufacturers to include this feature in their drones. For now, there will be an 18-month grace period for manufactures to begin producing remote ID capable UAVs.

    Drones with this feature will have a better chance at operating Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) and at night without a waiver.

  • The next option to remain in compliance with remote ID is to fly a drone that uses an add-on remote ID transmitting device.

    For most pilots and organizations with an existing fleet of drones, this will be the primary option. We are likely to see in the next few months, several manufacturers developing these transmitters.

    An operator using this method will need to maintain visual sight of the drone at all times.

  • Option three will apply only to community-based organizations and educational institutions.

    If approved by the FAA, these groups can establish FAA-Recognized Identification Areas (FRIAs) where drones can fly without broadcasting remote ID information and location.

 
FAA Remote ID Rule

So, When Do Drone Operators Need to Comply with the New Ruling?

The deadline for compliance depends on which of the three options for remote ID you plan to use.

If you intend to follow the remote ID rule by flying a drone with a built-in transmitter, after Feb. 26, you have 18 months to comply. If you are using an add-on remote ID device, after Feb. 26, you have 30 months to be compliant.

Entities looking to establish FRIAs can begin doing so immediately.

What's Next?

There was initially some discussion that remote ID would require a monthly subscription, but that will not be the case, at least from the FAA.

Other concerns have centered around privacy issues. Some of the most prominent players in the space, such as Google’s Wing, have reservations about location broadcasting, as opposed to self-identification. For now, we will need to wait and see how things roll out.

Enforcing the new rule will be a responsibility of the FAA. This will be a significant undertaking, and it is not yet clear if the resources will be available to handle this, especially when considering rogue drone activities.

The bottom line is that, whether you have an in-house built drone or an off-the-shelf UAV, if you are flying in United States airspace, you will eventually need to broadcast your location and identification.

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Drone Industry Outlook For the United States: 2020-2030

The combination of the global coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 presidential election has made it a challenging year for the United States’ economy.

Nearly every industry has experienced the pain of unexpected economic shutdowns. As the race to produce a vaccine continues, we are likely to see further economic difficulties.

The Pandemic's Effect on the Drone Industry

In the short term, many industries, including the UAV industry, have been negatively impacted by current events.

For example, globally, the commercial drone market has shrunk from $4.14 billion in 2019 to $3.64 billion in 2020. Thankfully, this downturn of around a -12% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is less of a concern in the long run.

Despite the impact the virus and presidential election have had on the drone market, experts expect a strong and relatively quick recovery. By 2023, the commercial drone market will exceed previous levels and reach $6.15 billion, a CAGR of 19.09%.

This global growth is good news for the United States as they are expected to remain the second-largest market for drones, just behind the Asia Pacific region.

By 2030, the entire UAV market is set to be worth $92 billion. Compare this to the 2020 value of $9.5 billion, and you get an impressive CAGR of 25%.

Given the United States’ share of the global drone industry and its annual spending on drones — more than double all other countries combined — there is every reason to bank on the strength of the UAV industry in the United States over the next decade.

US Drone Industry Outlook

Reasons for a Positive Outlook

Several elements are contributing to the optimistic outlook for the United States drone market.

Some of the more significant factors are: the growing number of commercial drone pilots, the expansion of 5G networks across the country, and increased industry adoption of UAVs.

Let’s expand on each of these points.

The growing number of commercial drone pilots

It is important to note that the largest number of registered commercial drones is in the United States. As of Nov. 17, the FAA has a total of over 1.7 million registered drones, with about 30% of these classified as commercial UAVs. Additionally, the FAA has issued over 200,000 remote pilot certifications.

The strong numbers of both commercial drone pilots and registered UAVs speak to the growing opportunities within the United States for the industry. Additionally,  that continued growth highlights the increase in demand for commercial drone pilots with no leveling out in sight.

 

Related: 10-Year Outlook for the Drone Industry Within the United Kingdom

 

5G Expansion

While the United States doesn’t have the fastest 5G network in the world, the system is expanding. Drone technology has advanced much faster than regulators could have ever anticipated. To keep the skies safe, the FAA imposed regulations on drone pilots, limiting the potential of UAV platforms.

