Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.
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49 unmanned systems inside August/September 2016 ugust/Septe August/September 2016 August/September 2016 be August/September 2016 0 August/September 2016 6 August/September 2016 ENGINEERING. PRACTICE. POLICY. BY THE NUMBERS 23.2 percent The portion of Planck bought by the French drone maker Parrot this spring. Source: Planck Aerosystems "What that will allow us is a higher level of pre- cision in the fishing industry." "Airborne surveillance," Wells said," is really the most powerful tool that you can give to someone onboard a ship." Moving Target Operating drones from a moving vessel, how- ever, is a complex challenge. The ship and the drone are in motion relative to each other and the motion of the boat as it rides the ocean swells is seldom smooth. "When you're landing on a moving vessel, obvi- ously it's moving in six degrees of freedom," said Dave Twining, Planck Aero's other cofounder and chief operating officer. "So it's moving in XYZ (Along the XYZ axes) but it's also pitching and rolling—moving all over the place. That alone is a huge challenge; then furthermore your aircraft is also moving in all six dimensions. Being able to handle all of those things simultaneously, to suc- cessfully land reliably—exactly where you want to—is quite a challenge." "If you have a moving ship deck it would be very difficult to land as the ship heaves and rolls about on the surface of the ocean," explained Tim McLain, a Planck Aero technical advisor. "The location where the aircraft would land is basically a moving target. So an automated system has the capability to utilize sensors and controls to perform that landing much more reliably than you could do manually." This is es- pecially true during bad weather, said McLain, who is a professor of mechanical engineering at Brigham Young University and the director of the Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, a multi-university research center backed by the National Science Foundation. The complexity is ref lected in the costs of the systems that handle this sort of maneuver for larger ships. "The shipboard support units that we typi- cally use can be $40,000, $50,000 $60,000 and up," said David Fisichella, manager of sci- entific shipboard services for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. "However, for the small aircraft, a lot of the sensing capability can be done on board, opti- cally, for a lot less money. I think it really de- pends on the size of the aircraft and also the size of the vessel." Developing the automation software and sensor package has been a Planck priority. "We are about a two-year-old company and 18 months of that two years have been focused on this enabling technology," Wells said during his Capitol Hill presentation. "The thinking there is we can put the best object detection and best sensors in the air possible—but if we crash it when we come back it doesn't really matter." But avoiding hard landings is not the only challenge. The aircraft must also steer clear of the tangle of onboard equipment. "Deck operations from a ship are usually very tightly constrained and have a lot of obstacles in the immediate area—bridge structures, an- tennas, overboard winches and cranes," said Fisichella, who is not affiliated with Planck Aero. "It's a very hard operating area with all those overhead obstacles." Planck's system must address a third unusual problem—fish-spotter drones have to be able to find their boats after they've completed their f lights or if their batteries run low, despite the fact the boats have certainly changed location. "The return-to-home function that's found on a lot of off-the-shelf systems assumes that the 'home' GPS position never moves," Fisichella said. "But obviously on a moving research vessel, a mov- ing ship, for that matter, the home is constantly changing. So there has to be a method, a way for the aircraft to know where…the takeoff position has moved to with a high degree of accuracy." "All, or almost all, existing commercial aero- nautical drones are based on a stationary GPS point," Wells confirmed. "You're telling your DJI phantom to return to home, to a point position—the position that it launched from— that position will not be the location where you were on the boat because the boat is never Testing a consumer- level drone on board the Planck Aero boat, the Southern Hustler, shown top left.