SkyGrid Flight Control: An All-in-One Drone App

SkyGrid

In case you missed it, SkyGrid just launched the first all-in-one drone app. What does that mean exactly? It means pilots can manage their entire drone workflow from airspace exploration and authorization… to flight planning and execution… to real-time insights… all within SkyGrid Flight Control™.

Free drone app

We recognized the challenge many drone operators are facing today by using several different tools to check airspace, get LAANC, plan flights, and safely execute them. It’s a cumbersome process that requires too many manual workflows and can lead to disconnected information as you switch between different applications.

We set out to solve this challenge by automating every phase of flight in one drone app. SkyGrid Flight Control automates flight authorization, planning, and execution to radically simplify your operations.

And we’re the only drone app built on artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies. Our AI computer vision enables real-time object detection while our patented blockchain system provides enhanced data privacy of all pilot, flight, and drone data stored within the app.

Learn more about the app experience in our latest video:

We’ll have more insights to share from our product experts in the coming weeks so stay tuned!

In the meantime, you can get started today by downloading SkyGrid Flight Control for free in the iPad App Store. You can also check out our advanced enterprise features, such as geofencing, custom object detection, and multi-drone missions, for more complex drone operations.

Happy flying!

Ali

Blockchain: The Digital Black Box in Unmanned Aviation

blockchain in unmanned aviation

Our airspace, historically dominated by commercial aircraft and helicopters, is now being shared with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) of all shapes and sizes at a growing rate. In fact, the volume of drones is already outpacing manned aircraft. According to the FAA, there are nearly four times as many registered drones as manned aircraft.

In the near future, we’ll also see unmanned vehicles carrying passengers and cargo take flight. NASA projects the number of unmanned flights per year will reach 500 million for package delivery services and 750 million for passenger transportation by 2030.

However, there are a couple key challenges that must be addressed to keep our skies safe and provide drone operators with equitable airspace access, particularly in high-risk areas near airports and urban environments.

  1. Flight transparency: For starters, real-time awareness of all current and planned unmanned flights is critical to ensure airspace safety. This requires drone operators to share a detailed record of their intended flight paths, position tracks, flight status, and any route changes during flight. These details must be accurate and up to date to optimize the airspace and pre-empt unnecessary deconfliction with other aircraft. However, this process becomes increasingly difficult as businesses autonomously operate a larger volume of drones to deliver packages, surveil pipelines, monitor crops, and more.
  2. Flight auditability: In the wake of an incident, aviation authorities also need access to historical flight data to determine the sequence of events and hold operators accountable. However, they need assurances the flight logs haven’t been tampered with by the drone operator or a third party. This requires the industry to ensure the security and integrity of data exchanged between drone operators, authorities, and service suppliers.

In manned aviation, these challenges are addressed by using long-range radars to monitor aircraft in-flight and black boxes to audit flight data following an incident. An airplane’s black box refers to its flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR), typically stored near the tail of an aircraft. The FDR records key parameters such as time, altitude, and airspeed, while the CVR records the pilot’s voice, radio transmissions, and engine noises.

So what’s the solution in unmanned aviation? It’s evident a new approach is required to ensure the traceability and accountability of drones, especially given the volume of unmanned aircraft taking flight. The answer is a tamper-proof “digital black box” powered by blockchain technology.

What is blockchain technology?

In technical terms, blockchain is a distributed ledger of immutable records stored in a decentralized database. Although it sounds complex, this technology can simplify the process of sharing accurate, up-to-date flight data with authorities by assigning a unique ID to every unmanned aircraft and maintaining a real-time record of each drone’s status, flight details (e.g., altitude, coordinates), operator, and maintenance history.

This approach enables a common operating picture recorded securely, accurately, and permanently on a digital ledger. In a blockchain, each flight log is linked to the previous log with cryptography so they can’t be altered retroactively. That means authorities can analyze flight data in the wake of an incident and hold operators accountable with certainty the data hasn’t been tampered with.

The use of private keys ensures only authorized parties have access to confidential data, such as flight plans, operator details, and payload information. This gives businesses assurances their operational data won’t be accessed or intercepted by a malicious actor.

Ultimately, blockchain technology can replace the traditional black box to enable a more advanced, digital approach in unmanned aviation. Augmented with smart contracts, blockchain also has the ability to automate compliance with the airspace rules and help ensure every drone is safe to fly.

Learn more about blockchain and the impact it can have on unmanned aviation in our latest whitepaper.
 

Commercial Drone Operations: Automating the Manual Workflows

Commercial drone operations

Across every industry, commercial drone operations are creating new opportunities for enterprises, SMBs, and nonprofits to innovate their business models. Drones are optimizing last-mile deliveries, transporting urgent medical supplies, inspecting oil pipelines, and improving search and rescue efforts. In many cases, drone technology has proven to be a more efficient, cost-effective solution, filling the gaps where traditional ways of doing business have fallen short.

It’s fair to say there are many benefits to launching a commercial drone operation, but where do you begin? The process can feel daunting, and understandably so. Businesses have several responsibilities to ensure their operation is safe, secure, and compliant. To name a few…

  • Regulatory compliance: Commercial operators in the U.S. are required to obtain a remote pilot certificate, register their drones, and receive airspace authorization. During flight, they’re also expected to comply with Part 107 regulations unless a waiver has been approved for more advanced operations, such as flying beyond visual line of sight, at night, or over people.
  • Flight operations: Commercial operators are expected to plan and execute their flights and share operational data with the UAS traffic management (UTM) ecosystem. Accurate, up-to-date flight plans are required to optimize the airspace and avoid unnecessary deconfliction.
  • Aircraft deconfliction: Operators are responsible for staying on top of changes in the airspace and adapting their flights accordingly. This requires operators to monitor airspace traffic, regulatory dynamics, and local conditions, such as weather, terrain, buildings, and risks on the ground.
  • Aircraft security: Businesses are responsible for protecting their commercial drone operation from both intentional acts (e.g., cyberthreats) and unintentional acts (e.g., human error, hardware malfunction), affecting people or property in the air or on the ground. This requires operators to continuously monitor their aircraft performance and detect any malicious activity.
  • Contingency management: In the event of a contingency, operators are responsible for notifying authorities and affected operators of the new flight plan and emergency status until the hazard is no longer a risk. Contingencies include an active flight that is undergoing a critical equipment failure, experiencing a loss of tracking capabilities, or operating outside the bounds of their intended flight path. In case an incident occurs, commercial drone operators also need to maintain high standards of auditability by recording all flight and service logs.