Rules, such as the restriction to not fly a drone beyond a visual line of sight, have prevented drones from expanding further into new use cases. As the FAA becomes more comfortable with the technology, these restrictions are becoming less rigid.

With the current FAA restrictions and 4G network, drones can perform as needed. However, they will need 5G networks to operate in the skies sooner rather than later. The growth of these networks in the United States is paving the way for accelerating the use of drones within the county.

Increased industry adoption of UAVs

UAV technology continues to benefit from a growing acceptance of its use across a diverse set of industrial applications. Several businesses that are only recently beginning to use drones on a large scale, such as insurance companies, will become significant utilizers of the platform in the near future.

Other industries, such as construction, emergency response, and energy, have also used drones for quite some time for surveys and inspections. Additionally, the FAA published airworthiness criteria for the proposed certification of 10 different Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or drones as special class aircraft. This is a crucial step to enabling more complex drone operations beyond what is allowed under Part 107, including package delivery.

Bringing It All Together

During the pandemic, drones have certainly proven themselves as useful tools.

Deliveries of medical supplies, test kits, and other critical items have received a great deal of publicity. People and businesses are becoming very comfortable with the beneficial uses of drones. In fact, we at Consortiq have been heavily involved in a United Kingdom medical supply delivery project!

Even more exciting are the promises of fully autonomous UAV solutions and swarm technology. Once fully developed and given regulatory approval, autonomous systems and swarms could bring about explosive growth for the UAV industry in both the United States and globally.

Sure, the coronavirus has negatively affected the short-term UAV market in the United States. However, given the significant numbers of UAVs and commercial drone pilots, a growing 5G network, and the expanding use of drones in numerous industries, there’s plenty of optimism to brighten the outlook through 2030.

If you have yet to explore the use of drones in your organization, now may be a perfect time. Complete the form below and we’ll help get you started!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Stanford researchers use drones to monitor penguins in Antarctica

The title says it all. Almost, anyway.

A group of researchers at Stanford University has developed a multi-drone imaging system and used it to survey colonies of nearly one million Adelie penguins in Antarctica. The findings from this study were recently published in Science Robotics.

Flying drones in Antarctica sounds tricky.

It is, and that’s precisely why this study is such a landmark for drone technology.

Prior to this study, penguin colonies were surveyed via helicopters or just one drone. Although it’s possible to get high-quality images using the helicopter method, it is expensive, potentially disturbing to the penguins, and fuel-inefficient to do so.

Meanwhile, using a single drone is time-consuming and infeasible to do at scale, because most drones have a battery life 15 minutes or less only in Antarctica. 

To overcome those limitations, Stanford’s research team, led by Mac Schwager and Kunal Shah, spent years developing a multi-drone imaging system and unique route planning algorithm.

I’m going to regret asking, but what does the algorithm do?

Let’s start by dropping the “a” word and giving it a nicer name.

The algorithm used for this study was named the Path Optimization for Population Counting with Overhead Robotic Networks, or POPCORN for short.

POPCORN partitions a given survey space, assigns destination points to each drone (the team used four drones for this study), and figures out how to move the drones through those points in the most efficient way possible, while maintaining a safe, constant distance from the ground and achieving a tunable image overlap.

That’s impressive.

Definitely.

According to the study, UAS survey routes have traditionally been based on an underlying geometric pattern, such as a “vaccuum” sweep, a spiral, or a space-filling curve.

 

Recent: Drones Help Precision Agriculture Take off in Australia

 

Although this approach allows for fast comutations, it does not necessarily work well in cases in which multiple robots are tasked with simultaneously covering an irregularly shaped area. 

The researchers write that the “geometric pattern” appraoch can also overconstrain how the coverage area is partitioned, which can lead to inefficient overall usage of multiple drones.

Because efficiency is a key component to the drone value proposition, if algorithms like POPCORN are adapted for other use cases, it could be a game changer for the drone industry.

What are the long term implications of this new method?

It’s worth noting that for years now, multi-drone systems – commonly referred to as “swarms” have been explored as potential approaches to environmental monitoring.

