Drones are everywhere these days, being used for anything from film making to tracking sharks on the NSW coast. Globally the market for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is projected to grow from $A20.29bn in 2016 to $A71.9bn by 2023.
The growth of UAVs has been driven by aerial photography and video, followed by surveying and mapping, and real estate. There might be an opportunity for AV integrators to capitalise on the technology – but are we trying to fit a square peg into a round hole?
It could be argued that the AV sector is trying to turn UAV technology into something it isn’t. After all, how often do you need a flying camera in a boardroom or restaurant? However, the technology seems to be finding a home in the events sector, with footage being employed to promote venues and happenings with cinematic flair.
In 2015, a 26-year-old teacher from Brooklyn, New York, was arrested after crashing a drone in an empty section of seating at the US Open tennis tournament. One of the players – Italy’s Flavia Pennetta – reportedly feared that the stadium was under attack and somebody had detonated a bomb.
Then in 2017 the Queensland senator Pauline Hanson caught the attention of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) when she posted a video of herself flying a drone from a balcony over a Townsville street. There were concerns that she had breached CASA regulations.
Those stories, though different, have led to greater focus on regulations relating to drone use and the technologies built in to ensure the safety and privacy of citizens.
Among the most significant advances in drone technology is geo-fencing software that limits where UAVs can fly; and ‘sense and avoid’, which allows UAVs to detect an aircraft or other object and take evasive action. We also have the laser mapping technology 3D LiDAR, which is revolutionising cartography and other sectors
Emesent is a commercial off-shoot of the CSIRO’s Data61 division. Director Dr Stefan Hrabar says most UAV systems bought off the shelf rely on an expert pilot.
“There’s no collision avoidance, so if the pilot does the wrong thing the UAV is going to crash into anything nearby.
“We’ve been trying to solve this problem for many years by adding stereo cameras, LiDAR systems and radar to UAVs, allowing them to sense the world around them in 3D and react to obstacles.”
Hovermap uses LiDAR to simultaneously map its surroundings while ‘sensing’ its position in 3D space without the need for GPS. It is a self-contained plug-and-play payload that includes omni-directional LiDAR-based collision avoidance and GPS-denied flight, allowing drones to be flown safely in mines or tunnels, indoors, or up close to structures to inspect and map the surroundings. Hovermap also provides simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM) capability, allowing accurate LiDAR mapping even when GPS is not available.
“It’s localising and mapping simultaneously, in real time – figuring out where the obstacles are and preventing the pilot from flying into things,” Stefan says.
The system can be used in two ways: one is to generate 3D maps and take measurements using the LiDAR, while the other is to carry out close-up inspections using cameras and other sensors by exploiting Hovermap’s ability to safely fly close to structures.
The employment of cameras could be of particular interest to AV professionals and facilities managers. Hovermap’s collision avoidance and pilot assist modes calculate the best flight speed and optimal distances from structures when undertaking mapping and inspection tasks. It ‘knows’ where it’s been, thereby eliminating blind spots. This means the pilot can have a lower skill level, making the technology accessible to many more users.
Recent developments in the security sector mean that residential integrators can also adopt this technology in their installations.
A few years ago Sunflower Labs, a technology company with operations in Zurich and Silicon Valley, introduced the Sunflower Home Awareness System, which includes the Sunflower Flying Camera. The system, which is not yet available, combines state of the art sensor fusion technologies with UAVs and real-time video streaming to create holistic insights into activities around the home and yard.
Home security systems have relied on perimeter breaches and cameras (often pointed at the wrong targets). Existing solutions can have false alarm rates of more than 95%. This leads police dispatchers to relegate alerts to the lowest response priority, giving home-owners no more feeling of security than having no system at all.
Alex Pachikov, founder and CEO of Sunflower Labs, says recent advances in sensor technologies make possible the full awareness of what’s happening around your home at all times. Alerts are sent to the Sunflower app and the home-owner can choose to dismiss the alert or deploy the Sunflower Flying Camera. The system uses every interaction to learn the normal patterns for you and your home. The Flying Camera autonomously tracks the event across the property, sending live video back to the app. Sensor fusion, machine learning and autonomous pathfinding are all coming into their own.
CASA has enacted some of the world’s strictest regulations regarding drones, and new rules will require drones to be registered.
Registration will occur over two phases:
- commercial drones from November 2019; and
- recreational drones from March 2020.
The rules also require all drone flyers to have a remote pilot licence or to have completed a short online safety quiz.
The registration and accreditation requirements apply (with certain exceptions) to:
- drones more than 250 grams operated recreationally; and
- all drones operated commercially regardless of weight.
In addition to the pro AV market, UAVs are expected to play a significant role in the courier industry.
Since as early as 2013, when Amazon.com Jeff Bezos announced Amazon Prime Air, companies have been investigating how drones could simplify and expedite the delivery of various goods. Google, Fedex, Ali Baba have all conducted trials on the viability of delivery drones. In 2016, Domino’s Pizza in New Zealand made the first known delivery of food via UAV in the world. In the same year, Zipline International signed a deal with the Rwandan government to roll out a delivery drone program to distribute medications and vaccinations to rural communities. Today, these drones have delivered over 10,000 units of blood. A similar system has since been introduced in Vanuatu, to deliver vaccinations to the Epi, Shepherd and Pentecost Islands.
Here and now
A drone in itself is not the complete solution; rather, it’s the foundation that will offer a new and exciting prospect to savvy integration professionals. There are already solutions on the market that make including a UAV possible.
Industry leader Epson has released the Moverio BT-300FPV smart glasses, which partner with DJI drones to offer ‘first-person view’. The glasses constitute a transparent display that makes it easy to view your drone’s video feed and key flight statistics while keeping the aircraft in sight. This display offers real-time footage that doesn’t block your view, thereby ensuring a safe, distraction-free flight.
The BT-300FPV includes custom clips to securely hold the BT-300FPV controller to the DJI remote, a dark lens shade and the DJI GO App (preloaded). Ultra-light and comfortable, the BT-300FPV is the perfect solution for next-generation flight experiences.
Further, Exertis ProAV will be at Integrate, showing off its latest UAV technologies at stands L32 and M32. While not yet commonplace, it is clear that drones will play a significant role in the future of our industry. And so, it appears, these are the drones you’re looking for.