by Jonathan Beck
Northland Community & Technical College
NSF ATE DroneTECH Principal Investigator
Published in Midwest Flyer – December 2017/January 2018 issue
It was the shoot down of a Korean passenger jet in 1983 that prompted President Reagan to release Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. The intent of opening GPS technology to the public was to provide pilots with a better means of navigation to prevent future tragedies. GPS technology has allowed us to do remarkable things in the last few decades. It has become common in the cockpit, automobile and cell phones in our pockets. GPS technology has had a broad impact into almost every industry.
It has only been in recent years that GPS technology has become common place in drones. GPS technology in drones has many benefits including situational awareness. Some drone systems provide visual reports about aircraft position onto a ground control station or “heads up display.” Calculations can provide information about the position of the drone related to the Remote Pilot-In-Command (RPIC). It can also provide the RPIC with details about the flight operations area. This data can include airspace and flight restrictions to consider during mission planning. Smart device applications can also provide this type of information. Some flight planning applications include: KnowB4Ufly, UAV Forecast, Kittyhawk, DroneLogbook, ForeFlight and many more.
This information is important for a RPIC to consider during mission planning. According to the FAA, reports of drone sightings by pilots have increased dramatically. The FAA now receives more than 100 such reports each month. The agency wants to send out a clear message: Operating drones around airplanes, helicopters and airports is dangerous and illegal. Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges. Education and the use of flight planning resources can help ensure that professional users of drones follow the rules of the sky.
Engineers of drone systems invent new designs and operating features every day. Some of these developments assist in airspace de-confliction. Many manufacturers recognize the hazards in airport environments, temporary flight restrictions (TFRs), and flying at distances and altitudes not allowing the operator to visually monitor the aircraft. As a result, many drone systems now employ “geo-referenced notifications” defined by GPS in relation to certain areas. These notifications are incorporated into the ground control stations and the autopilot systems.
Some manufacturers have gone as far as building restriction zones based on airports, airways and critical areas, such as TFRs. DJI (Dà-Jiāng Innovations Science and Technology Co., Ltd) has three primary classifications for their “GEO system.” These include: Warning, Authorization and Restricted Zones. These zones do not conform to standard definitions you are likely familiar with.
According to DJI’s website, the “GEO System” is a geospatial information system. The “GEO System” provides drone operators with information helping to make smart decisions about where and when to fly. It combines up-to-date airspace information, a warning and flight-restriction system, and a mechanism for unlocking (self-authorizing) drone flights in locations. The GEO system uses AirMap for this feature. According to AirMap’s website, leading drone manufacturers, including DJI, Intel, Sensefly, Aeryon Labs, and more, power their drones with the AirMap platform.
“Warning Zones” provide operators a heads up about areas that may have special mission planning considerations. The RPIC does not have any specific action that must be taken, but receives information to consider, such as wildlife areas. “Authorization Zones” are typically built around airports. In “Authorization Zones,” the Remote PIC must acknowledge the flight using a verified account. These accounts are setup with a standard log-in username and password and connected to minimal personal information for identification of the RPIC. “Restricted Zones” are areas that potentially have a security hazard or other significant reason that prevent the aircraft from any operation in those areas without special authorization.
A key piece of crew resource management is using all resources you have access to. Tools like this are assisting RPIC in decision-making and considerations in the flight environments. In an age of technological advancement, it is important to consider the various impact new technology creates. Many impacts are very positive, but they can also create concerns. Software and systems for drones continue to expand the capabilities. With this expansion, safety must remain a primary focus. This is the beginning of a much larger change. Education and information will be key to cultivating a positive environment for all.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jonathan Beck is the UAS Instructor/Program Manager at Northland Community and Technical College, Thief River Falls, Minnesota. This material is based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (DUE 1501629). Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.