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GCN : August 2013
While the national defense system depends on traditionally flown aircraft, UAVs will play an increasingly critical role because they don t risk the lives of pilots and crew. A company called DreamHammer could ease the need for pilots in a di erent way, with its open source operating system that allows a single operator to command multiple drones --- including multiple types of drones --- at the same time. Called Ballista, the new OS was recently able to complete a series of successful demonstrations for Defense Department personnel to show how it could be integrated into the UAS architecture used by the drones. Because of its open architecture, Ballista can integrate into any proprietary UAS, allowing a single operator to simultaneously manage multiple unmanned vehicles, such as Predators, Global Hawks and Reapers. It also can be used with unmanned ground and sea vehicles. Ballista comes prepackaged with open and extensible UCS-conforming models, middleware communications and user interface components. These components allow non-UCS-based systems, both legacy and standards- based, to integrate their proprietary hardware and services into Ballista, bringing them up to the UCS standard and allowing them to interoperate with other UCSservices. --- John Breeden II NEW DRONE OS ALLOWS CONTROL OF MULTIPLE TYPES OF UAS robotic --- aren't limited to other aircraft. "There are very few things above 500 feet to run into," Singh said. But landing, taking off or operating under 500 feet --- which is where many UAVs are designed to spend most of their flight time --- there are many hazards, including trees, build- ings and wires. "You have to go up and come down," noted Singh. "I think that last hundred feet is pretty important." Accordingly, Singh has set his sights, in a sense, lower. "I work on the aspect of UAVs flying intelligently so that they can fly in what we call 'near-earth environments.' They are aware of their environment, they are aware of what they can do, they are aware of environmental conditions like wind, and then they plan their actions in such a way that they can stay safe." And being closer to the ground intro- duces other challenges. "Maybe you need to fly close to things, so the GPS is blocked by trees and buildings," he said. "Maybe you need to operate in dusty conditions or at night. The problem is complex." As a result, Singh is working to inte- grate a variety of sensors and to develop the software to make them usable in UAVs. In addition to the visual sensors (cameras and infrared imagers), Singh is working to incorporate far infrared (ef- fective for detecting features through fog or rain), radar (which can penetrate ob- stacles) and LIDAR (which is effective in detecting contours of objects). Singh was part of a team that recently enabled a full-size, autonomous helicop- ter to fly at low altitude, avoid obstacles, choose a landing site in unmapped ter- rain and successfully land. In June 2010, the team tested the sensor and navigation system at a Boeing test facility in Mesa, Ariz. Employing a laser scanner and 3D mapping software, the unmanned heli- copter was able to avoid a 60-foot crane and high-tension wires, as well as other smaller obstructions, such as four-in-high pallets, chain-link fences, vegetation and even people. GOVERNMENT IN THE WAY? While there is a long way to go before completely autonomous UAVs can safely operate in all environments and condi- tions, researchers say the basic technolo- gies are already in place that would allow for widespread deployments right now if government would move to set standards. "The real challenge is not technologi- cal," Glenn said. "The real challenge is regulatory acceptance. I think we're close enough. The key is that we are able to be as good as manned aviation. So the issue is how to get federal aviation authori- ties around the world to get their minds around it." According to Glenn, if government reg- ulatory agencies would specify the per- formance standards UAVs need to meet, he can design appropriate equipment. "You tell me what the requirement is, and I will build it," he said. Pellebergs agrees. "No one really knows what the requirements are for sense-and- avoid for UASes in civilian airspace, so we need to get a set of standards in place," he said. "I think that's what's holding up a lot of the progress in this area." Unfortunately, the Federal Aviation Administration declined our requests for comment. • GCN AUGUST 2013 • GCN.COM 21