Drones swarming indoors only one highlight of AUVSI Xponential

May 17, 2017  - By

Griff Aviation displays at AUVSI its UAS for demanding professional situations. (Photo: Allison Barwacz)

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International‘s annual Xponential show, which took place May 8-11 in Dallas, Texas, seemed to be at least as large as last year’s in New Orleans, Louisiana.

According to the Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s keynote address, I was among more than 7,000 attendees and 650 exhibitors. Krzanich and the Intel folks dazzled us with live indoor drone flying and a demonstration of highly detailed bridge inspection using the Intel Falcon 8+ drone.

Then we had a few Shooting Star light drones flying around in a small swarm — all before the show really got cooking. Management of big data was Intel’s pitch for the keynote, but all we nav guys wanted to know was how they flew those things inside.

Intel set a Guinness World Record when the company flew 500 Intel Shooting Star drones simultaneously on Oct. 7, 2016, in Hamburg, Germany. The record for the Most UAVs Airborne Simultaneously beat a previous record of 100 set by Intel less than a year earlier. (Source: Intel Corporation)

Intel shows off its light drones in October 2016. (Source: Intel)

Attempts later in the show to establish their guidance recipe were met with a wall of silence from Intel. We know both drone types carry inertial. The Falcon 8+ has three and more than one GNSS receiver, and the light drone has inertial and GNSS, but Intel’s secret is that they use “wireless.” So something to determine where they are and in relation to the inspection article, and to others in the swarm, hooked up to inertial? Intel will tell us sometime later, they say.

In the meantime, Intel promoted the Falcon 8+ heavily at its booth, with its configurable payload capability. Intel indicated that it hopes also to sell light-show swarms for event providers.

The show was indeed huge, and it was impossible to touch base with everyone, so in no particular order and without any leanings towards anyone, I’ll try and capture some flavor of what went down at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center at the AUVSI Xponential show.

Duro – Piksi enclosure.

Duro – Piksi enclosure.

Swift Navigation/ Carnegie

Swift released the rugged Duro enclosure for its Piksi Multi dual-band GNSS receiver. It’s yellow with lots of heat fins, and looks like it would survive being driven over. With dual-frequency real-time kinematic (RTK), Swift claims an all-time low price for board-level RTK.

VectorNav

Based in Dallas, VectorNav took advantage of home turf with a significant presence at the show. VectorNav released a number of use-case studies to illustrate the varied customer applications for its VN series of miniature, high-performance MEMS-inertial and GPS/INS modules. Applications include:

  • ground robotics for highly accurate, high-speed attitude data
  • a  medium-range UAV with GPS/INS for primary navigation
  • integrated lidar for mapping capabilities
  • autonomous ground vehicle module waypoint navigation with a number of system functions
  • high-precision antenna pointing
  • camera pointing with a gyro-stabilized gimbal.

Gryphon Sensors

Drone detection and prevention systems had a significant presence at AUVSI. Gryphon Sensors combines radar, RF direction finding and optical sensors in a integrated “intelligent drone detection system.”

Gryphon has been around for some time, using technologies from military applications to also provide vehicle-mounted drone security and UAS traffic management (UTM) capabilities.

Fortem Technologies

Compact TrueView Radar

Compact TrueView Radar

Fortem has gone one step further with drone detection — its Dronehunter flies a drone within feet of an intruder, fires a net at the unwanted vehicle and takes it down. The company’s video encounter was at low altitude and the intruder was undamaged — for higher, larger vehicle take-downs, they have a net with a parachute.

Other components of the system include a compact airborne radar for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) and a ground-based radar detection system.

Countries

Several country pavilions exhibited at the show, including China, Spain, France, UK, Denmark and Canada. Highlights included Drone Hopper, a Spanish firefighting drone concept; Chinese UAV antennas and avionics; a French “cluster” of drone-related companies; and Canada, which included a multi-rotor drone dealer and introduced the Foremost drone test range.

Aeronix and Rajant

Secure radios are key to any drone operations. Aeronix displayed a secure software-defined datalink product for providing data, video and voice onto and off drones. The company also introduced significant radio and interface capability for military and secure commercial operations.

Rajant featured mesh radio systems, providing the wireless backbone in UAV applications in mining and on mine trucks. Once again, U.S. Department of Defense technology developed over many years has been spun off into commercial operations.

Trimble

It was good to see Trimble in force again at a trade show; the company had a nice booth with lots of people. We talked with Chris Wheeler about Trimble’s approach of providing an antenna with down conversion, integrated with an RTK software API on existing on-board computing hardware – it’s a good way to potentially reduce costs for UAVs.

Sold through a software license, this reduced-hardware solution could be a new way to get high performance at much reduced prices for larger UAV fleets. It might be significant for lots of other OEM solutions too.

Trimble-AUVSI

AsteRx-m2 UAS receiver.

AsteRx-m2 UAS receiver.

Septentrio

The recently released AsterRx-m2 receiver has an optional UAS interface board with record-and-store capability so that real-time images can be readily geo-coded. It directly connects to an on-board autopilot. Self-interference issues coming from existing UAV control electronics are minimized by further enhanced AIM interference mitigation processing on the –m2 receiver.

