BVLOS SWaP Mini-Guide: Part 1 – balancing between payload and airtime

By Yoav Amitai - CEO | February 8th, 2021

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It’s time to dominate the BVLOS market

As the drone industry moves closer to widespread Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) adoption, a whole new set of potential applications is being opened up for commercial UAV operations. Manufacturers and service providers looking to create a new platform to serve a long-distance drone application, such as delivery, precision agriculture, or inspection, should be planning their design and development so that they can hit the market when the time is right. Introducing the “BVLOS SWaP – balancing between payload and airtime” mini-guide, how to plan the perfect SWaP (size, weight, and power) strategy for your platform.

BVLOS drone development challenges

Any Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) developed for a particular BVLOS application will be subject to a whole host of regulations. To make matters even more difficult, these regulations and certification requirements are in a state of flux, as frameworks and guidelines for BVLOS operation are yet to be fully established.

Basing your solution on an established platform can also bring its own challenges, whether you are starting with an entire off-the-shelf platform such as one of DJI’s unmanned aerial systems, or just utilizing a particular subsystem such as the Pixhawk autopilot. Elements of the hardware and software may need to be adjusted in order to meet the requirements of your use case as well as those of the certifying body.


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Take everything into consideration now

Perhaps the most pressing concern with regards to component selection for your new UAV design is ensuring that all components are ideally suited to your application, work seamlessly with each other, and take up as little of your precious SWaP budget as possible. BVLOS missions are likely to require much more airtime than those conducted within a pilot’s visual range, especially for applications such as long-range package delivery, or drone utility inspection of vast lengths of road or powerline. In order to maximize your drone’s flight endurance, power drains from the various onboard components must be minimized.

So many onboard components – Is it really that hard to go BVLOS?

A new drone platform design will typically need a wide variety of components to be specified. These may include:

  • The flight computer – keeps your drone in the air and handles navigation, autonomous operation, and a whole host of other potential operations
  • Detect-and-avoid (DAA) system – an essential safety component for BVLOS operations and one of the deciding factors in certification
  • C2 (command & control) communications and data link – another critical component for BVLOS certification, as regulators need to be assured that your drone data communication is reliable and maintains connectivity at close to 100% of the operation time
  • Payload (i.e., Camera and sensors) – highly specific to your particular use case
  • GPS/GNSS receiver
  • Rotors, electronic speed controllers, and other propulsion elements
  • Parachute system

All of these added up can lead to a significant drain on your battery and thus to a severe limitation on your drone flight time!


Reduce the drain by offloading the work

The good news is that contrary to the way things have been traditionally done, the work performed by some of these subsystems can actually be offloaded elsewhere. With the advent of high-reliability, always-on connectivity solutions, developers can save valuable SWaP capacity on their drone platform by taking advantage of the endless computing resources today’s public cloud services can offer.

For example, image and video analysis is critical to a wide range of drone use cases, including security, surveillance, and inspection, and may also form part of a BVLOS platform’s detect-and-avoid solution. In order to analyze this data, and perform feature analysis and a host of other tasks relating to detection and classification, an onboard computer would need to run extremely computationally intensive algorithms, which translates to a significant drain on the UAV power source. By sending this data to the cloud, the burden on the drone’s onboard systems can be eased. Not only will you enjoy all the capabilities available in the various cloud services, you can also save power which can be used for extending the flight time of your platform, and you may also be able to select a smaller, lighter, less powerful onboard computer, providing SWaP savings all around.


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Easing development pain by choosing the right partners

One often-overlooked step in the development process is selecting the right manufacturer to partner with for the duration of your product’s lifecycle. It is easy to be tempted by low component prices, but an ideal relationship with a manufacturing partner does not stop at the point of sale. It is worth taking the time to partner with a company that will support you as your business grows and help you out as your drone platform evolves to keep up with the changing market.

It is also worth selecting manufacturers with extensive experience in supplying UAV-specific industries. This is especially crucial when it comes to satisfying regulators and meeting certification requirements – as regulations and methodologies for BVLOS drone operations begin to solidify, a knowledgeable manufacturing partner will be able to offer specific integration advice and may even be able to modify a COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) item to meet your needs.


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To be continued…

Now that you have seen some of the potential challenges in developing a  “BVLOS SWaP – balancing between payload and airtime” strategy, and have had a glimpse of a solution for meeting your power budgets, the next installment of this article will detail how Elsight’s all-in-one secure connectivity solution can help you offload some of your platform’s computing responsibilities to the cloud.


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