What if these responsibilities weren’t so daunting? What if there was a way to simplify how businesses plan, execute, and manage their commercial drone operation?

Fortunately, technology advancements in AI and blockchain are making it possible to eliminate the manual workflows and enable safe, autonomous operations. For example, when it comes to flight operations, AI technology can analyze crucial data, such as airspace traffic, weather forecasts, ground risks, and aircraft performance, to automatically generate optimal flight paths and autonomously adapt flights as conditions change.

When it comes to regulatory compliance, blockchain can encode the airspace rules, such as flying below 400 feet during daylight hours, as mandatory parameters in a flight planning system. Businesses can also use this technology to set company-wide safety standards for their commercial drone operations, such as flying with at least 20% battery life in reserve. The approach helps automate compliance and ensures all drone operators associated with your organization are following the same rulebook.

Check out our latest eBook to learn more about automating the manual workflows. This comprehensive guide will help prepare your organization for a safe, efficient, and scalable commercial drone operation.
 

Unmanned Traffic Management: 5 Challenges Solved by Blockchain

Unmanned traffic management

As drone technology advances, the use cases are evolving rapidly across the globe. Drones are supporting the COVID-19 pandemic by delivering test kits and disinfecting outdoor surfaces. They’re improving our response to hurricanes and floods by assessing damage and delivering aid to the most devastated areas. And they’re optimizing the oil and gas industry by inspecting pipelines and detecting leaks.

From retail and logistics to healthcare and energy, drone technology is disrupting a wide variety of industries and innovating old business models. But before we can realize its full potential, there are a few key challenges that must be addressed to solve unmanned traffic management (UTM) in the aviation industry at large:

  1. Enabling flight transparency: Real-time awareness of all unmanned flights is critical to optimize the airspace and avoid hazards that can put public safety at risk. This requires drone operators to share accurate, up-to-date flights plans with airspace authorities overseeing both manned and unmanned traffic. This becomes increasingly difficult as businesses operate a larger volume of drones to deliver packages, support emergency response, and conduct industrial inspections. We must simplify the process of sharing real-time flight data to enable better traceability and advance unmanned traffic management across the industry.
  2. Enforcing airspace compliance: Recent drone sightings near airports and critical infrastructure have exposed how drones can put lives at risk and cause major disruptions to operations. Due to rogue drones near the Gatwick Airport, flights were suspended for 30 hours and caused chaos for 140,000 passengers. Oftentimes, these incidents occur when drone operators unintentionally fly too close to an airport and too high in altitude. To avoid future incidents, it’s critical to minimize the potential for human error, particularly in high-risk areas near airports and urban environments.
  3. Advancing aircraft safety: The safety of our airspace also relies on the health of every drone, air taxi, or other unmanned aircraft in flight. A drone with a malfunctioning propeller or battery failure can unexpectedly interfere with the flight path of an airplane, helicopter, or another drone and put public safety in danger. As more aircraft begin sharing the sky, it’s important to ensure every drone is a healthy, high-performing vehicle.
  4. Protecting flight data integrity: In the wake of an incident, accurate flight data is critical to analyze the sequence of events and hold drone operators accountable. But authorities need assurances flight logs haven’t been tampered with by the drone operator or a third party. This requires the industry to ensure the integrity of data exchanged between operators, authorities, service suppliers, and other stakeholders.
  5. Improving industry collaboration: It’s also important to enable a common operating picture across the industry to solve unmanned traffic management. There are still many paper records used in manned aviation that can’t be relied on as the volume of unmanned flights grows. We must eliminate the need for paper documents and open the opportunity for more collaboration with digital records. However, it will be critical to maintain the privacy of confidential data, such as operator details and payload information, so it’s only accessible to authorized parties.

 

What’s the solution to these unmanned traffic management challenges?

 
Blockchain technology. In technical terms, blockchain is a distributed ledger of immutable records stored in a decentralized database. Although it sounds complex, this technology is the key to simplify flight transparency and create immutable audit trails.

In SkyGrid’s blockchain instance, each flight log can be stored in real-time and linked to the previous log with cryptography. That means all flight plans and historical drone data is tamper-proof and verifiable. The use of private keys ensures only authorized parties have access to confidential data.

Augmented with smart contracts, blockchain technology can have an even bigger impact in simplifying unmanned traffic management. It can help automate airspace compliance by encoding the rules as mandatory parameters in a flight planning system. And it can improve aircraft safety by requiring regular system checks and ensuring all maintenance needs are resolved.

Check out our latest whitepaper to learn more about blockchain and its ability to solve many of the biggest challenges in unmanned aviation.
 

A Guide to U-space & the European Drone Rules

European drone rules

Last year, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) published common, pan-European drone rules. These rules not only help protect the safety and privacy of EU citizens, but also enable the free movement of drones across European borders.

As a follow-up to these airspace rules, EASA recently published a proposed regulatory framework for U-space to help ensure unmanned aircraft operate in a safe, secure, and connected environment.

Our guide covers everything you need to know about the latest rules and requirements impacting commercial drone operators and airspace authorities across the EU.
 

What are the latest European drone rules?

The common European rules for drones create three categories of operations: open, specific, or certified – each with their own set of regulations.

