How to Get the Most Accurate Aerial Surveys

Drones are quickly finding their way into many services within the industrial sector.

While there is sometimes hesitation to implement new technology, early adopters are often richly rewarded. One such use case has been the utilization of UAVs to conduct aerial surveys.

The art of surveying has been around since people first switched from nomadic hunter-gathers to agriculture-based societies in permanent settlements. As structures were built, people needed to understand the position of objects on the ground accurately.

Drones represent the latest advancement in this field.

While you may be exploring drones for your own survey needs, it’s likely that you have some concerns. That’s understandable.

You might be wondering, “how do drones complete a survey?” And, “are aerial surveys accurate?”

A better understanding of how aerial surveys are conducted, what type of equipment is necessary, and which UAV capabilities are needed for greater accuracy, can help alleviate those concerns.

Let’s break it all down.

How Aerial Surveys Work & How to Prepare For Flight

Drone aerial surveys produce many useful products.

Some of the more common include 2D and 3D orthomosaic maps, 3D models, thermal maps, LiDAR point clouds, and multispectral maps. The process for collecting the raw data needed to produce aerial survey products, such as those listed above, is pretty straightforward.

Before drones take off, the deliverables for the mission must be clearly defined. Determining which products (3D models, 2D orthomosaics, etc.) need to be produced is essential for the planning process.

Investigation

Once those deliverables are identified, it’s a important to investigate the site.

Before drone use became an option, aerial survey teams would often work in dangerous areas, such as active construction sites or treacherous terrain. While using drones significantly reduces that risk, you’ll still want to conduct a thorough site investigation to ensure a safe working environment.

In order to achieve a high level of accuracy, you’ll want to use Ground Control Points (GCPs), or other similar precision location identification tools. We’ll discuss these in a bit, but your site investigation should help you select the best locations for each GCP and/or base station.

Planning

Next, plan out your mission.

The drone’s flight path, camera angles used to collect data, and the amount of overlap in images is determined and set into the flight plan. Once loaded, the mission is flown, and the first half of the aerial survey process is complete.

Processing

The second half encompasses the processing of the data collected by the drone.

When using precision survey tools (GCPs, RTK, PPK), the drone becomes part of a Position & Orientation System (POS). The images collected are each given reference points on the ground.

When the images are matched up with the highly accurate data from GCPs/RTK or PPK, an accurate survey is collected.

The accuracy level depends on all the equipment used in the remote pilot’s UAV system.

In 2019, DroneDeploy, a leading app for drone surveys, independently tested a DJI Phantom 4 RTK and achieved 2cm relative vertical accuracy and 1.20 cm relative horizontal accuracy. With precision, RTK and PPK or specialized GCPs, such as those manufactured by Propeller Aero, survey level accuracy is attainable.

GCPs, RTK, and PPK

GCPs used in combination with RTK or using PPK are the key to getting survey-level accuracy from a drone.

Here’s a brief introduction of each asset:

Ground Control Points (GCPs) are points on the earth’s surface of known location used to geo-reference Landsat Level-1 imagery.

Typically, these points are squares placed around the ground of the survey area. As these are known, surveyed points, they can be used to align the images collected by the drone with locations on the surface.

Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) is a tool that uses range-based measurements to make corrections to the GPS location recorded by the drone.

A drone with GPS alone cannot provide survey-level accuracy. Range measurements essentially recalibrate the data of the GPS to give the exact location for each image collected.

Post-Processing Kinematic (PPK) is another method for correcting GPS location errors that allow for survey-level accuracy.

Flights typically take more time if you’re using PPK, as is the post-processing of data once the mission is complete. PPK does not need a radio link between the drone and the base station to work, nor does it need GCPs.

So, if you need survey-level measurements with a drone, you will either need to use RTK and GCPs (which corrects during the flight) or PPK (correcting in the cloud post flight) to obtain that level of accuracy need.

Bringing It All Together

The surveying needs of industry will become more complex over time.

Drones offer a highly efficient, cost-effective solution for providing accurate survey products to meet those needs. 

Are you looking to conduct aerial surveys with drones on your own? You’ll need training and consultation.

Are you looking to hire a company to produce the data for you? You’ll want an experienced remote pilot with a proven track record.

