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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

UAVs Flying in the NAS

by Ashish Sharma

Until recently, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) were strictly used for military and defense applications, but that is quickly changing. The FAA re-authorization bill paves the way for UAVs to fly into new territory our commercial U.S. airspace. While this legislation brings about some apprehensiveness among the general population, the benefits for introducing these systems into our skies have yet to be realized. UAVs can guarantee new ways to increase efficiency, save money, enhance safety and even save lives. Interest is growing in a broad range of uses such as aerial photography, land and crop surveying, monitoring environmental conditions such as forest fires and guarding borders and ports against intruders and other threats to national security.

The introduction of unmanned systems into commercial airspace leads to a discussion about safety concerns, both for people in the air and on the ground.

Naturally, the introduction of unmanned systems into commercial airspace leads to a discussion about safety concerns, both for people in the air and on the ground. As reported by FAA in 2011, the National Airspace System (NAS) involves an average of more than 100,000 aviation operations per day, including commercial air traffic, cargo operations and private jets. Additionally, FAA reports there are more than 238,000 general aviation aircraft in the system at any time. It’s obvious that the regulating body of the NAS (FAA) is developing and enforcing a comprehensive strategy to increase the safety measures associated with the rollout of new aerial vehicles into commercial airspace. However, when lives are at risk and when safety is paramount, technical issues must be addressed and a set of standards must be applied.

In addition to the regulatory standards, policies and procedures of commercial UAVs, the industry must first consider command and control aspects of unmanned systems and other ways to mitigate the potential for failure and in-air collisions. Extremely reliable data communication is a necessity for UAV platforms.

Here are some qualities for communication technology usage in unmanned aircrafts and for designers and integrators to consider when building new solutions for the commercial UAV market:

➤ Noise immunity: With the amount of “noise” travelling over the airwaves today, one should consider incorporating a proven proprietary noise-filtering communication technology to eliminate any possibility of miscommunication.

➤ Signal Sensitivity: Aspects of a communication link, such as data throughput, range and reliability, need to be one of the first considerations, as they may impact the design and specific application that the unmanned system is designed to do.

➤ Security: A high-level of security should be one of the top requirements. Standards-based AES data encryption over a variety of frequencies is one way to prevent unauthorized access to a signal or the transmitted data.

➤ Reliability: The ability for the communication technology to perform in the most rigorous conditions and environments. Whichever communication technology vendor is chosen for a UAV platform, the technology needs to be tested, tuned and engineered based on critical factors that directly impact the performance of the overall system.

➤ Footprint of the technology: Not only does the communication technology need to be effective and reliable, but integrators and aircraft designers will require systems in multiple frequencies, shapes and sizes for utmost flexibility in any application need.

Real-time data is critical for both FAA and end-users to monitor and enhance practices within the emerging industry. Increased data collection will allow decision-makers to assess and enhance safety procedures and expand the use of this technology across multiple locations and applications.

Automating command and control procedures of commercial UAV platforms with proven communications technology not only brings a sense of reassurance to government safety officials, but further demonstrates the methodical approach that the industry is taking to ensure the success of these new programs.

Leveraging reliable and secure command and control functionality through proven data communication technology provides assurance that commercial UAV platforms will effectively and efficiently join the skies without any regrets. Industry-wide cooperation with the governing bodies of the program is the first step to ensuring the most capable and innovative commercial UAV project of our generation.

Ashish Sharma is the chief marketing officer at FreeWave Technologies, of Boulder, Colo.

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