But this study seems to have gotten some impressive momentum, which suggests that its impact potential is quite high. Since wrapping up the penguin study in Antarctica, the researchers have deployed their multi-drone system in a number of other interesting use cases. 

In one of these use cases, they flew the drones over Mono Lake to survey the California gull population that lives near Paoha Island in the lake’s center. This time, the researchers had to boat out onto the lake to release the drones, the birds were smaller (and therefore harder to monitor), and there was a risk of losing drones in the water.

Luckily, it seems that the mission was completed without any serious issues, suggesting that POPCORN can handle a a variety of complex environments.The team has also used the system to assess vegetation for livestock grazing at a large ranch in Marin, California. 

Longer term, we could speculate that their multi-drone system will help monitor things like wildfires, tornado and hurricane damage, and other natural disasters.

By getting important data to researchers, first responders, and other decision-makers, in a quick and cost effective way, this system could result in more than a few cool publications and cute bird pictures.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Why You Should Use a Drone For Your Volumetric Surveys

Leading suppliers of excavators and construction equipment across the globe is estimated to be around $113 billion in 2020.

But, providing the machinery and equipment to support an industry, which struggles with inefficiency, would beg the question: Why aren’t most suppliers trying to offer an end-to-end solution?

Companies like Caterpillar, Bobcat, JCB and Terex all supply hardware to leaders within the construction industry, but what can drone technology offer to these companies? 

We have already started to see some manufacturing companies embrace this technology and partner with software providers to help with some inefficiencies. And, at the top of the list is managing stockpiles & forecasting, and volumetric surveys. 

Removing it from the ground is one thing, but managing accurate stock and knowing the volume is key for forecasting and logistics. Traditional surveying methods of stockpile volume calculation rely on site personnel to perform ground surveys with a Global Navigation Satellite Systems — such as GPS — receiver to determine the exact position of each measured point with pinpoint accuracy.

Using drones allows volumetric surveys to be completed in a fraction of the time it takes to conduct conventional surveys, leading to lower costs, higher productivity and improved safety.

By performing volumetric surveys with drones, you will get qualitative and quantitative data supplied in a 3D format, as well as aerial photography and video.

How accurate are volumetric surveys?

Drone surveys are proven to be more accurate than traditional ground surveying methods. And, trusting the calculations are key for site management and accounting. 

The measurements and calculations of material is key for multiple reasons:

  • Available stock to sell
  • Duration of project
  • Volumes and resources needed for earthworks extraction etc. 
  • Forecasting

Companies often perform stockpile inventory on a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis, in order to carry out reporting.

Software providers such as Propeller Aero, Hybird and Pix4d all enable data to be scrutinizsed and converted into real-world context whilest enabling you to pick the important information from it. 

 

LISTEN NOW: Mohamed Hafez of HyBird Technologies discusses capturing the process with UAV data

 

According to Propeller Aero, the company “creates tools and software for construction companies, mines, quarries, and landfills to collect, process, and visualize accurate survey data. Some of the world’s leading heavy civil and resources operations trust Propeller to answer critical questions about their site’s progress, productivity, work quality, and safety.”

The data collected can also be used within different departments of any organization. New aerial images and 3D models could be used for marketing communications, or to communicate with local authorities about the project.

For companies like Caterpillar, Bobcat, JCB and Terex, to actively promote innovative ways to assist their key customers could see an increase in demand for their own products.  

Volumetric surveys with a drone
DEM - digital elevation model. Product made after processing pictures taken from a drone. It shows mine area and aggregate storage

Expert-Level UAS Support

At Consortiq, our UAS team can help you provide this level of service without the major investment of technology and/or platforms.

Our drone pilots can gather the information for you, and they provide the key results and data you need. We also use different software providers, depending on your specific requirement, all while delivering exceptional service. 

We recently wrote about the different aspects to consider when making the decision to choose a provider or start an in-house drone program.

Whichever choice you make, it’s important to consult with UAS experts prior to getting started. Experienced consultants will help you to identify your specific needs and explore the best fit to meet those needs. You’ll also get support on creating operations manuals, safety guidelines, and regulation requirements.