NovAtel

NovAtel’s military business group continues to make headway with the GAJT integrated anti-jam antenna with more than 600 sold to date. Other applications include the use of the anti-jam electronics processing solution in the GAJT anti-jam Antenna Electronics unit.

If you were not convinced that these are rugged units designed for difficult outdoor applications, they were recently evaluated under firing conditions by the Canadian forces mounted on an M777C1 Howitzer — “No problem,” said Peter Soar, business development manager, Military and Defence.

The anti-jam antenna electronics unit is well suited for UAV applications in signal-rich environments where GPS tracking might otherwise be untenable.

Aspen Avionics

As the FAA makes progress toward integration of UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS), the interest in using ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance) for UAV location awareness seems to be growing. ADS-B equipment on both manned and unmanned vehicles provides an output signal containing position, velocity and altitude which can be used by other similarly equipped aircraft and terrestrial/satellite tracking systems.

Aspen Avionics supplies FAA-approved ADS-B equipment for manned and unmanned aircraft, as well as approved GPS navigation receivers for selected classes of certified navigation and landing.

Rockwell Collins/Harris

BVLOS demonstration work under the FAA Pathfinder program with BNSF Railway has continued, with significant technical contributions by both Rockwell Collins and Harris. Monitoring and control of the UAV during inspection flights along the BNSF track test-section in Clovis, New Mexico, was achieved through the deployed Rockwell radio network and CNPC-1000 datalink transceiver installed on a Latitude Engineering UAV. Reliability is now well established, and BNSF is able to operate without visual observers during regular inspections for bad track.

Harris-ADS-BHarris has also provided extended ADS-B coverage throughout the BNSF test section and provided an aircraft-tracking feed from its FAA flight database, to ensure there are no manned aircraft conflicts during UAS track inspection flights.

Insitu

Insitu has conducted very successful business with military and government for many years with its ScanEagle, Blackjack and Integrator UAS. The company is now approaching the commercial world through a turnkey inspection service that it will now offer as its INEXA Solutions.

The intent is not to just offer data collection by flying UAVs for customers, but to first put together the best business case, then collect and process data and deliver the information required.

Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin also is approaching the commercial market with a services offering: Commercial Aviation Inspection Services. LM’s UAS capability extends beyond the Stalker fixed-wing surveillance drone, the quadcopter Indago and the military-looking Fury heavy-payload fixed-wing vehicle, to include an autopilot, a vision-processing unit and a dual-sensor gimbal. The LM Hydra-Fusion Geospatial toolset provides post-processing capability for applications including construction, surveying, agricultural, inspection and tactical.

AeroVironment

AeroVironment is another company offering turn-key flight services, from UAS operations through to data processing and custom results. AeroVironment had two new product announcements to add to its extensive UAS capability: the Mantis electro-optical/infrared gimbal sensor suite, and the Snipe man-carried UAS.

The Mantis is designed for installation on the AeroVironment Puma fixed-wing UAS to provide enhanced imaging capabilities, while the 5-ounce Snipe is small enough to be worn by an operator and can be rapidly deployed for close-in surveillance/reconnaissance.

…And More

Other news on the show floor:

  • Airbus Aerial is being established in the U.S. and Europe to provide imagery services for commercial industries, such as insurance, agriculture, oil and gas, and utilities as well as state and local governments.
  • Spirent promoted its GSS6450 portable GNSS record-and-playback simulator for UAV systems testing and verification.
  • Multi-rotor drone manufacturer DraganFly indicated that it has been in the UAS business since 1998, so it has lots of capability and experience.
  • Canadian UAV autopilot supplier MicroPilot continues to do well, and now claims to have 1,000 customers in 85 countries. Looking to future requirements for onboard systems that will make possible UAS integration into manned airspace, MicroPilot is now working toward airborne (RTCA DO-178C) software qualification.

The 2017 AUVSI Exponential convention measured up to all its expectations and pre-show hype. The atmosphere was energetic and positive, with almost every booth getting the attention of attendees & the whisper of deals was everywhere in the many corridors and rooms of the huge Dallas convention center. The UAS industry didn’t only come to show off its wares, but also to do business.

Several UAS flight centers were represented, each with the strong backing of its own home State and vying to attract test center users and to establish new UAS businesses. The industry is apparently ready and able to create those local jobs that have been forecast to grow out of new UAS applications.

While attention has previously been on flying small UAS (sUAS, and there is now a set of FAA rules allowing controlled commercial operations to get underway, there did seem to be an growing expectation that work towards getting larger, longer endurance drones into commercial operations was coming into focus. Many fixed wing applications currently operate under FAA Certificates of Authorization (CoAs), so their scale of operations is limited. But on-going efforts to develop Sense & Avoid and BVLOS solutions are hopefully leading towards the next phase of larger UAS applications in the US National Airspace System.

Tony Murfin
GNSS Aerospace

This article is tagged with and posted in OEM, Opinions, UAV/UGV

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