At Consortiq, we offer the full solution. We’ll help you build internal drone programs and train your pilots. Or, we’ll do the work for you, either independently or alongside your team.

With drones, there’s always a better way, and it’s our goal to help you find it! With hubs in North America and Europe, we’ll come to you, wherever you are in the world!

Schedule your risk-free consultation by completing the form below.

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!

Here’s what you need to know about the AUVSI TOP certification

There are numerous professional organizations available to drone operators, but few are as large and as established as the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).

This nonprofit organization works for the advancement of unmanned systems and robotics through various programs and hosted events.

AUVSI’s Trusted Operator Program (TOP) is an industry-recognized program for individuals and organizations. If you are not familiar with TOP, it is worth learning more about it, as it can enhance your organization’s (and your own) professional appearance.

The Part 107 license is a good start, but TOP is designed to further distinguish you and your pilots as safe, reliable, and professional.

What is TOP?

Several years ago, the FAA recognized a need for establishing rules and regulations surrounding the operation of drones for commercial applications.

In June 2016, the Part 107 sUAS license program became active. The program’s purpose was to regulate drone operations and provide access for people to tap into “the limitless possibilities unmanned aircraft offer.”

Earning an sUAS license is a great start, but it is by no means a robust certification.  If we look at the fundamental safety standards and practices established in the Part 107 program as if they are the foundation of a house, TOP can be seen as the rest of the building.

TOP was designed by AUVSI members who worked with the association’s Remote Pilots Council to develop the certification’s framework and guidelines. The elements of TOP focus on safety culture, best practices, airmanship, human performance, code of ethics, automation awareness, risk management, and non-technical skills.

Pilots and organizations who have participated in the program show improvements in safety, trust, risk management, professionalism, and reliability.

Some important things to remember about TOP are that it is specifically for professional pilots. Drone hobbyists are not the focus of this program.

Also, while TOP uses FAA regulations as its foundation, TOP trainers in countries outside the United States can apply their relevant regulations to the period of instruction. Thus, TOP has global recognition.

Finally, the certification has protocols established for specified topics that applicants must demonstrate conformance to in order to receive the certification.

Drone flies over people at a construction site during a drone inspection
How the FAA's new rules affect you as a drone pilot. Click the image above to read more!

What Are the Various TOP Levels?

There are three levels to TOP for individual remote pilots, remote pilot instructors, service providers, and training providers.

As levels increase, they reflect a greater degree of complexity and risk in the nature of UAV operations.

Level 1 (TOP 1) typically takes one hour of training, Level 2 (TOP 2) training is from 3 to 8 hours in length, and Level 3 (TOP 3) can take anywhere from 5 to 24 hours to complete.

AUVSI TOP 1

TOP 1 is specific to operators with a Part 107 who do not require waivers (such as nighttime flight or flying over people), and whose drones are electric-powered, weighing less than 15 pounds. In most cases, it’s ideal for individual drone service providers handling routine work like real estate photography.

AUVSI TOP 2

Top 2 is for Part 107 certified pilots that are also using waivers. Operators at this level are conducting more risky flights. Flying drones close to airports or above highly populated areas are examples of higher-risk operations. Typically, visual observers and sensor operators are involved in these flights as well.

One point of interest is the FAA’s recent ruling on Dec. 28, 2020, regarding changes to some Part 107 waivers. The two waivers discussed in the ruling were flight over people and night operations.

A remote-pilot-in-command holding a valid sUAS license can now fly over people and operate a night without a waiver in certain circumstances.

AUVSI TOP 3

Top 3 is for safety-critical operations, and for when flying around complicated structures such as mines, power plants, and communications towers.

Typical drone missions can include operating the UAV from moving vehicles or remotely. Drones operated by pilots with TOP 3 can exceed weights of 55 pounds.

Is TOP for You?

Businesses with drone programs should seriously consider getting some level of TOP certification.

Customers looking to hire drone service providers are looking more and more for certification beyond Part 107. This is especially true when the work is risky, and when mistakes can cause millions of dollars in damages.

Thanks to the program’s high standards, a customer who works with TOP-certified pilots and organizations can assume a high level of professionalism and reliability that go hand in hand with the UAV service being provided.

