Inside Unmanned Systems

OCT-NOV 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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51 unmanned systems inside October/November 2017 ENGINEERING. PRACTICE. POLICY. research, they haven't tested the new swarm- ing technology just yet, Houston said. They hope to do so soon, but there are funding and regulatory challenges to overcome. Eventually, he'd like to see UAS surveil the atmosphere on a regular, even continual, basis to improve the models used for forecasting. Images and vid- eos the drones collect also can be beneficial, with members of the National Weather Service who Houston surveyed indicating that having access to detailed, high-resolution imagery would give them even more insight into severe storms and their behaviors. Other Benefits The fact multiple drones can work together to quickly cover more ground is a significant benefit that drone swarms offer—especially in search and rescue situations—but there are oth- er reasons to consider deploying swarms, Frew said. Swarms are more robust against a single failure, for example, so if one sensor stops work- ing or one of the collaborating drones is some- how damaged, there's a good chance the opera- tor will be able to complete the mission with the remaining UAS. That isn't the case if the sole drone deployed for a mission goes down, or if one of its sensors is on the fritz. A nother benef it is cost sav ings, Frew said. These don't have to be expensive UAS. Operators can invest in three or four systems that cost about $1,000 each that, when f lown together, have the same capabilities as one larger system that costs between $5,000 and $10,000. The fact the systems are smaller and lighter also makes them easier to transport and deploy. The technology also offers a versatile solu- tion, Frew said. He typically relies on fixed- wing aircraft for most of his research for a variety of reasons, including their longer en- durance and f light range, but said the swarm algorithm could be used on any platform, in- cluding quadrotors, depending on what's best for the mission. The Future The swarming algorithm they've created at CU Boulder is a developing technology, and the team is always looking for ways to enhance it, Frew said. One way is through cloud com- puting, which Frew envisions using one day to interface with drones in real time. If the drones are collecting information from a storm, for example, a meteorologist could be running storm simulation forecast models simultaneously and using the drones' measurement data to determine which model most closely matches what they're observing. Regardless of the application, operators can't run these models on the aircraft, but other team members can run them back in the lab and allow the drones to access them as they're f lying. The team is also looking at eventually operating the aircraft via the cloud. Resea rchers w ill continue to test the technology and make improvements along the way, Frew said, which includes even more robust communication for enhanced collaboration. "It's very easy to come up with an algorithm in the lab that can share information and make sophisticated decisions, but when you put it on a real life aircraft you realize how much gets lost over the communications links," Frew said, describing one of the main challenges to de- veloping this technology. "If I deploy a team of drones to find a lost hiker and they localize that hiker, they haven't done their job if they haven't given that information to the search and rescue group that can save that hiker. The information has to get back to the right person at the right place at the right time." " THE DIFFERENT AIRCRAFT REASON ABOUT WHAT THEY CAN SENSE, WHAT THEIR TEAMMATES CAN SENSE AND THE BEST THING TO DO INDIVIDUALLY WITH THE AWARENESS OF THE TEAM'S GOAL." Eric Frew, associate professor, Colorado University Boulder

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