No matter what you choose, Consortiq has a solution for you. From unmanned data services that include aerial surveys and mapping, to extensive global remote pilot training and drone consultancy, we’ll help you put the right plan in place.

Need expert-level support? Just complete the form below or call us at 1-855-203-8825 (Americas) or +44 (0)208 0450 322 (Europe) to get started!

Lee Barfoot - Sales & Marketing EMEA at Consortiq

Lee Barfoot - Sales & Marketing EMEA at Consortiq

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

EASA provide European-wide drone registration sharing

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has created a secure, digitized system for the exchange of drone registration data among the national authorities of the European Union (EU) member states.

This represents major progress in the rollout of the latest EU drone regulations, formally known as “Commission Implementing Regulation 2019/947.” 

These regulations, which are set to go into effect on Dec. 31, 2020, after pandemic-driven postponenment, require, among other things, that drone operators register as users of their drones, via their national aviation authorities, into an EU-wide system that can be accessed by authorities in every member state.

Which drones will need to be registered under the new regulations?

Initially, the regulations call for the mandatory registration of drone operators and of “certified” drones, which tend to be larger drones that are primarily used for business purposes.

However, the regulations include additional registration requirements that will gradually be introduced over the course of the next year.   

How will drone registration impact me as a commercial drone operator?

If you are a commercial drone operator and work in multiple EU countries, this development could ultimately make your life easier, because the new system will allow you to register in one EU state and skip re-registering again and again each time you need to operate in another EU state.

However, the database corresponding to this registration system is due to be launched in increments between mid-2022 and end-2024, and until it is completely operational, you might need to put up with certain redundancies and inconveniences depending on where and when you want to operate.

Another potential upside of this development is that it’s promoting greater cohesion and transparency between EASA member states, which could make the EU a better place for drone pilots in general.

According to a EASA’s press release, the new drone registration data exchange will serve as a pilot for a larger initiative to create a fully centralized database of information on certification, oversight and enforcement, at EASA.

The idea is that this will lead to more effective cooperation between EASA and its Member States could translate into better creation and implementation of regulations that would ultimately help you. 

I’m from the UK. What happens with Brexit?

The United Kingdom government claims that throughout the Brexit transition period, its goal has been to “ensure continued transport connectivity in support of successful economic and social ties, and as part of a deep and special future relationship [with the EU.]” 

However, the CAA has stated that with less than two months to go before the end of the transition period, on 31 December 2020, there is no chance that the UK will continue to participate in EASA systems.

This is bad news.

According to the CAA, two relevant implications of its imminent separation from EASA are that:

  • In the future, there won’t be any mutual recognition agreements between the EU and the UK for aviation licences, approvals and certificates.
  • UK-issued licences and approvals that were issued when the UK was an EASA member will continue to have validity under UK law, but only those contained in EU Regulation 2019/494 will continue to have validity within the EU system, as defined by that regulation.
  • The EU will treat UK pilots and UAS operators as third country operators starting January 1, 2021.

To sum up, Brexit makes things complicated, and if you’re a UK citizen and commercial drone operator, you’ll need to check with the authorities of the EU country where you want to operate. 

I’m an EU resident. What about me?

Also, as mentioned, it’s not clear how quickly the one-registry system will go into effect across the EU.

It’s better to err on the side of caution, so unless EASA explicitly states otherwise in the coming months and years, our recommendation is that until 2025, you check with local authorities about registration requirements.

On a positive note, if you’re an EU drone pilot looking to operate in the UK, things might be a bit easier for you than your UK counterparts who want to operate in the EU. For the time being, the UK plans to minimize additional requirements for licenses, approvals and certificates from EU aviation and aerospace companies that wish to operate in the UK.

In other words, the UK is likely to honor your EU registration, either by simplifying the process of registration in the UK or waiving it entirely.

Why don’t we have just one, global registration number for drone pilots?

This is every UAS operator’s dream, but instituting a global registration system number would require levels of consensus and cooperation that are simply unprecedented in the international UAS governance space.

The EASA system, if successful, could set a precedent for a more streamlined registration system. In the meantime, foreign operators will just have to continue navigating red tape each time they want to fly in another country.

