Using Blockchain to Enhance Drone Security

Using Blockchain to Enhance Drone Security

With the advent of blockchain and subsequent advancements in the field over the years, the present blockchain technologies have allowed for a robust system of security in a vast range of industries, one of which is the drone industry. 

Blockchain has provided a more secure and reliable system that has helped increase the popularity of drones for mainstream use.  

 

Blockchain: The Whats, Whys, and Hows 

Blockchain technology has grown over the past ten years to become the go-to for record-keeping systems across the world. 

The fundamental working principle behind blockchain technology is decentralization. Information stored in the database is made accessible to all the users of the distributed network in which it is shared. Data integrity is reinforced as every user has their own copy of data to verify that information is accurate, complete, and consistent. This also eliminates the need for a Trusted Third Party (TTP), reducing the risk of fraudulent activity. 

In addition to decentralization, cryptography is another key feature of blockchain technology that helps keep data secure. Unlike traditional databases, blockchain stores data in ‘blocks’. Data is stored in a block until it is full. After one block is full, a new block is created for storing data, and it is linked to the previous block, so data is stored in chronological order. Blocks are linked to each other via cryptographic means which adds security and minimizes the risk of unauthorized access or alteration.
 

The Use of Blockchain in the Drone Industry 

Regina Houston, Chief of the Aviation Safety Management Systems Division at the U.S. DOT Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, has credited blockchain for being part of the solution to the collecting and sharing of reliable data about drones. When blockchain technology is integrated with other technologies such as machine learning, the registration, accountability, and tracking of an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) is improved by a large margin. This, Houston believes, opens up an entire world for better drone safety analysis, decision making, and regulation. 

While their applications are becoming increasingly varied, drones are still a concern when it comes to safety. Drone automation allows for them to be operated partially or entirely remotely. As they are unmanned, trust becomes a heightened issue. 

Blockchain has enhanced data security and integrity using protective policies and protocols. Other challenges that the drone industry is currently facing are:

  • Efficient air traffic management 
  • Reliability of conducting operations in high-traffic areas  
  • Security 
  • Privacy 
  • Ensuring flight violations are enforced 

Unmanned aircraft are constantly at the risk of faulty aircraft navigation or communications interference. This includes meaconing, intrusion, jamming, and interference. 

Along with Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain has been used to address cybersecurity concerns that have been able to tackle all of these vulnerabilities with a high degree of trustworthiness and reliability. Apart from security, drone management software that employs blockchain helps with air traffic management, conflict management, and flight authorization.  

Using blockchain’s distributed databases, in the case of an event that deviates from the planned course of a flight, such as a collision, data on the activity of the drone prior to the event can be extracted and used for investigation. This allows for better tracking of the drone during flight. This improved tracking system can also be used to ensure the drone is not violating the protocols set by regulations and custom safety standards. This method of tracking and storing data has enhanced security and integrity for many individuals within the industry.

  • Industry regulators can track and review drone flight data more easily. 
  • Insurance companies can use reliable data to insure any drone. 
  • Pilots or operators can more effectively avoid violations of regulations, improving their relationship with regulators. 

Drones are already being used to carry medicine and conduct even highly sensitive operations such as carrying organs for transplants. It can provide relief in firefighting operations, railway inspections, wildlife monitoring, and other such critical operations. When dealing with such critically sensitive operations, data security is of the utmost importance. The reliability and safety of operations have improved significantly by integrating blockchain technology to create better, improved systems that allow for more trust. This newer system has opened a world of possibilities for drones to make many operations easier and safer to carry out. 

 

Interested in learning more about blockchain and its impact on unmanned aviation? Contact us to learn more about our advanced enterprise features.

Automation, AI & Blockchain: The keys to unlock BVLOS

Automation, AI & Blockchain

As drone technology becomes increasingly automated, the level of human involvement is shifting from remote pilots in the field to remote operators in the office. This approach can enable more scalability and operational oversight as enterprises grow their drone fleets to inspect pipelines, monitor crops, or survey infrastructure. However, several barriers still exist when it comes to safely enabling Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations. 

Let’s explore some of the things that are required to unlock BVLOS operations, including remote automation, safety & compliance rule enforcement, AI-powered cybersecurity, and more. 

Drones are disrupting various industries and innovating outdated business models. BVLOS enables UAVs to operate beyond the normal vision range of the pilot. BVLOS capabilities are becoming a quintessential aspect of the drone industry. They provide numerous benefits over the regular line of sight flights. They are cost-effective, energy-efficient with fewer takeoffs and landing phases, cover significant ground in a single flight, and drones’ low-altitude flying capability can help in high-resolution data collection.  

