Drones are on the cusp of being a truly industrial workhorse in all facets of industry. With more businesses opting to use UAVs in place of manned aircraft, the next evolution in the drone industry is Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flight.
As it currently stands, Canada (and the rest of the world) have a justified belief that operators must maintain a clear view of their platform and the airspace at all times during flight. With the drone industry in its infancy, there is still an uncertainty with regard to who can fly, where they can fly, and how far they can fly.
With countries slowly beginning to grant permission for operators to perform BVLOS flight, the industry holds its breath in anticipation of the results.
Canada, for instance, has established the aptly named Foremost Centre for Unmanned Systems near The Village of Foremost, Alberta. What makes Foremost an ideal location is the vast and flat Canadian prairie landscape, low population density (approx. 541 in 2016), and high Visual Flight Rules (VFR) days for ideal operating conditions. With permission from Transport Canada, operators can engage in BVLOS test flights to ensure all of their integrated safety and collision avoidance parameters are fully functional.
On February 27th of this year, Ventus Geospatial, a Canadian geomatics firm that utilizes UAVs, conducted a successful flight with Aeryon’s Skyranger sUAS for the first BVLOS outing in Canada. This milestone provides a strong incentive for Transport Canada to engage in further BVLOS flights, showing the world that Canada is pushing the envelope in regards to UAV regulation and testing.
One of the features that is required for BVLOS is a reliable and effective sense and avoid system. Companies like Iris Automation have been using their experience in computer vision, AI, and simulation to develop cutting-edge collision detection and avoidance software. With a mature and fleshed out system, operators will have the necessary tools to perform BVLOS flights with the peace of mind that the platform will travel safely through the skies.
What this is all amalgamating into is the autonomous commercial drone. When a job requires inspecting hundreds of kilometres of pipeline, or vital supply deliveries to remote and dangerous areas, not only is it a cost-effective means of accomplishing these tasks, but it can also be immeasurably safer for everyone involved. As controversial as the topic is, automation is going to happen whether we like it or not. Over the centuries, automation has always propelled society into prosperity and innovation. From the ancient (yet still relevant) water wheel to the surging production of the Industrial Revolution to the emergence of self-driving cars, automation has always been man’s answer for minimizing low-skilled, labour-intensive work.
Not only is less man-power involved, but the threat of random human error becomes virtually non-existent. Without a human bias, extensive topographic mapping missions would eventually simplify to the press of a button and awaiting a data log. The beauty of computer-executed operations is the lack of any emotional distraction; a computer will never be caught contemplating an argument they had that morning instead of focusing on how close they’re flying to the cliffside.
The day is coming, and once the industry is ready to deploy UAVs for autonomous BVLOS operations, the call for high-endurance platforms will proliferate.
And that is where Pegasus comes in.