At Consortiq, we’re one of just a select few of TOP-certified training providers. We’ll help guide you through the program, and ensure that you and/or your remote pilots become AUVSI Trusted Operators!

Ready to take your certification to the next level? Check out our TOP training pages, or complete the form below to get 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!

Pipeline Gas Leak Detection with Drones

Natural gases have a wide range of uses in residential and commercial markets.

Sectors such as manufacturing, heating, transportation, and the generation of electricity all benefit from natural gas production. And, by 2023, North America is projected to be the largest exporter of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG).

The capturing, refinement, and transportation of LNG is big business. LNG is the second most used energy source for industrial applications. In recent years, partly thanks to climate change concerns, LNG is gaining on the number-one energy source, coal.

As with any process, there is an inherent loss that occurs in production. Some losses are intentional, while others are due to malfunctions and failures in equipment.

Recent studies show that, in the United States, methane leaks in the oil and gas industry estimate a 2.3 percent loss annually. That translates to 13 million metric tons of methane each year.

Detecting leaks is of vital importance for fiscal and environmental concerns. Let’s break down traditional methods, and why using drones to detect gas leaks is a better alternative.

Traditional Gas Leak Detection Methods

Detecting gas leaks is a challenging and complex problem.

Industrial facilities are full of numerous failure points where gas can potentially leak. An even more significant challenge is identifying leak points along endless miles of pipelines.

Finding the location of a gas leak requires a team of inspectors who utilize an array of detectors and monitoring equipment.

There are three common types of detectors used to search for gas leaks.

  • Fixed detectors are mounted sensors within a facility or along a pipeline. They are placed at high-risk spots, such as valves. These devices are set to alert personnel when a leak occurs.
  • Automatic detectors are usually robotic and can roam around a facility looking for leaks. These detectors are in their infancy. Hard-to-reach areas of a plant can be accessed by these robots, but they have limited use outside their specific area of operation.
  • Portable detectors are carried by members of inspection teams and use a wide range of sensors to detect possible gas leaks. While they are useful, these detectors often place people in dangerous or toxic environments.

Drone-Based Gas Leak Detection

Traditional gas leak detection methods have been beneficial in industrial applications.

However, they are not always an ideal solution to the problem. These methods often lack efficiency and place people in harm’s way.

Drone inspections identify areas of dead vegetation as an indication of an established leak. While helicopters are used to achieve the same results, they’re extremely expensive and noisy. Drones also provide less disruptive inspection of routes, often through complex areas, where the traditional “walk the route” method has various complications.  

A prime example of this is the detection of gas leaks along miles of pipeline expanding across the wilderness. As you may have already guessed, having an inspection team hike across the forest with a handheld detector is inefficient and dangerous.

Drone-based leak detection is the latest innovation to address both the safety and efficiency issues present in traditional methods.

UAVs are also excellent platforms for detecting gas leaks in remote areas. Several manufacturers have already developed payloads for gas leak detection.

One such manufacturer is Oregon based FLIR. The company manufactures the FLIR G300 Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) camera, which can detect small leaks several meters away and larger leaks hundreds of meters away.

Other payloads used in gas leak detection include LiDAR and thermal cameras.

In this new gas leak detection method, a UAV pilot may be assigned to check for leaks along a section of an oil and gas company’s pipeline. The entire mission can be carefully planned out and developed into a preprogrammed flight plan.

After takeoff, the UAV can survey the area and collect data on possible leaks. Either on board the drone or at a base station, this data can be processed and analyzed. A report can then be generated and identify any leaks present in the area.

Thanks to UAVs’ advanced features, these reports provide actionable data that can both save money and help protect the environment. Drones collect survey level data that can accurately pinpoint the leak’s location and even provide information on the estimated leak rate and type of gas.

Additionally, drone inspections are much faster and far more accurate than those performed by inspection teams using handheld devices. They’re also highly cost-effective compared to using a crewed aircraft, such as a helicopter, to detect leaks. 

Furthermore, in industrial facilities, the drone method can be repeated to detect leaks in structures high off the ground, eliminating the need to put people at risk .

Bringing It All Together

As with many other applications across various industries, drones are advancing gas leak detection.

The improved efficiencies of UAV platforms make them ideal for tackling a necessary task that expose people to dangerous conditions.