  •  “Open operations” are for smaller drones up to 25kg. Drones are required to operate within visual line of sight, up to a max height of 120m, in a safe distance from people, and with no dangerous goods. These low-risk operations don’t require authorization, but they’re limited in the airspace they can fly.
  • “Specific operations” go beyond the limitations of the open category to enable more advanced operations, such as beyond visual line of sight with larger drones. Operators are required to receive authorization with the airspace authority in their member state through a risk assessment that evaluates their mitigation measures. Alternatively, operators can be certified via the Light Unmanned Aircraft Operator Certificate (LUC). The LUC comes with privileges for commercial operators to authorize their own operations.
  • “Certified operations” is considered the highest-risk category and covers the use of drones carrying passengers and potentially dangerous goods over densely populated areas. In addition to authorization through a risk assessment, these operations require a certification of the unmanned aircraft system (UAS).

The rules are expected to go into effect beginning July 1, 2020. Once in effect, commercial drone operators are expected to register in the member state where their main place of business is located.
 

What is U-space?

U-space is a set of services to help drone operators comply with the new rules while enabling EU member states to manage the growing volume of drones in their airspace. U-space services can help process UAS flight authorizations and provide operators with the tools and information they need to plan safe flights, prevent collisions with other aircraft, and remain compliant with the environmental, security, and privacy requirements set by each member state. These services are critical to maintain an orderly flow of unmanned traffic and notify authorities of any situations that may pose a safety risk to people or property on the ground.
 

Why are U-space services necessary?

Similar to what we’re seeing in the United States, the rising number of unmanned aircraft in European airspace is leading to safety, security, and airspace integration challenges. As the volume of manned aircraft grows simultaneously, air traffic management systems in Europe are already reaching their limits. These human-centric systems aren’t equipped to safely and efficiently manage a large number of highly automated drone operations. A complementary airspace system is required to manage unmanned traffic. U-space services were established to help fill this gap.
 

What’s the purpose of the U-space regulatory framework?

The development of a regulatory framework aims to enable the safe and harmonized use of U-space services across Europe. Member states are responsible for defining their own UAS geographic zones in the airspace where U-space services will be offered. However, a pan-European regulatory framework can enable a common approach to manage unmanned traffic by having the same rules and procedures for all drone operators across the EU.

The primary objectives of the proposed framework include:

  • Supporting safe, secure, and environmentally friendly operations in U-space airspace while respecting the privacy of European citizens;
  • Maintaining the current safety levels for manned aviation;
  • Creating conditions for an internal market for U-space services; and
  • Ensuring fair, affordable, and efficient access to the U-space airspace for all airspace users.

The regulatory framework can also enable more complex drone operations, such as beyond visual line of sight and advanced air mobility (e.g., air taxis).
 

Who are the stakeholders involved in U-Space?

The regulatory proposal intends to create the conditions for unmanned aircraft to operate safely in controlled and uncontrolled airspace where U-space services are provided. To achieve this, an exchange of information is required between U-space service providers, drone operators, air navigation service providers, and other participants.

Here’s a breakdown of the key U-space participants and their responsibilities according to the proposal:

  • Drone operators: Operators are expected to mitigate risks in the air and on the ground within U-space environments. They’re required to establish a contract with a U-space service provider to receive flight authorization and the services they need to avoid mid-air collisions and ensure an orderly flow of traffic.
  • U-space service providers (USSP): U-space service providers support the safe and efficient movement of drones in the U-space airspace and ensure coordination with manned aircraft. These organizations must be certified to provide U-space services in one or more European member states. To become certified, organizations are required to provide four mandatory U-space services: network identification, geo-awareness, traffic information, and UAS flight authorization. That means providers must be equipped to share critical airspace data (e.g., airspace restrictions, air traffic) with drone operators and exchange UAS operational data with air navigation service providers.
  • Air traffic management (ATM) & air navigation service providers (ANSPs): These providers will continue providing air navigation services for manned aircraft while USSPs provide U-space services for unmanned aircraft. However, these providers must collaborate to ensure flight authorizations are coordinated and exchange information about the airspace designated for manned and unmanned operations.  
  • Member states: Member states in the EU will have full authority on the designation of U-space airspace and decide how their airspace should be accessed and restricted. In addition to the four services required by EASA, member states can require USSPs to provide additional U-space services to support safe and efficient drone operations.

 

How will U-space be implemented in Europe?

 Currently, there are two options being considered:

  • There is no development of a U-space regulatory framework at the EU level. U-space implementation is left to each EU member state.
  • A European regulatory framework for U-space is developed and implemented across the EU.

EASA would prefer to develop a harmonized framework for U-space across Europe. This approach is expected to enable a safer environment and create clear guidelines for managing unmanned traffic. By defining a clear set of rules for all U-space participants, this option will create a minimum level playing field across the EU as well as an efficient and equitable airspace access for all aircraft operators.
 

What’s the impact on commercial drone operators in Europe?

 If U-space is established at the EU level, as proposed by EASA, commercial drone operators will be required to access four services through a U-space service provider:

  • Flight authorization: Commercial drone operators must receive flight authorization through a U-space service provider for access to both controlled and uncontrolled airspace. With visibility into all unmanned traffic, USSPs can pre-tactically manage the traffic flow and deconflict flights before they take place.
  • Geo-awareness: Drone operators must also access information about UAS geographic zones through a U-space service provider to ensure airspace compliance across the EU. Each member state can establish different UAS geographical zones to indicate where drone operators can fly and under which conditions.
  • Network identification: This service enables the traceability of unmanned aircraft during flight through both network and broadcast information. USSPs will exchange this information with other providers to ensure operators have access to the most up to date flight data. This service helps avoid the requirement of additional remote ID equipment for drones.
  • Traffic information: This service alerts drone operators when other aircraft are in close proximity to their vehicle or their intended route. Through network identification information, USSPs can provide accurate data about the position of other aircraft to help operators avoid collisions.

