Inside Unmanned Systems

DEC 2017 - JAN 2018

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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ENGINEERING. PRACTICE. POLICY. 37 unmanned systems inside December 2017/January 2018 An ultralight, break-apart quadcopter was a key element in the first waiver allowing drone flights over people. CNN worked with aviation officials for more than two years to develop techniques and rules to fly such missions safely. Their choice of the Snap drone by Vantage, which is designed to minimize injury, enables the news network to cover events from the air. by Charles Q. Choi A major barrier limiting the commercial applications of drones in the U.S. is the general prohibition against f lying over people. In a breakthrough in October, CNN announced it received the first- of-its-kind Part 107 waiver from the Federa l Av iation Administration (FAA) to operate a petite, unmanned aircraft system (UAS) over crowds. The four-year waiver, issued October 13, enables CNN to use drones to cover protests, accidents, terror attacks or natural disasters. "Any gathering of people that becomes newsworthy is something that's open to us," said Greg Agvent, senior director of aerial imagery and reporting and of na- tional news technology for CNN. Part of what made the waiver pos- sible was an innovative drone called Snap—a feather weight, quadrotor designed by Vantage Robotics of San Leandro, California, to prevent injury. With Snap, CNN can fly in the open air over crowds of people up to an altitude of 150 feet above ground level. Vantage spent years developing an unmanned aircraft that was less dan- gerous to both the operator and to people on the ground. The 1.37-pound Snap is frangible— that is, the drone breaks apart into smaller pieces on impact. This feature, borrowed from Formula One racecars, distributes the kinetic energy of im- pact over a broader area across more components. This makes Snap more durable as a whole, and therefore also means the drone needs less bulky pro- tection around its parts. This frangibil- ity, combined with Snap's light weight, also reduces the blow from the drone if it falls on a person. Snap's rotors automatically rotate during uncontrolled descents. This significantly reduces the rate at which the drone falls, a trick borrowed from larger helicopters. The four rotors are also enclosed within cage-like propel- ler guards to protect both people and the drone. "One of our big goals in designing Snap was to make drones something that could be used by a broader con- sumer audience," said Tobin Fisher, co- founder and CEO of Vantage Robotics. "I've been f lying all sorts of different RC [radio-controlled] aircraft since I was a kid, and while my experience has been that they're extremely fun and ex- citing to use, there's always a serious- ness and tension with using them. I've been cut badly by a blade on a quadro- tor, and almost everyone I know who f lies regularly has been cut at some time as well, so it's really exciting to address that problem." Vantage made hundreds of proto- types before finding one that weighed nearly nothing, did not reduce f light efficiency by hindering airf low, and did not create turbulence around the blades when f lying in the wind. "We build a design in the morning, doing performance testing mid-day, doing drop testing in the afternoon, re- designing at night, and doing that ev- ery day for months," he said. "We went through a ton of completely different approaches. The bicycle wheel turned out to be a big inspiration for us—it has an analogous structure." Magnetic connectors allow users to snap the drone back together in sec- onds and transport it easily. "Snap can break apart for storage," Fisher said. As such, the 13.9-inch by 12.48-inch by 2.48-inch drone can fit in a backpack. "Having a modular sys- tem also makes it cheaper and easier to repair and swap out parts," Fisher said. Before CNN chose Vantage and Snap, "we did a survey of pretty much every- thing we knew that was in some form of production in the drone space, and built a matrix of the pros and cons of each craft—from a weight perspective, from a design perspective, and so on," Agvent said. "At the end of the day, we thought the Snap was clearly best for our first step of operations over people." Snap's Performance Snap is equipped with a Sony Exmor IMX377 1/2.3" camera sensor. It can shoot 4K video, as well as slow motion with 1080p at 120 frames per second and 720p at 240 frames per second. It can also shoot 12-megapixel still pho- tos in single-frame, time-lapse and

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