 

**

About Consortiq

 

At Consortiq, we enable governments, organizations, and NGOs to utilize UAS (drone) technology by providing consultation, unmanned data services, and our internationally recognized, award-winning training. We support these organizations from proof-of-concept through implementation.

We are expert drone professionals and market leaders in providing custom and innovative unmanned technology solutions for businesses worldwide.

It’s our mission to help you understand the advantages drones can offer your organization. As a talented group of former military and civilian, rotary and fixed-wing, manned and remote pilots and former air traffic professionals, we understand the intricacies of operating drones in the national airspace system.

With headquarters in both the United States and United Kingdom, we can help you navigate the process from start to finish, globally! 

Consortiq is equipped to service companies of any size or industry. Whether we’re training your staff, or helping you scale up the operation, our broad portfolio of solutions is designed to help your organization fly safely.

Schedule your risk-free consultation below!

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

What You Need to Know About Flying Your Drone Over People

Whether you’re a drone pilot in the United States or the United Kingdom, you’ll have your fair share of regulatory limitations from either the FAA or CAA.

You may already know that you’re not able to fly out of your visual line of sight without a waiver. But, did you also know that flying over people requires similar approval?

Unless people are directly involved with the drone operation, located under a covered structure, or protected inside a stationary vehicle, you cannot fly over them.

Let’s start with the “why.”

Why Can't You Fly a Drone Over People?

Quick answer: It’s dangerous.

As with most any other regulation, it’s about safety.

The main concern posed by airspace regulatory agencies is that the drone will fall and cause injury. Many of the most popular drone models, such as DJI’s Phantom 4 Pro, weigh about three pounds.

If an error occurred while the drone was flying at 400 feet (i.e. losing GPS signal), the impact would produce 16,259 Newtons of force. That’s more than enough to kill a person fairly easily.

Additionally, drone rotors spin between 5,000 and 7,000 rpm. At that speed, the propellers become incredibly dangerous to bystanders. A gust of wind at the wrong time could lead to major lacerations.

Now, you might think it’s easy not to lose control of your drone, but that’s not always true. In the video below, you’ll see that an emergency landing was necessary after the device lost GPS signal. Had people been under the drone, the results could have been disastrous.

U.S. FAA Regulation

FAA § 107.39 states that, if you’re flying over any part of a person, even just an extended arm, it’s considered as “Operations Over Human Beings.”


The only exception to the rule is when people are directly participating with drone operation. Examples of that might include the remote pilot, the visual observer, and anyone who might maintain the perimeter to keep others out of the area of operation during flight.


Thankfully, the FAA offer a waiver to that rule. Like all waivers, it helps if an expert is there to assist you in the application process is quite thorough. It also takes about 90 days to get that waiver reviewed and approved/disapproved.

It’s also not easy to obtain. As of Oct. 15, 2020, the FAA has granted only 153 flight over people waivers. The good news is that 64 of those have been approved in 2020.

The increase in approvals this year suggests that with a professional and well-developed application, the FAA is comfortable with trusting qualified operators to fly over people.

Perhaps the most important part of the FAA’s mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world. As flying a drone over people can certainly raise safety concerns, the FAA made sure this was specifically called out as one of the limitations of the Part 107 sUAS license.

How to Get the “Flying Over People” Waiver

The FAA wants you to address two issues when applying for the waiver.

First, they would like to understand the likelihood of an accident occurring as you are flying your drone over people. Second, they would like to know the severity of potential injuries caused by your drone hitting someone should there be a malfunction or operator error.

 

Related Article: BVLOS Waiver – What You Need to Know

 

Likelihood is primarily a review of how safe your operation of UAVs is. As an organization that uses drones for commercial purposes, you have probably established standard operating procedures and training manuals.

In addition to these materials, the FAA would like to see detailed records of any incidents that happen, which shouldn’t normally occur. Examples might include drone malfunctions or pilots crashing drones into people or property.

For incidents such as those mentioned, you should identify any hazards or trends that have been recurring. More importantly, it would be best to show you have developed fixes for aircraft issues and have mitigations in place to prevent human errors.