The U-space proposal also includes other optional services drone operators can access through U-space service providers:

  • Tracking service: This supporting service can be used to track both real-time and historical UAS telemetry data. USSPs can track drones through the signal between the aircraft and its remote controller as well as through additional surveillance options (e.g., e-identification). By receiving data from more than one tracking source, this service can provide more reliable unmanned flight data.
  • Weather information: This service provides the weather information necessary to support drone operational decisions in U-space airspace. Since weather data in low altitude airspace isn’t provided by today’s air navigation services, USSPs can provide this information to help operators safely navigate shifting weather conditions.
  • Conformance monitoring: This service monitors the flight path of each drone and compares it to the planned mission as defined during flight authorization. When a new geo-fence or a hazardous situation is detected during flight, the U-space service provider will alert the impacted operators and other USSPs so they can take the appropriate action.

 

What’s the impact on airspace authorities in Europe?

U-space regulations established at the EU level can help minimize the burden on airspace authorities in each member state when it comes to managing unmanned traffic. Without a pan-European regulation, authorities would be responsible for certifying all U-space service providers, maintaining their own national legislation, and ensuring compliance among all participants. This would be in addition to their oversight duties for manned aircraft.

With a pan-European regulation, authorities would be required to redesign their airspace and ensure the accuracy of aeronautical data shared with U-space participations. However, it could enable a harmonized implementation of the U-space airspace and services across the EU.
 

What are the next steps?

The main objective of the U-space proposal is to develop the first building block of a European regulatory framework that can ensure manned and unmanned aircraft safely coexist in U-space airspace while mitigating risks on the ground. The final U-space regulations are expected to be adopted by the European Commission in Q4 2020 and will evolve with the growing density and complexity of unmanned traffic.

Now and after the regulations are finalized, SkyGrid is committed to supporting both commercial operators and airspace authorities in member states across the EU. Our AerialOS™ uses artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to intelligently route, synchronize, and manage unmanned aircraft in shared airspace. We monitor, predict, and adapt to changing conditions to solve the industry’s biggest challenges enabling safe, autonomous flight.
 

Learn more about SkyGrid’s AerialOS.

The Future of Emergency Response: 4 Ways Drones Can Help Save Lives

Emergency response drone

Across the globe, drones are helping to solve the medical industry’s most difficult challenges. Just in the last few months, drone technology has supported the fight against COVID-19 by disinfecting outdoor surfaces, delivering test kits, and ensuring compliance with local restrictions.

If we look more closely at emergency services, the use cases for unmanned aerial vehicles expand even further. In fact, the medical drone market is expected to grow from $88 million in 2018 to $399 million by 2025. Historically, first responders have relied on ambulances, helicopters, and even boats to respond to emergencies and natural disasters, but drones can help fill the gaps where traditional efforts fall short.

We’ll explore four ways drones can help emergency medical workers, law enforcement, and first responders optimize their efforts and save more lives.

 

Better resource allocation in the wake of natural disasters

The COVID-19 pandemic is considered the worst crisis we’ve faced since World War II. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t prepare for other crises on the horizon. Researchers predict the 2020 hurricane season will be more active than normal. Along the US coastline, there’s a 69% chance at least one major hurricane will make landfall, compared to an average 52% over the last century.

The challenge is in the wake of a natural disaster such as a hurricane, flood, or fire, it’s often difficult for first responders to assess the damage and provide aid to the most devastated areas. Although manned aircraft and satellites can provide support in mapping the devastation, traditional aircraft can be very costly and satellite imagery often doesn’t meet the high-resolution needs. And both solutions are typically slow to deploy.

Drones can provide an alternative solution to survey the damage and allocate resources more quickly and efficiently. After Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area, drones were deployed to assess flood and structural damage to homes, roads, bridges, power lines, oil and gas facilities, and office buildings. The drone footage helped monitor levees, predict further flooding, and estimate how long certain areas would be underwater.

Emergency drone image of natural disaster
 

More efficient water rescue missions

When roads are flooded and conditions are too dangerous, drones can also aid in delivering life jackets and ropes to rescue displaced residents in high waters. Traditionally, emergency teams have used tactical vehicles and boats to navigate rough water and debris, but this is often a risky, time-consuming process. Drones can enable a faster, safer approach to identify and assist victims with the most urgent needs until emergency teams are able to reach them. For residents that haven’t been displaced, food, water, and medical supplies can be delivered to support their needs until it’s safe to access them.

Beyond natural disaster scenarios, drones can also support water rescue missions in lakes, rivers, and oceans. In Australia, lifeguards recently used drones to save two people caught in an ocean swell 700 meters offshore. The drone was able to fly to their location and drop a floatation device within 70 seconds, compared to the average six minutes it would take a lifeguard to reach the swimmers.

 

Real-time surveillance of events and mass gatherings

Drone image of marathon

Mass gatherings that span large areas, such as marathons, sporting events, and festivals, present many challenges for emergency teams. Historically, these gatherings have relied on updates from workers on the ground who monitor for incidents and report back to a centralized command post. However, response teams typically have a limited view into the crowd and the scope of any incidents that take place.

When large gatherings and events begin to resume, drones can help supplement on-the-ground efforts by providing real-time situational awareness with a bird’s eye view. Emergency workers can use livestream footage from drones to spot any injuries, violence, or stampedes in real-time and inform the response based on the severity of the incident. A local police department recently used emergency response drones drones at the Coachella music festival to more accurately surveil the audience for potential threats. First responders were prepared with medical equipment to assist with any injuries as they happened.

 

Faster response to 911 calls in rural areas

When responding to 911 calls, emergency vehicles always run the risk of being held up by traffic, especially in urban areas. But rural areas have their challenges too. Research shows callers in rural areas wait twice as long for an ambulance. On average, there’s a 13-minute wait in rural areas compared to a 6-minute wait in the city or suburbs. The study also shows 10% of callers in rural areas wait 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

In the not-too-distant future, drones will help solve these challenges by transporting patients to hospitals, bypassing roadway traffic altogether and reaching rural areas more quickly. Many companies are already developing prototypes of passenger air vehicles. Often called air taxis, these electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicles are designed to autonomously transport people. They’re expected to be cleaner, safer, and quieter than traditional aircraft.

