Inside Unmanned Systems

FEB-MAR 2017

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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43 unmanned systems inside February/March 2017 ENGINEERING. PRACTICE. POLICY. want to set something up relatively quickly that you can throw in the back of a semi, that's where a solution like ours comes in." A helicopter could carry out the same task as PARC, "but the challenge there is cost," Stoll said. "It'd cost well over $1,200 an hour to oper- ate that helicopter." Lighter-than-air craft such as aerostats could also do the trick, "but due to the wind, it can be a real challenge to keep a camera on an aerostat focused on what you need," Stoll said. Moreover, it can take a long time to inflate and deflate an aerostat, "and sometimes you just want to hit the 'land' button and get it down now," he said. One challenge in designing a tethered drone is getting its software to account "for what is essentially a permanent gentle nudge down from the tether," Stoll said. Another is making sure the tether is always slightly taut so that it does not sway in the wind and interfere with the drone's hovering. "The spooler is almost a robot in itself, and in constant communication with the air vehicle," Stoll said. Still another challenge in designing a teth- ered drone revolves around how it does not have a battery that it can draw on quickly for power. "We have to be smart in terms of the maximum amount of power we draw," Stoll said. "If, say, the drone is fighting against a big gust of wind, we don't want to jam hard against it—we try to be smoother in our responses." One future direction for PARC is for it to operate even when the ground station is mov- ing—say, driven in the back of a truck, Stoll said. Another direction is for it to operate at or near the sea. "You have higher winds to deal with at sea, and depending on how choppy the water is, you'll have to reel the tether in faster or slower," Stoll said. "And the real wild card it has to deal with salt, which is harshly cor- rosive. Still, it's a great market opportunity— you can help with port security, rescues, or responses to oil spills." Security drones can have applications be- yond protecting locations. For instance, Piv- toraiko noted they could also help supervise construction sites. Keeping track of whether a building is getting put together according to schedule and in the right way is an impor- tant problem that the construction industry spends a lot of money on. In fact the National Academy of Engineering has highlighted the need for automation in construction through advances in computer science and robotics as one of the grand challenges of engineering in the 21st century. Drones could help moni- tor construction sites, comparing a model of what is getting built to the actual building under construction. Watchdog drones are a growing business, with services offered by companies such as Nightingale Securit y in Mountain View, California, and Sunf lower Labs in Palo Alto, California. "I'm delighted that others are joining this field," Pivtoraiko said. "What keeps me passionate about this field is that we can really benefit the public to save people's lives. For those inside the fence, by de- livering these drones as first responders, we are keeping security guards at a safe distance from whatever goes down, so that maybe they won't get shot that day. But we could also be saving lives on the other side of the fence—security is all about prevention, and by sending a drone with lights and loudspeakers at intruders, they will tend to flee pretty quickly, and maybe we'll save people by not having them spend time be- hind bars." Powered through its tether, the PARC drone can hover for nearly 10 days. It sends data, including 360-degree and infrared images back through the same secure line.

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