Inside Unmanned Systems

AUG-SEP 2016

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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53 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. couldn't get much smaller and with enough processing power onboard." GROUND MARKER The landing pad is programmable, Twining said. Specifically the data on ship characteristics that needs to be entered into it can be changed if the landing pad needs to be moved to a different spot on the deck or to an entirely new vessel. "So you can kind of setup your landing pad, presuming you have a space for it, wherever you need to," Twining said. The pad contains the system's radio communications and a beacon to guide the aircraft back to the ship— an essential capability given that the ship can travel quite a distance during a drone's mission. If the drone gets out of communications range the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) has the ability to extrapolate where the boat is most likely to be and return there; which is usually enough to bring it back into radio range, Twining explained. Though Twining declined to describe the landing pad in greater detail. David Fisichella, manager of scientific shipboard services for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said there were different techniques available for negotiating the landing. The aircraft can broadcast an ultrasonic signal that bounces back to it from the deck— giving it an accurate height above the deck. Some landing pads can look like QR codes—those data- loaded, modern versions of bar codes that look like overcrowded checkerboards. "When the aircraft is coming in, there is a sensor that optically detects downward," explained Fisichella, who is not affiliated with Planck Aero. "Even though the ship is moving forward, once the sensor finds the target it will follow the target and be able to land that way." THE MAGIC SAUCE Whatever the exact combination of hardware, what really makes the system work is the computer code. "The software and the algorithms are where all the magic is," Twining told Inside Unmanned Systems. Twining said developing that software required a lot of experience in that specific problem and "a real strong sense of intuition." "It's something that's hard to replicate unless you've actually experienced it," he said. Wells, Planck Aero's CEO as well as its cofounder, has that kind of experience. He spent a decade landing manned Navy helicopters on moving ships. "There's a lot that goes into it that's probably not obvious," Twining said. "Just kind of developing a gut feel for how things are not only moving at a given time but are going to be moving in the near future, so that you can execute it through landing. Knowing exactly where you want to land and then understanding how everything's moving relative to each other. Those are the big challenges." To see if they got it right Planck Aero runs frequent tests, something made easier by their dedicated indoor test facility and boat. "That boat is there for us and we go out on it all the time," Twining said. "Test in the lab first, make sure everything's working. Go out on the boat; test it there." "We just get to iterate and test and fly every day," he said. "We're really fortunate in that we can really go fast on our development." "AIRBORNE SURVEILLANCE is really the most powerful tool that you can give to someone onboard a ship." Josh Wells, co-founder and CEO Planck Aerosystems, Inc. radiation from the ship's navigation electronics including radars. "I don't think many of the systems that have been developed today have been evaluated for operations close to S Band, for example, and it's conceivable that when you're operating from the vessel the aircraft could be very close to the beam of the S band radar," Fisichella said. These are the sort of issues testing is meant to identify and Planck plans to beta test their tech- nology with selected San Diego-area customers starting in September. Beyond trouble shooting the company hopes to further refine the data sig- natures for identifying types of fish. Planck hopes to introduce its product during the boats shows that take place in March. "Our goal," Wells told Inside Unmanned Systems, "is to have our commercial launch coincide with the start of the West Coast fish- ing season."

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