 

The future of emergency response  

When artificial intelligence is applied to these applications, drones can be even more impactful. For example, AI-based applications can be trained to spot violent behavior in crowds or detect someone in distress in near real-time.

But what will it take to deploy these use cases at scale? There’s no doubt many concerns still need to be addressed from a regulatory and safety standpoint, but the Federal Aviation Administration is already taking steps to enable these advanced operations. In fact, the FAA recently introduced the Tactical Beyond Visual Line of Sight (TBVLOS) waiver for first responders to fly drones beyond visual line of sight in extreme emergencies. 

From a safety perspective, navigating the airspace can be a daunting task for any organization, but SkyGrid makes it easy to execute emergency response drone missions. Our AerialOS™ uses AI to generate and execute optimal flight paths based on the mission criteria and the airspace conditions. We also take into account vehicle performance and ground conditions to ensure every mission is safe and successful. This approach removes the burden on commercial operators to manually plan, execute, and adapt flights in the complex, rapidly changing sky.

 

Learn more about SkyGrid’s AerialOS.

UAS Traffic Management ConOps: A Guide for Commercial Operators

Package delivery drones

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently released version two of its Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management Concept of Operations – short for UTM ConOps. Initially released in 2018, this framework outlines the technical requirements for a successful UTM ecosystem. UTM ConOps V2, released in March 2020, addresses more complex, beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone operations in controlled airspace.

You can check out the full 80-page document, or keep reading for the highlights (highly recommended). We’ll start with the basics of UTM and why it’s needed. Then we’ll cover what this framework means for commercial operators, and what’s required of them when operating drones beyond visual line of sight.

 

What is UAS traffic management (UTM)?

The FAA defines UAS traffic management (UTM) as a system that’s separate but complimentary to the FAA’s Air Traffic Management (ATM) system for manned aircraft. UTM will enable multiple BVLOS drone operations at low altitudes (under 400 feet) in both controlled and uncontrolled airspace.

As shown in the diagram below, Class G airspace is uncontrolled while Class A, B, C, D, and E are considered controlled airspace. The FAA sets the regulatory standards and requires authorizations for drones operating in controlled airspace, but air traffic services are not provided under 400 feet. Commercial operators are ultimately responsible for the coordination, execution, and management of their drones in controlled airspace with support from UAS service suppliers like SkyGrid.

For example, as a UAS service supplier of the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), SkyGrid helps automate airspace authorizations and provides the tools operators need to safely navigate the airspace.

FAA UTM operations
(Source: FAA; UTM operations in context of airspace classes)
 

Why is there a need for UAS traffic management?

In the U.S. alone, the FAA predicts the combined number of recreational and commercial drones will reach up to 3 million by 2023. When there are millions of unmanned flights supporting package deliveries, infrastructure inspections, emergency assistance, and more, the existing air traffic management system will become overburdened and stretched beyond its limits. This system isn’t equipped to cost-effectively scale and deliver services to drones.

The challenge is drone operators often need more information than traditional pilots for safe and secure flight. They’re operating aircraft at a lower altitude, which can lead to bigger public safety risks. That means in addition to aircraft traffic data, drone operations need access to weather data like wind, precipitation, and temperature; environment data like stadiums, schools, and construction cranes; and vehicle data like battery life, weight capacity, and maintenance requirements. To avoid potential incidents, drone operators also need information about ground activity, such as roadway traffic and population data.

Most importantly, drone operators need a system to monitor and interpret all this data to make more informed decisions when planning and executing missions.

 

Who are the participants and entities involved in UAS traffic management?

Here’s a quick overview of the participants and entities involved in UAS traffic management, according to the FAA’s UTM ConOps framework.

UAS traffic management participants:

FAA: Within UTM, the FAA’s primary role is to provide a regulatory framework for UAS operations and share airspace constraint data (e.g., flight restrictions, facility maps).

Operators: The person or business responsible for the overall management of their UAS operation. They’re expected to plan and execute their operation, comply with regulations, and share operational data with the UAS traffic management ecosystem.

Remote pilot in command (RPIC): The remote pilot in command is responsible for individual UAS flights and may serve as both the operator and the pilot. During flight, they’re expected to follow the airspace rules, monitor the drone’s performance, and avoid obstacles and hazardous conditions.

General public: Other UTM stakeholders include the general public, law enforcement, and first responders. When authorized, these entities can access UTM operation data to help ensure the safety and privacy of people and property on the ground.

UTM services and supporting infrastructure:

UAS service supplier (USS): UAS service suppliers, such as SkyGrid, help enable the safe, secure, and efficient use of our airspace. They act as a communication bridge between authorities and drone operators, and often provide tools to monitor the airspace, execute safe missions, and store operational data.

UAS service supplier network: Multiple UAS service suppliers can operate in the same geographical area and create a network to share information and ensure situational awareness. Shared information includes flight plans, flight status, and aircraft location.

Flight information management system (FIMS): This entity enables the exchange of national airspace data (e.g., UAS registrations, waivers, flight restrictions, emergencies) between the FAA and the USS network. The FAA also uses this system to access information from the UTM ecosystem and audit drone operations.

UAS supplemental data service providers: In addition to national airspace data, supplemental data providers can enable more advanced airspace information, such as terrain, obstacle, weather, and population insights. UAS service suppliers like SkyGrid partner with these providers to give drone operators the most the up to date information about the airspace and the ground below.

FAA UTM architecture
(Source: FAA; UTM architecture)

 

What does the UTM framework mean for commercial drone operators?

It depends on whether a business needs to operate drones within or beyond visual line of sight. If a business can complete their mission by operating drones within visual line of sight, the process isn’t quite as complex. They’re required to register their drone with the FAA, follow the Part 107 regulations, obtain airspace authorization, and ensure their drone is remotely identifiable.