In many cases, businesses need to operate drones beyond visual line of sight to complete a wide range of missions, such as assessing hurricane damage and delivering aid to the devastated areas or inspecting pipelines to prevent leaks in the oil and gas industry. 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. Let’s first consider the challenges commercial drone operators are facing today. 

Airspace management   

We all know there are many benefits to launching a drone operation, but navigating low-altitude airspace is complex. The burden has fallen on drone operators to manually evaluate the airspace, plan their flight paths, and avoid hazards as conditions change. But this approach isn’t scalable when you consider the volume of data operators are expected to evaluate for a successful mission. 

Today’s systems require too many manual workflows that limit scalability and leave room for error in the rapidly changing airspace. Drone operators are expected to monitor weather changes, avoid buildings and construction cranes, factor in risks on the ground, and comply with shifting regulatory dynamics. The burden typically falls on them to manually plan, execute, and adapt their flights as these conditions change.   

At the same, drone operators are challenged by disconnected systems. They typically have to use several different tools to check airspace conditions, plan and execute missions, and gather insights. But it’s a cumbersome process that leads to disconnected information as operators switch between different applications. 

  • Traffic: For starters, operators need to check airspace traffic, including both manned and unmanned traffic, to maintain safe separation. To minimize public safety risks, operators also need to evaluate activity on the ground below, such as roadway and foot traffic. 
  • Regulations: From a regulatory standpoint, they also need to check airspace classes and boundaries and monitor shifting dynamics, such as temporary flight restrictions and notices to airmen.  
  • Weather: Access to micro-weather data is also important to check precipitation, wind, temperature, and visibility. These factors can impact the flight path, battery life, and overall success of the mission.  
  • Infrastructure: Drone operators also need to evaluate local buildings, bridges, schools, stadiums, and airports to navigate around densely populated areas.   
  • Environment: They also must also check the local elevation and terrain to avoid potential hazards.   
Security and safety  

Those are just the external factors operators are expected to evaluate. Operators also have to consider the health and security of their aircraft. They’re ultimately responsible for protecting their drones from both intentional acts, such as cyber threats, and unintentional acts, such as hardware malfunction.  

  • Aircraft health: This requires operators to continuously monitor their vehicle health, but that becomes a lot more challenging as a fleet grows.  
  • Aircraft security: From a security perspective, operators also are expected to protect their drones from malicious activity. Just like the computers we use today, drones can be hacked if not appropriately secured, posing dangers to people and property on the ground.  
Automation, AI & Blockchain 

The bottom line is it’s not feasible to manually monitor and interpret this exceptional volume of data at scale. A new approach is required to simplify drone operations with a connected system that automates every phase of flight, removes the burden on drone operators, and allows operators to focus on overseeing the mission’s success. This is where advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain can help.  

AI algorithms are trained to analyze a large volume, variety, and velocity of data and instantly act on the insights. These algorithms automatically learn from patterns to uncover and act on trends hidden from the human eye. 

In technical terms, blockchain is a distributed ledger of immutable records stored in a decentralized database. In layman’s terms, it enables safe and accurate record-keeping across a network of computers, allowing multiple parties to interact with the same universal source of truth using a private key. “Smart contracts” are also a key component of blockchain technology. Smart contracts can be encoded on any blockchain to set rules mutually agreed upon by network members and automatically execute the terms without human intervention.  

When used in parallel, these advanced technologies can help eliminate manual workflows and enable safe BVLOS operations. Let’s walk you through a few examples.  

Automated flights:  

AI algorithms can be trained to calculate the optimal route for one or more drones based on the mission parameters, such as the start and endpoint, desired cruise altitude, timeframe, and payload details. These algorithms can also factor in airspace, vehicle, and location data, such as weather, terrain, population density, and roadway traffic, to generate routes that minimize risks in the air and on the ground.  

During the flight, the AI models will monitor, predict, and adapt to conditions as they change. This approach essentially removes the burden on commercial operators by enabling autonomous workflows that are safe and scalable as a fleet grows.  

Mandated compliance:  

When it comes to regulatory compliance, blockchain augmented with smart contracts can encode the airspace rules, such as flying below 400 feet during daylight hours, as mandatory parameters in a flight planning system. Organizations can also use this technology to set additional company-wide safety standards for their commercial drone operations, such as flying with at least 20% battery life under 25 mph winds.  

