Regulatory aspects of SWaP
In the previous parts (Part 1 Part 2) we have established that thanks to the powerful combination of cloud computing and a secure, reliable drone datalink, you can do away with the need for certain onboard components and shave off some of your SWaP footprint. But what are the “must-have” components for BVLOS drone operations – the ones we can’t get rid of?
While regulations will differ from country to country and region to region, we can use the rules set out by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as a guide to figure out what onboard hardware is likely to be essential for a BVLOS drone design.
Unmanned aviation in the United States is governed by the FAA’s Part 107 rules. Under normal circumstances, these rules dictate that drones must be flown within visual line of sight. However, waivers can be granted that allow drone operators to deviate from this rule and perform BVLOS operations. Applications for this waiver must be accompanied by a robust and extremely thorough safety case, proving that the platform and its operations will not endanger aircraft, people or property.
The safety case needs to highlight the drone platform’s solutions – which may involve essential hardware components – to a number of issues.
Provide visibility at all times
BVLOS drones need to continually provide real-time information on their drone ID, location and altitude, velocity, time mark, the direction of flight, and emergency status, both to their operators and to other aircraft sharing the same airspace. In the future, unmanned traffic management (UTM) frameworks and solutions are also likely to require this information.
In order to provide accurate information on these parameters, the drone must have an onboard GPS receiver and barometric sensor. There is currently no single standard for the broadcasting of this information, but current technologies include ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) and FLARM. A transmitter that is compliant with one or more of these methods or or remote ID is required on top of the standard drone communication methods. It is therefore an essential onboard component.
Detecting cooperative aircraft
Many of the use cases for BVLOS drones will require them to operate within the same airspace as other aircraft, both manned and unmanned. Many of these aircraft will be broadcasting location and trajectory information as highlighted in the previous section. A device such as an ADS-B In receiver will allow your drone to maintain the visibility of all cooperative aircraft in the surrounding area.
What about non-cooperative aircraft, and other hazards?
In the course of its mission, a BVLOS drone is likely to encounter aircraft that do not broadcast essential tracking information. It will also definitely encounter other obstacles such as buildings, powerlines, trees, and other terrain features. The drone technology must have a reliable solution for detecting all of these and taking evasive action as required.
Once again, there is no single solution for detect and avoid (DAA), but technologies include onboard arrays of radar, acoustic, or visual camera sensors. The solution you choose will depend on the SWaP budget of your aircraft, but to satisfy FAA requirements it must have a range of at least three miles, with a 360-degree field of view around the aircraft.
The last line of defense
Should the unthinkable happen and control over your drone is lost, a reliable drone parachute system will help mitigate the risk of injury to people below as well as damage to property. The parachute will also increase your chances of recovering the aircraft and its payloads intact. ASTM International has released a standard (ASTM F3322-18) for UAV parachutes, and a system with certification under this standard will be a worthwhile addition to your safety case, particularly for operations over people.
Reliable command, control, and communications
A strong, reliable command and control (C2) link is a must for safe BVLOS operations. While the DAA system can help mitigate risk in the event of a C2 link outage, operators still need to be able to maintain full control over the drone for as much of the mission time as possible, and also need to be alerted right away if damage or equipment malfunction has occurred.
As detailed in previous installments of this article, a robust drone communications link is also required in order to take advantage of cloud computing services and offload task processing in order to reduce power drain and lower your SWaP footprint.
Elsight’s Halo platform provides an all-in-one solution to all your BVLOS command, control, and communications needs. Aggregating multiple IP links from all available protocols and networks, it features the ability to use both cellular and RF communication options separately or in parallel, allowing you to choose link priority according to your requirements.
Halo’s operator-agnostic hardware features a small form factor, lightweight and power consumption of less than half that of an average kitchen lightbulb. With a single device covering everything you need, Halo provides the ultimate in SWaP savings for onboard communications as well as the best chance for satisfying regulators.
With extensive experience in serving the drone industry and meeting certification requirements, Elsight can help you design a commercial BVLOS drone platform that will enable you to scale your business without breaking the SWaP bank.