However, in many cases, businesses need to operate drones beyond visual line of sight to complete a wide range of missions from package deliveries to industrial inspections. That means they’ll need more advanced technology in place to identify other aircraft, stay up to date on airspace changes, and safely reroute drones to avoid potential hazards.

The FAA’s UAS Traffic Management ConOps further details what’s required of BVLOS drone operators to ensure the safety, security, and equity of our airspace. We’ll break down each pillar and explain how UAS service suppliers can help commercial drone operators meet these requirements.

 

What are the safety requirements for BVLOS operations?

When it comes to safety of airspace, the FAA’s UAS traffic management framework outlines several requirements for commercial drone operators, including the following.

Strategic management of operations: BVLOS operators are required to plan their operation and share their intended flight path, including specific entry and exit times in authorized airspace, with a UAS service supplier. This intent data is then shared with authorities and the USS network to provide situational awareness for other operators. However, creating a flight plan is easier said than done. That’s why many operators look to UAS service suppliers like SkyGrid for support. For example, our system uses AI to generate optimal flight paths based on the mission criteria, vehicle performance, and airspace conditions. This helps operators remove the manual guesswork from the process.

Separation provision/conflict management: BVLOS operators are also responsible for maintaining separation from all aircraft, including other drones and manned aircraft. This often requires in-flight deconfliction technology from a UAS service suppliers. For example, SkyGrid uses deconfliction technology powered by AI to detect and avoid nearby aircraft. This technology can also help BVLOS operators ensure their drone remains within the bounds of their intended flight path.

Contingency management: In the event of a contingency, operators are also responsible for notifying affected aircraft users. Contingencies include an active flight that is undergoing a critical equipment failure, experiencing a loss of tracking capabilities, or operating outside the bounds of their intended flight path. A UAS service supplier can assist in notifying authorities and affected operators of the new flight plan and emergency status until the hazard is no longer a risk. UAS service suppliers can also help manage the situation effectively or help prevent the contingency altogether. For example, SkyGrid uses AI technology to analyze drone performance and predict maintenance needs before disaster strikes.

 

What are the security requirements for BVLOS operations?

In the UAS Traffic Management ConOps, security refers to the protection against threats that stem from intentional acts (e.g., terrorism) or unintentional acts (e.g., human error), affecting people and/or property in the air or on the ground.

Commercial drone operators are responsible for protecting their drones from both intentional and unintentional acts. If a security incident occurs, commercial drone operators are also required to share certain flight data, such as their intended flight paths, route changes, and a timestamp of coordinates. The FAA uses this data to 1) ensure operators are compliant with standards, 2) hold operators accountable, and 3) inform other operators in the vicinity of the threat. Local, state, and federal entities may also request access to this data to investigate and inform responses to security incidents.

A UAS service supplier can support commercial operators by securely logging the required flight data and responding to authorized requests for access in near-real time. For example, SkyGrid uses blockchain technology to maintain a minute by minute record of each drone’s status, flight details (e.g., altitude, location), and maintenance history. Each flight log is linked to the previous log with cryptography, which creates a verified data source for authorities. UAS service suppliers can also help prevent incidents in the first place by deploying cybersecurity protection on the drones in their system.

 

What are the airspace equity requirements for BVLOS operations?

The UAS Traffic Management ConOps also outlines a framework to enable the shared use of airspace. Although the FAA sets the airspace rules, there’s not a priority policy in place that would diminish equity of access. In other words, drone operators have equal access to airspace where they’re authorized to fly.

However, BVLOS operators are required to share accurate, up-to-date flight plans to optimize the airspace and pre-empt unnecessary deconfliction. They’re also required to exercise caution around any emergency vehicles in the air, such as a helicopter.

UAS service suppliers can support operators by identifying flight paths that minimize overlap with other routes and by sharing flight plans with the UTM ecosystem in near-real time. Service suppliers can also help ensure operators aren’t optimizing their own routes at the expense of others.

 

How does SkyGrid fit into the UTM ecosystem?

Ultimately, businesses are responsible for the overall safety and security of their drone operation and are accountable for their actions. This can feel daunting, but SkyGrid can help. We’re more than just a UTM platform. Our AerialOS™ provides an end to end solution for businesses to deploy, manage, and scale their drone operation. Most importantly, our system is powered by next-gen technologies like AI and blockchain that traditional UTM systems aren’t equipped with today.

Why is this important? AI is critical to generate the safest routes, avoid hazards in-flight, and protect against cyberattacks. At the same time, blockchain technology is the key to mandate airspace compliance and create verified audit trails. Bottom line: Our intelligent system minimizes the potential for human error to give businesses more legal and safety assurances.

 

Learn more about SkyGrid’s AerialOS.

Battling COVID-19: 3 Ways Drones Can Support Emergency Response

Emergency drone

Combatting a pandemic like COVID-19 requires a drastic response and the ability to act quickly. Given the impact the virus has had across the globe, local authorities and political leaders are taking severe measures to ensure a lower rate of transmission.

In times like this, it is imperative to look beyond the conventional methods of detection, containment, and treatment we’ve traditionally used in public health crises. As we’ve seen in the last few weeks, technological advancements in fields such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, and 3D printing can help enhance our current capabilities and get ahead of the outbreak. Healthcare professionals and technologists across the globe are coming together to crowdsource these solutions. An Italian start-up recently 3D-printed 100 valves to connect respirators to oxygen masks, while Shenzhen-based Pudu Technology is using robots to transport medical supplies inside hospitals.

As said by Dr. Alain Labrique, Director of Global Health Initiatives at Johns Hopkins University: “The connectivity we have today gives us ammunition to fight this pandemic in ways we never previously thought possible.”