The blockchain smart contracts automatically record information onto the ledger and execute the terms without human intervention. This approach helps automate compliance with the rules before flight authorization and during flight as airspace conditions change. It also helps ensure all drone operators associated with your organization are following the same rulebook. 

Predictive maintenance 

When it comes to monitoring your vehicle health, predictive AI technology can remove the burden on operators by analyzing sensor data across your fleet and flagging suboptimal operations. An AI-based approach can more accurately monitor performance to forecast vehicle health and identify impending failures before they occur.  

If a potential issue is identified, such as a degrading battery, AI technology can automatically generate a maintenance request and assign the request to a technician upon landing at a facility. Blockchain technology, augmented with smart contracts, can also ensure the maintenance request is resolved and signed off by a technician’s private key before the drone can operate again. 

AI-powered cybersecurity 

In the emerging UAV 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 critical to detect malicious activity on the edge and prevent it from executing on a drone.  

An AI-based approach can learn the DNA of what a malicious file might look like instead of relying on an existing threat database. This approach protects drones from never-before-seen attacks and can still function when network connectivity is non-existent or impaired. 

Systems today are largely disconnected and still rely on humans to manually plan their flights, comply with regulations, and adapt to changing conditions. Advanced technologies like AI and blockchain can enable a new, automated approach. This approach still relies on human input, but it allows more scalability by automatically planning, executing, and adapting flights as conditions change. It also enables enterprises to scale their drone operations by ensuring all pilots associated with their organization remain compliant with the regulations, business rules, and safety standards.

To learn how SkyGrid’s AerialOS can help improve your BVLOS operations, check out our overview page here or learn more about our advanced enterprise features.

 

Why Drone Programs Need to Integrate with New Technologies to Deliver Value

Ways Drone Programs Can Integrate With Other Robotics to Deliver Value

The use of drones in the commercial sector has skyrocketed in the last few years, and their potential is still yet to be fully seen. In 2016, the FAA defined the procedures for commercial drone use, and since then companies have increasingly turned to the new technology to support a number of business-facing priorities.

How drones are expected to impact multiple industries

The drone market size is expected to grow to a massive $63.6B by 2025, with much of that growth being driven by enterprise adoption in the agriculture, construction and mining, insurance, media and telecommunications, and law enforcement industries.

Because drones are able to get to hard to reach locations, they make perfect devices to assess the damage after a disaster, properly assess a construction site, and analyze farm fields to ensure crop output. Drones are also expected to make a huge impact on warehouse operations, improving overall inventory management, providing logistical support, and inspecting conditions that can help maintain a warehouse’s longevity.

Drones are also expected to be a major contributor to last-mile delivery, leading to deeper discounts companies can use to pass on to their customers and increase their market share.

But how organizations integrate and incorporate drones as part of their business development plans will be key in ensuring the technology makes a transformational impact. Several executive leaders have identified drone fleet management, airspace management, universal traffic management, as well as logistics, and operational management as crucial factors that need to be considered for drones to be used to their maximum potential.

How management solutions can address current challenges in drone management

Without the right drone management and airspace management system in place, your drone fleet program launch may lack key efficiencies that will eat away at the benefits you may have forecasted. 

Airspace visibility

Airspace visibility is crucial to ensure your drones have clear flight paths on their missions even in the face of external changes. Having a solution that accounts for changes in conditions and details is necessary in order to maintain operational efficiency and to keep your drones intact. 

A universal traffic management solution should be able to detect and alert you to any local environment conditions, any obstacles that may suddenly appear, and changes in weather conditions like temperature, wind, and precipitation. Without the right visibility, you’re essentially flying blind.

Maintenance gaps

Not being able to forecast maintenance requirements and overall drone performance can hinder a mission’s effectiveness and the longevity of your drone fleet. Having a platform that can not only predict when a drone will require a calibration adjustment or motor cleaning but also streamlines the process via measurable work orders centralizes the process, helping your team save time while increasing your drone’s longevity.

This can have significant long-term impacts on the effectiveness of your drone fleet, while minimizing any costs required in overall maintenance and drone device replacements.

Automating processes

Manual workflows can slow your team down as they try to obtain mission authorizations, certifications, and approvals, meet flight requirements, and ensure they’re adhering to any compliance or regulations. However, automated solutions can lessen the burden and automate many of the authorization requests, freeing up your team to handle more important and pressing tasks.