At Consortiq, our skilled, experienced remote pilots perform all types of drone inspections, including gas leak detection. Are you interested in exploring the benefits of drone technology?

From training your pilots and developing you program, to hiring us to do the work for you, we’re here to help you find a bette way to accomplish your goals! Contact us today by completing the form below, and let’s get 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!

Here’s Why You Should Use Drones For Bridge Inspections

Most people spend very little time thinking about the safety of bridges.

As we traverse bridges during our workday commutes and weekend road trips, our thoughts seldom gravitate towards the structural integrity of each bridge we cross. In reality, they require routine bridge inspections to ensure that they are safe for commercial and personal use.

There are over 590,000 bridges strewn across the network of highways stretching across the United States, alone. The Federal Highway Act (FHWA) of 1968 mandates that each bridge with a length of 20 feet or more must be inspected at least once every 24 months. Each inspection must align the criteria outlined by the National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS).

Other countries around the world have similar laws and standards.

Bridge inspections address several essential requirements outlined in the FHWA. The number-one deliverable is determining whether or not the bridge is safe for use.

Additionally, a bridge inspection will identify major structural issues that require follow-up, quantify the overall condition of the bridge to prioritize capital needs, identify routine maintenance, and catalog a history of the bridge’s condition.

Inspecting bridges has been a labor-intensive process until recently, due to advances in drone technology. By using drones to perform bridge inspections, costs decrease and the overall efficiency of the operation increases.

Reviewing traditional bridge inspection methods and comparing them against inspections with drones will help illustrate the benefits of applying UAV technology to this monumental task.

Traditional Bridge Inspections

There are many types of bridge inspections.

Some of the more common types are damage, fracture-critical member, hands-on, in-depth, initial, routine, underwater, and special inspections. Each of these requires collecting visual data, both with the naked eye and with specialized equipment.

Typical inspection tools include ground-penetrating radar, handheld thermal cameras, survey equipment, measuring instruments, and more. When inspectors need to examine the sides or undercarriages of bridges, the inspection team often requires the use of cranes, hoists, other heavy equipment, climbing gear, artificial lighting, and hand tools.

Human-based inspections place the inspection team at risk while hanging over or under bridges, sometimes hundreds of feet in the air. One of the most laborious components of the traditional inspection method is the visual inspection from underneath. Every inch of the structure must be reviewed to identify cracks, water damage, rusting metal, crumbling concrete, and other signs of structural fatigue.

It is a slow process that can take hours or even days to complete. In many cases, as a team of people completes their inspection, the bridge needs to be closed off to traffic. Especially in rural areas, this can cause a significant interruptions in the flow of traffic.

Bridge inspection
Traditional bridge inspections require extended time, resources, and funding.

Drone-Based Bridge Inspections

Unlike traditional methods, drones do not place people in harm’s way. Additionally, drones capture visual data much faster, and cover the structure with greater accuracy.

Under normal circumstances, drone inspections do not require closing the bridge to traffic, which minimizes the inconvenience of the inspection on the community. In just the last few years, advances in UAV design, AI software development, and hardware engineered to aid in positioning without GPS signals have made drones ideal for bridge inspections.

Drones designed for commercial applications can easily be equipped with just about any camera or optic needed for the inspection. High powered zoom lens, thermal cameras, lidar, and laser range finding payloads collect much of the data engineers need to review when assessing a bridge’s condition. Pilots can program drones to take overlapping images of a bridge at various angles to ensure complete structural coverage.

Some drones have AI software, which, when combines with numerous sensors around the aircraft, paint a 3D picture of everything around the UAV. This feature is especially helpful when navigating the drone through tight spaces often present underneath bridges. 3D pictures can effectively replace the need for GPS, allowing for safe and accurate flight when GPS signals experience interference or are blocked entirely.

Commerce depends on the ability to move goods between different points, and bridges are essential in making the flow of goods possible. Without regular inspections, these structures would quickly become unsafe and unusable.

Drones are ushering in a new era for industrial inspections. UAVs are proving to be an attractive solution for bridge inspections, keeping people safe, lowering costs, and producing more accurate data.