At SkyGrid, we believe drone technology can also provide a solution to many of the challenges we’re facing today and will continue to face in the months to come. We’ll explore how incorporating drones into emergency response plans can help fight the coronavirus pandemic.
 

Disinfecting Outdoor Surfaces

 
Research suggests the coronavirus can live on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces for up to three days. It can also linger in aerosols – tiny droplets in the air – for three hours. However, at a time when many businesses are already struggling, ongoing disinfection can be very costly and labor-intensive, particularly when you consider large sporting arenas, college campuses, playgrounds, parks, outdoor shopping malls, and event venues. It will require a massive effort to keep surfaces clean and prevent dangerous spikes in new cases, especially as children, students, and professionals begin returning to their normal routines.

Disinfectant spray distributed by drones can provide a more efficient, cost-effective solution to sanitize large outdoor surfaces. This approach can help significantly reduce transmission of the virus via contaminated surfaces and respiratory droplets.
 

Delivering Tests and Critical Supplies

 
Another challenge during this pandemic has been access to testing and supplies, including everything from respirator masks to hand sanitizer. Companies like Abbot Laboratories and Everlywell are expected to enable millions of COVID-19 tests, including at home test kits. However, we’re still faced with the challenge of distributing tests and supplies without further spreading the virus and overwhelming our healthcare system.

Delivering test kits, blood samples, and urgent medical supplies by drone can help support widespread distribution while also reducing unnecessary human contact. As we’re already seeing in China, drones can cut delivery times of medical supplies by more than half.
 

Ensuring Compliance with Local Restrictions  

 
As difficult as it is, it’s become evident that social distancing is critical to slow the spread of the coronavirus and allows hospitals to readily care for infected patients over time. From a province in China to the entire nation of Italy, lockdowns have been mandated around the world as new cases soar. In the US, millions of people have been ordered by local officials to stay home, closing schools and all non-essential businesses in several cities. Unfortunately, as the number of confirmed cases continue to rise, more cities—and even entire nations—will need to enforce lockdowns and strict regulations to flatten the curve. The challenge is enforcing these restrictions.

Equipped with loudspeakers and surveillance features, drones can help ensure local compliance by monitoring public areas, such as parks, beaches, and city centers, and enforcing lockdown measures.
 

What’s required to turn these solutions into a reality?

 
In the U.S., drone operators are required to register their drones with the FAA, follow Part 107 regulations, and obtain airspace authorization. Drone operators are also responsible for safely navigating the airspace, which is easier said than done. Operators are expected to plan their flight path, monitor their drone’s performance, and maintain separation from other aircraft and obstacles. That’s why many organizations look to SkyGrid for support.

Our AerialOS™ provides airspace awareness, flight operations, and fleet management in one easy to use solution. This system is fueled by advanced airspace intelligence, such as aircraft traffic, flight restrictions, obstacle data, and hyper-local weather data, to enable safer drone operations. We’re also powering our system with next-gen technologies like AI and blockchain. These technologies are critical to generate the optimal flight paths, avoid hazards in-flight, and ensure compliance with the airspace rules and regulations.

Ultimately, we believe drones can have a major impact in the fight against COVID-19. SkyGrid is committed to powering drone operations that can help support businesses, authorities, and first responders during this difficult time.
 

Contact us to learn how we can help.

Urban Air Mobility in 2020: Four Trends to Watch

Urban air mobility

From autonomous drones to air taxis, the urban air mobility market has advanced rapidly over the last two to three years. In fact, the FAA estimates 545,000 commercial drones will be in use by the end of 2020. These drones are performing real commercial tasks – they’re delivering packages, conducting industrial inspections, providing emergency assistance, and will eventually transport people.

But as more unmanned aircraft take flight, how do we ensure the safety and security of our airspace? I’ll shed light on four technologies that are critical to powering safe drone operations in 2020 and beyond.

Drone Security: Preventing Malicious Activity with AI-Powered Cybersecurity

In the near future, there will be a network of flying computers in the sky. Just like the computer servers we use today, these drones could be hacked if not secured properly, posing dangers when they’re flying above a crowd of people or a busy highway.

And in this emerging environment, new security threats will often take the form of previously unseen, “zero-day” attacks. Traditional anti-malware software, dependent on signatures of known threats, won’t be adequate to detect this unknown malware.

AI-powered cybersecurity will be the key to detecting malicious activity on the edge and preventing it from making its way on to a drone or executing on it. An AI-based approach can learn the DNA of what a malicious file might look like instead of merely relying on an existing threat database. This type of technology can function even when network connectivity is non-existent or impaired and can defend drones against zero-day threats. AI-powered cybersecurity will be key in ensuring public safety by providing an adaptable system that protects against never-before-seen attacks.

Drone Data Integrity: Protecting Vehicle and Flight Data with Blockchain Technology

The use of blockchain technologies will also be essential to the urban air mobility market. As a distributed ledger of immutable records, blockchain can ensure drone data and flight logs are stored securely and accurately.

Augmented with AI-powered “smart contracts”, which execute safely and under guarantees of performance, blockchain enables a verified data source airspace authorities can rely on when auditing drone operations or analyzing an incident. This approach allows flight logs to be stored securely and privately in real time. Since data can be offboarded from the aircraft rapidly and can’t be overwritten, authorities can determine a sequence of events with 100% certainty. Storing records on a blockchain also eliminates the need for paper records and opens the opportunity for collaboration that hasn’t existed in the past. There are still many paper records and documents used in manned aviation that simply can’t be relied upon as we make the transition to a world with millions of autonomous aircraft in the sky.

From an operator’s perspective, digital ledgers can also help ensure all safety standards are being met. For example, if a business wants all drones to receive a system check after 100 hours of flight, they can encode this as a rule implemented by a smart contract that must be resolved with a private key before the drone can fly again.

Drone Maintenance: Managing Maintenance Requests with Predictive AI Analytics

Once businesses begin to scale their drone operations, it will no longer remain realistic for humans to safely monitor and track their performance. Predictive AI analytics will monitor the performance and behavior of drone fleets and return actionable insights. These insights can flag suboptimal operations and forecast vehicle health.