Leveraging key technologies for improving drone integration and performance

The use of AI has dramatically impacted how solutions handle drone management and airspace management. AI is, arguably, required, in order to handle and analyze the huge amounts of data that is constantly changing on a real-time basis. Otherwise, you may not be able to properly account for your airspace conditions or adapt your flight details in real-time. AI can give your team better information, faster, improving mission effectiveness.

New advances in blockchain technology and fostering the development of smart contracts can improve the certification and authorization process while helping drones meet flight requirements and specifications in certain airspaces. Blockchain technology can also be used to improve overall drone management, helping log flights and maintenance records in a more secure and accurate manner.

As organizations look to incorporate drones, they should take the time to ensure they have the right infrastructure and platforms to help support them.

To learn how SkyGrid’s AerialOS can help improve your airspace management, check out our overview page here



Advancing the Use of AI and Blockchain Technology for Air Traffic Management

SkyGrid Advancing the Use of AI and Blockchain Technology for Air Traffic Management

Today, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are making their mark in various industries, especially in government and defense operations. The global military drone market is progressing at an unprecedented pace, and the technology and its application to military operations continue to expand across the world. The growing global military UAV market is projected to reach $26.12 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 12.78%. The considerable increase in UAVs used for defense, EMS, fire, and law enforcement demands a groundbreaking approach to operate these autonomous vehicles safely and efficiently in first responder scenarios such as search and rescue missions, heavy lift cargo, fire response, and medical evacuation. 

New technologies have real potential to assist first responders. For instance, UAVs could make response faster, more targeted, keep responders safer, and provide opportunities for missions impossible for manned aircraft. However, these UAVs also require unique air traffic management solutions, advanced communications to keep everyone aware of what’s happening on the ground and in the sky, and onboarding tools to let them operate safely. 

Working to tackle these challenges  

SkyGrid, in partnership with SparkCognition Government Systems (SGS) and LIFT Aircraft, has been awarded a contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) through its SBIR Phase II program to advance the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technology for air traffic management. 

Together, our companies will help enable the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to safely and efficiently operate unmanned aerial vehicles in first responder scenarios by applying AI and blockchain technology to manage the airspace for autonomous vehicles, specifically HEXA, LIFT’s electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. 

AI-powered platform to optimize air traffic management 

Artificial intelligence is a key driver in revolutionizing air traffic management systems. Built on AI, the SkyGrid platform takes a smarter approach to aerial mobility.    

For example, SkyGrid’s AI algorithms analyze crucial data, such as airspace traffic, local conditions, ground risks, flight restrictions, and weather forecasts to avoid hazardous conditions. Equipped with AI, in-flight monitoring to ensure safe operations and optimal paths is possible. Our system also monitors drone flights in real-time and notifies operators of anomalies, automatically generating new routes to avoid obstacles or restricted airspace. 

AI-powered air traffic management enables intelligent deconfliction of flights based on real-world variables by sensing and avoiding other aircraft and objects with pre-flight and in-flight deconfliction capabilities. Continuous fleet health monitoring and predictive maintenance optimize drone fleets and reduce time to service with fleet performance recommendations. Our AI-based system automatically generates maintenance tickets and assigns them to technicians upon landing at a facility and tracks all drones, flight logs, and service records in a single dashboard.   

Blockchain-based airspace management to ensure immutable data reporting  

Blockchain technology helps eliminate the potential for human error in the airspace. Augmented with smart contracts, blockchain is the key to ensuring unmanned flights comply with the airspace rules and regulations.  

An airspace system built on blockchain technology makes it easy for operators to share accurate flight plans in real-time and maintain high standards of auditability. Our blockchain-backed system assigns a unique ID to every drone and maintains a real-time record of each drone’s status, flight details (e.g., altitude, location, operator), and maintenance history, as historical flight logs are also crucial to ensure the security and integrity of data exchanged between operators, authorities, and service suppliers. Each flight log is linked to the previous record with cryptography, so they can’t be altered retroactively.  

The decentralized nature of a blockchain system also provides more security than traditional, centralized storage since there’s not one database a bad actor can compromise. This approach enables authorities to analyze flight data and determine a sequence of events with certainty. It gives organizations a secure, accurate record of their flights to evaluate performance and optimize operations.  

Leading the way to advance air traffic management 

By combining SGS’s advanced AI technologies, SkyGrid’s AI and blockchain-based airspace management capabilities, and LIFT’s state-of-the-art UAVs, our companies will develop an air traffic management solution that provides defense, EMS, fire, and law enforcement with the means to advance their missions and more quickly respond to emergency situations. 

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.
 

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.