Find a Better Way With Drones

Whether you are responsible for the bridges in your region or handle inspections of bridges, considering the use of drones to maintain the safety of the structures in your care is well worth the time to investigate them further.

Want to hire professional drone pilots to perform your bridge inspections? How about a team of experts to train your current inspection team?

At Consortiq, we’re here to help you build your use-case, provide training and support, and even do the work for you — or work alongside your team of remote pilots — to get the job done your way and on your terms.

With hubs in both the United States and United Kingdom, we’ll come to you, and help you find a better way with drones.

Complete the form below to get 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!

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!

To schedule a drone consultation, just complete the form 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!

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.

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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.

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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!

Drones in 2020: A Year in Review for UAS

As the year comes to an end, it is worth looking back and reflecting on the UAV industry, which greatly evolved in 2020.

The year has been challenging for both people and industries alike. While 2020 could easily be categorized as chaotic, drones have risen to the occasion and fared relatively well.

With COVID-19, massive fires in Australia and the United States, extreme weather events, and the economic toll of it all has led many to believe 2020 is the worst year ever. While there is plenty of evidence to support that view. However, for the drone industry, there’s plenty of optimism due to UAV uses throughout the year.

Let’s discuss three very noteworthy takeaways.

Increased Drone Use

As the global pandemic started picking up steam, countries worldwide enacted necessary safeguards to curb the virus’s spread.

Most businesses needed to pivot in response to the new restrictions. As working remotely became the norm, many companies were forced to take a fresh look at how technology could allow them to operate while still keeping their employees safe.

UAV technology was one of the first to receive increased attention as the pandemic grew. Drones were used for sanitation, public service announcements, and the delivery of medical supplies.

Additionally, benefits such as minimizing the people needed for tasks like industrial inspections, removing people from dangerous situations (to include exposure to the coronavirus), and performing tasks quicker and more efficiently for cost savings became more attractive.

Drones in 2020 - drone being used for emergency services

Supportive Regulatory Control

Governments worldwide have tended to err on the side of caution in regards to regulating commercial drone operations.

Safety has, of course, been their primary concern. As is typically the case, necessity creates a willingness for greater flexibility and support. 2020 has undoubtedly been a year where governments have looked to the UAV industry for assistance.

Evidence of this trend can be seen in countries like the United Kingdom, where drone operations, such as those in the Isle of Wight, helped provide needed medical supplies. In November, the British government announced drones providing COVID-19 relief were among the first wave of winners, receiving government funding (£33 million) for ground-breaking aviation projects addressing significant global challenges.

Flexibility in regulatory agencies, such as the FAA in the United States, was also present in 2020. While the FAA didn’t bend any of their rules for drones, they did work cooperatively with businesses to maximize the operations within existing structures. Additionally, more Part 135’s (package delivery by drone) were approved.

Improved Public Opinion

Since the commercial drone industry started picking up speed a few years ago, public opinion has been mixed.

Initially, there was great concern over drones invading privacy and causing safety issues. It was only two years ago when in December 2018, a drone infamously shut down England’s second-largest airport (Gatwick) three times in three days due to suspected drone sightings in the area.

This year, however, has done much to improve the public’s perception of UAVs. Drone delivery services have been particularly helpful in combating COVID-19 and providing locked down businesses a method to still operate.

For example, Zipline, the second-largest drone delivery company, partnered with Walmart to deliver health and wellness products to residential customers in the United States.

While the scope of these programs is still relatively small, many people are starting to see that drone operations can be safe and beneficial. With new strains of the virus spreading and many areas worldwide experiencing spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases, 2021 will likely provide increased opportunities for UAVs to improve public support further.

Bringing It All Together

While 2020 will undoubtedly be remembered as a challenging year, the drone industry fared better than most.

With drone use cases and adoption increasing, government regulations becoming more flexible, and public opinion of UAVs becoming more positive, the drone industry proved its resiliency. These positive trends are likely to continue into 2021, thus, for drones, the future looks bright.

The team here at Consortiq would like to thank you for reading throughout the year, and we look forward to helping you with your drone operation in 2021. To book a consultation, make sure to contact us using the form below! Also, make check out the rest of our articles, as well as the Unmanned Uncovered podcast, by clicking here.

Have a great holiday and a happy new year!

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!

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