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GCN : August and September 2016
tom of the drone: a laser scanner and small computer. “It’s like a lighthouse,” Singh said. “It spins around 10 times a second, taking 300,000 measurements per second.” The drone can use those measure- ments to build a map of its surroundings in real time — a feature Singh dem- onstrated on a video screen above the crowd. The National Science Foundation is investing $35 million over the next five years into researching the effective de- sign, control and potential applications for UAS. New York state announced that it would invest $5 million into research as well. The Federal Aviation Administration and NASA, meanwhile, are already working on how to regulate drones and integrate them into the national airspace. In June, the FAA released the baseline rules for drones that weigh less than 55 pounds. Those rules require operators to register with the FAA and restrict flights to daylight hours, among other limita- tions. The FAA plans to release its next set of rules for public comment later this year; they will focus on using drones near crowds. Industry experts point out that as the technology improves, the rules will change along with it. Dave Vos, who leads Project Wing at Google X, told GCN that the next step is collecting data through a lot of test flights. “Data is hard to argue with,” he said. In panel discussions on the announce- ments from NSF and other agencies, there was a clear consensus about how the technology should evolve. Public- and private-sector experts said the vehi- cles need more automation, followed by improvements to facilitate safe beyond- line-of-sight use. R. John Hansman, a professor of aero- nautics and engineering systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said greater automation would likely help with issues related to spectrum and the ability to ensure constant communi- cation between a drone and its operator. In current testing with military UAS, loss of spectrum often results in drones being grounded, Hansman said. But with more automation, a drone could be programmed to know where to land if it loses spectrum. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich defined three key areas in which technology and automation must be improved: collision avoidance, communication and multi- drone operation. Technology already exists that has high levels of accuracy for collision avoidance, he added. And he predicted that as 5G, the next generation of wire- less communications, becomes a reality, it will help with communication and spectrum. Multidrone operation is also in use. As an example, Krzanich showed a video of drones that flew in a coordinated pat- tern to orchestrate a light show in the sky, eventually creating the Intel logo. More practical uses of multidrone opera- tions include search and rescue missions and infrastructure inspection, he added. In other words, Krzanich said, drones must keep getting smarter. Singh compared the evolution of drones to that of self-driving cars, which he worked on in the early years of the technology. It took decades for the cars to get where they are today, he said, but the transition for drones will be quicker because much of the technology already exists or is within reach. Many agencies and industries have become avid drone users. Electric- ity companies use them to inspect power lines. The Interior Department deploys them in a multitude of situa- tions, including fire management, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has tested drones of all shapes and sizes as tools for gather- ing environmental imagery and other data. Interior officials said they hope to use drones to provide near-real-time wild- fire information sometime next year. By 2018, Interior will have a training pro- gram for how to use drones for search and rescue missions and by 2019 will establish a workflow for rapid data pro- cessing via the cloud. NOAA plans to research how to use drones to improve data collection on ships, and officials want to explore how the technology can replace manned aircraft in roles that include gravity measurement. Back in the Newseum lobby, Steven Krukowski, a Stanford University Ph.D. candidate, showed the crowd a video of a drone he helped design that can land on a moving target using onboard sensors. “I know that [unmanned aerial vehi- cles] and quadcopters are mainly viewed as flying cameras,” Krukowski said, “but with the systems that we’ve demon- strated today and their high-powered onboard computers, they’ve become so much more. A lot of them have become highly intelligent robots.” • GCN AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2016 • GCN.COM 41 VANCOUVERAQUARIUM/NOAA The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been experimenting with using drones to collect environmental data. CORPSCPC.NOAA.GOV/M4CONSULTING 0916gcn_040-041.indd 41 9/1/16 9:16 AM
June and July 2016
October and November 2016