Severity assumes a situation where a drone does fail will occur. If this situation were to happen, how bad could the potential damage be?

To mitigate the potential damage, the FAA looks for drones to fall into one of three categories.

Category 1 drones are very small, typically less than 0.55 pounds. A UAV of this weight is not likely to cause any damage.

Category 2 drones are considered to cause a minimal amount of injury or damage. The drone’s kinetic impact should not be capable of exceeding 11 ft. pounds of energy transfer.

Category 3 drones can cause more damage, not to exceed 25 ft. pounds of energy transfer.

Likelihood and severity combined help to determine whether or not a waiver is granted. To have the best chance of getting approval to fly over people, most organizations should consult the help of experts in the field.

By some estimates the rejection rate for these waivers is in the high 90% range. A reputable drone consulting firm will be able to access your organization’s needs and prepare you for the application process.

A 107.39 waiver can open a whole new world of opportunities for your UAV operations. Take the time to understand the balance between likelihood and severity for your organization. Develop appropriate mitigation techniques to make your operations safe and submit a waiver application with procedures and data to back up your claims of being a safe and responsible utilizer of UAV technology.

U.K. Regulation

Within the UK, Article 95(2)(d) states that you should never fly your drone or model aircraft closer than the defined legal distances. These are defined within the article as a distance of no less than 50 metres

However, with the introduction of the Drone and Model Aircraft Education and Registration Service (DMARES) last November (2019), and ‘several UAS incidents,’ the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had to issue a safety notice (Number: SN–2020/002) this past January.

The safety notice was to provide additional guidance to remote pilots in the form of suggested best practice when considering flight over people, in accordance with articles 95(2)(d) or 95(3) of the Air Navigation Order (ANO).

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Upcoming European UAS Regulations

It also served as a reminder to ensure operators were “reasonably satisfied that a flight can be safely made” (Air Navigation Order article 94(2)), as the law states.

When the 50m rule was introduced within the ANO, some ambiguity surrounded it.

Examples such as ‘string attached to the drone,’ or it being referred to as the ‘50m bubble’ rule, have been discussed at length. Where flights that need to be conducted within congested areas, and where careful planning is essential, we’ve seen operators use the Pythagorean theorem to work out the minimum viable distance and heights to stay legal.

Either way, the rules are clear and simple:

  • Never fly closer than 50m to people.
  • Distance can be reduced for take-off and landing to 30m. 

Even though hovering your drone at ‘51m’ directly above an uninvolved person may be legal and, as per Article 95, it’s safer to avoid flying or hovering directly over them, you’re responsible for flying safely whenever you fly (Article 94(2)).

Crowds of more than 1,000 people

If you want to fly near crowds greater than 1000 uninvolved persons, the 50m rule extends to 150m.

The standard states that you can fly above uninvolved persons, but that’s not the case for gatherings of this size. As an operator, you are never to fly above crowds at any height. 

A crowd is defined as any organised, open-air gathering of more than 1,000 people.

This includes:

  • Sporting events
  • Music festivals or concerts
  • Marches or rallies
  • Carnivals

Within the UK, if you want to operate within these restrictions, you will need to apply to the UK’s CAA for an Operating Safety Case (OSC) to reduce these distances. You’ll also need to have deep pockets, and your organisation must have operating experience that clearly demonstrates safe, compliant and competent operations.

Bringing It All Together

No matter where you’re flying, you’ll need some type of clearance to fly over people … or to avoid doing it altogether.

If your job requires drone flights over people to limit shutdowns and disruption, or to capture more compelling footage, then we’re here to help you achieve those goals. The best way to get started is to speak with our team of UAS experts as part of a risk-free drone consultation.

Whether you want the know-how to do it yourself and the waivers to go along with it, or you’d rather us do the work for you, we’ve got you covered.

There’s no reason to put a limit on your innovation. With Consortiq, there’s always a better way. Complete the form below to schedule your consultation, drone training, or drone service today!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Operation? Complete This Form to Get Started!