For example, predictive models might determine that a specific drone’s battery, under specific weather and usage patterns, is likely to degrade after flying for 200 hours. When a drone is close to hitting 200 hours, AI can be used to automatically generate a maintenance request for a battery replacement and assign the request to a technician upon landing at a facility. DTL can also ensure the maintenance request is resolved and signed off by a technician’s private key before the drone can operate again.

This approach to predictive maintenance can help alleviate the burden on humans and ensure drones are always safe to fly.

Drone Deconfliction: Avoiding In-flight Hazards with Intelligent Deconfliction 

One of the biggest concerns when it comes to large-scale drone deployments is around how these drones will “sense and avoid” other aircraft and potential hazards in the airspace. Reliable “sense and avoid” is crucial to safely enable operations that go beyond visual line of sight. For example, another drone may suddenly enter a drone’s flight path, the wind may pick up unexpectedly or the FAA may issue a notice to airmen (NOTAM) that restricts the current route.

Intelligent deconfliction technology can help solve this challenge by constantly updating a drone’s route to account for new hazards and changes in operating conditions. As with drone maintenance needs, humans alone cannot be relied upon to avoid unexpected obstacles in the airspace.

Artificial intelligence will be necessary to safely sense and avoid new obstacles in-flight, or completely reroute the drone if the new conditions are extreme. This technology must also account for other aircraft to ensure there are no conflicting routes.

Ultimately, the possibilities enabled by urban air mobility will be transformative for industry and society in the not-too-distant future. But first, we must have the right technologies in place to ensure that every flight is a safe flight!

By Amir Husain, CEO & founder of SkyGrid. This article was originally published in Forbes.

LAANC 101: Getting FAA Authorization to Fly Commercial Drones

Commercial drones FAA LAANC

The FAA predicts 835,000 commercial drones and 1.4 million recreational drones will be in use by 2023, significantly increasing the number of unmanned aircraft that will coexist with manned aircraft in the airspace.

As more drones take flight, it becomes critical to follow the airspace rules and regulations. But the rules depend on your mission. For example, recreational users have a fairly short list of rules to follow. In a nutshell: Register your drone. Fly under 400 feet in uncontrolled airspace. Avoid controlled airspace near airports. And keep your done within visual line of sight. Easy enough.

On the other hand, the rules for commercial drone operators are a bit more complex. You’re required to become a certified drone pilot and follow the FAA’s Part 107 rules. But many commercial pilots need to fly in controlled airspace and operate outside of the Part 107 limitations to complete their missions. That’s where LAANC and Part 107 waivers come into the picture.

Don’t worry, we’ll break it down for you. Here’s what you need to know to fly commercial drones.
 

What is the FAA’s LAANC?

Under Part 107, drone pilots planning to fly in controlled airspace near U.S. airports must get FAA permission via the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (aka LAANC). LAANC gives drone pilots near real-time authorization to access controlled airspace at or below 400 feet while providing air traffic controllers visibility into when and where drones are operating.
 

How do I access the FAA’s LAANC?

Drone operators can access LAANC through UAS Service Suppliers like SkyGrid. SkyGrid is approved by the FAA to provide both recreational and commercial LAANC services that automate authorization to fly drones in U.S. controlled airspace at or below 400 feet. Our free SkyGrid Flight Control app simplifies the flight approval process by integrating LAANC directly into the flight planning workflow. That means drone operators can seamlessly plan their mission, ensure their flight meets all LAANC criteria, and get auto-approval to fly.

SkyGrid also provides Part 107 Further Coordination so operators can request to fly above the designated altitude ceiling in a UAS facility map, up to 400 feet.
 

What is a Part 107 waiver, and do I need one?

Keep in mind that LAANC is strictly for approving flights classified under the current Part 107 regulations. If your organization needs to operate drones outside of these regulations, a Part 107 waiver will be required. For example, some organizations may need to fly drones over people or fly drones beyond visual line of sight in order to complete their mission. Other organizations may need to fly multiple drones with one operator or fly drones at night. If that’s the case, you’ll need to request a Part 107 waiver from the FAA.
 

How do I get approved for a Part 107 waiver?

Organizations can request a Part 107 wavier via the FAA’s DroneZone application. When applying, include details about your operation, drone capabilities, and pilot experience. Also be prepared to explain how you’ll minimize risks when operating drones outside of the Part 107 regulations. Ultimately, the FAA wants to ensure you’re equipped to manage unforeseen circumstances in the airspace. They’ll be looking for details about the technology, training, equipment, and personnel you have in place to operate drones safely and securely for every flight.
 

How do I set up a safe drone operation?

That’s difficult to do without the right technology. Many organizations will need a system to understand the airspace, generate the safest route, and avoid new hazards or environmental changes that may occur inflight. Those with a bigger drone operation will also need technology to address maintenance needs at scale and ensure their drones are always safe to fly. SkyGrid’s advanced enterprise features make it easy for organizations to safely navigate the complex airspace and optimize their drone fleet.
 

How do I stay compliant once I’m approved to fly?

The FAA shares airspace data with UAS Service Suppliers like SkyGrid to help drone operators stay compliant with regulations. This data includes airport facility maps, airspace classifications, temporary flight restrictions (TFRs), and notices to airmen (NOTAMs).

However, there are several other factors drone operators need to consider for a safe and secure flight. These factors include weather conditions like wind, turbulence, and precipitation; location data like terrain, buildings, and bridges; and vehicle data like battery life and maintenance requirements. To avoid potential accidents, drone operators should also consider activity on the ground below, such as roadway traffic and foot traffic.

At SkyGrid, we’re fueling our system with these data sources to help drone operators minimize risks and generate the optimal route every time. Our goal is to safely integrate all unmanned aircraft in the global airspace, which requires the most up to date information from trusted sources.