BVLOS Waiver: Here’s What You Need to Know

How to Use Your Drone Beyond Visual Line of Sight

Many technological advances within the drone industry are limited in real-world applications, due solely to unfavorable regulations.

For example, in the United States, commercial drone pilots must always maintain a visual line of sight with any drone they are operating. While technology allows for flight well beyond this limit, such operation would be illegal without changing regulations.

A classic example of the negative impact of this regulation can be found in oil pipeline inspections. Pipelines extend for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles across vast landscapes.

Drones can cover these distances much more efficiently than humans can. However, under current regulations, operators are required to move every two-to-three miles in order to keep the drone within sight. Thus, the benefit of using the drone is not maximized.

Thankfully, if you’re willing to do the work, you can get a waiver from the FAA, or other airspace authorization body, to fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS).

While getting that waiver is possible, you’re more likely to be approved with expert help. Here’s what to know about the BVLOS waiver.

What is a BVLOS Waiver?

Each country has its own rules and regulations regarding a BVLOS waiver.

As an example, we will use the United States. Once a commercial drone pilot has a Part 107 license from the FAA, that pilot can begin flying … within the license’s limits.

 

Related: The Benefits of Part 107 Test Preparation Courses

 

Every remote pilot in command must operate the drone in a manner that allows them to see the drone and its orientation at all times. With a Part 107.31 Visual Line of Sight Aircraft Operation waiver, though, you can fly without having a visual fix on the drone.

For example, let’s assume that you’re flying your drone around a large, cylindrical storage tank at an oil refinery inspecting for signs of corrosion. If you only have a Part 107 license, you will need to walk around the tank as your drone inspects it, always keeping an eye on its location.

With a Part 107.31, you can let the drone fly behind the tank — out of your line of sight — and complete the task more quickly.

How to Get the BVLOS Waiver

The FAA has issued very few Part 107.31 waivers.

In fact, as of October 2020, only 61 have been approved. By comparison, the FAA has issued well over 4,000 waivers for flying at night.

Your hopes of getting a waiver will depend on the strength of your BVLOS waiver application. Given the low number of approved applications to date, you’ll want to consult an expert.

 

Related: UAS Night Operations – Are You Still in the Dark?

 

While there’s no template for a successful BVLOS waiver published by the FAA, successful applications have had a few common elements which you should include to increase your chances of approval.

Let’s break those elements down a bit.

 

Standard Operating Procedures

 

Standard operating procedures highlight the professionalism and experience inherent within your organization.

These should be well organized, and cover everything from onboarding and training to all aspects of drone operations in which you or your pilots participate. To increase your chances of success, make sure that your procedures include the type of work you are looking to accomplish with a BVLOS waiver.

 

C2 Equipment

 

Next, you’ll want to include a detailed explanation of your command & control (C2) equipment.

C2 is an essential part of the application. The FAA will want to know what transmitters you are using to control the drone, in great detail.

You’ll also need to identify the maximum range of your transmitter ,and how you plan to maintain control of the drone at all times. To do that, make sure to include information about the equipment’s FCC ID number, both on the ground control station and on the drone.

 

Flight Safety

 

Flight safety is perhaps the most critical section.

After all, you are requesting a waiver based on your assurance that operations will remain safe at all times. It’s best practice to have a well-developed mitigation plan for every reasonable situation which could arise.

That plan should include a synopsis on how you will detect and avoid collisions, or other dangers. This will be a significant focus of the approval process.

Ready to Apply?

Getting you BVLOS waiver is possible, but you’ve got some work ahead of you.

You’ll need to carefully construct a thorough application, which takes time, resources, and extensive knowledge of your use-case. Want to improve your chances? We’re here to help!

At Consortiq, our drone consultant team specializes in creating the right plan for your specific situation. Whether you need to fly at night, over people, or beyond your line of sight, we’ve helped companies around the world obtain specialized waivers in order to achieve their specific goals. We’re ready to help you get your drone safely into the sky.

And, we’ll train your team of pilots to ensure that you’re always within airspace & safety guidelines.

Would you rather just hire a team to go out and do the work for you? We do that, too!

Just complete the form below to get started with your risk-free consultation today!

 

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

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