The Unmanned Advantage: How Autonomous and BVLOS Drones Provide an Edge

By Ben Gross | June 14, 2022

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While UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) have been around for a while now, for much of their time in existence their use was largely restricted to military and government applications. Over the last few years, drone technology has expanded massively into the commercial and industrial sectors, opening up a wide range of use cases and providing new options for surveyors, agriculture professionals, logistics companies, and many other users.

As drone technologies have advanced and matured, UAVs have become a viable alternative to manned aircraft and vehicles in the pursuit of a variety of different mission goals. They provide several advantages over these platforms, and these benefits are magnified when full autonomy and BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) operations are added to the equation.

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Drone operations for a sustainable future

 With climate change and sustainability concerns continuing to grow, many businesses will have to find new and alternative ways to operate that will help bring down their environmental footprints as well as their tax bills. Most small drone platforms used for commercial and industrial purposes are electrically powered, meaning that their use can help contribute to lowering emissions and to reducing society’s reliance on fossil fuels. Hydrogen fuel cell-based solutions, which produce water as the sole emission, are also increasingly being considered for drone propulsion.

One market sector that could particularly benefit from the adoption of clean drone technologies is logistics. The obvious advantage is the reduction in emissions from delivery aircraft as well as trucks, but convenient drone deliveries serving residential areas and small businesses could also reduce the number of journeys being made to pick up packages or buy small amounts of items.

The widespread regulatory approval of BVLOS drone flights will further improve the effect on environmental footprints. Operators will no longer have to keep driving to new locations to conduct deliveries under LOS (line of sight) rules, which typically limit the range of drones to less than a kilometer.

 

Minimizing operational costs

Crude oil-derived fuels are not only impactful on the environment, but as recent world events have shown, they can be subject to very sudden and massive price increases that may be hard to predict and prepare for. Switching to electric-powered drone operations may help future-proof businesses against further spikes in price and bring down overall operating costs.

Running costs aside, the drones themselves are also generally cheaper than manned aircraft or helicopters. Their logistical footprint is lower, and many models can simply be transported in a small carrying case rather than needing to be left in a rented hangar or on an airfield. Being smaller and less mechanically complex, they are also cheaper and easier to maintain, and integrating and swapping out payloads can be simpler and less time-consuming.

Drone operators take less time and money to train than manned aircraft and helicopter pilots, and personnel costs can be lowered even further when you factor in autonomy. A scaled-up fully autonomous drone business will not require a pilot and possibly a separate sensor operator to be assigned to every aircraft. Once the industry moves away from LOS and EVLOS (extended visual line of sight), this will also do away with the need for visual observers along the mission route.

Enhanced versatility and safety

The ability to take to the air gives drones an obvious advantage over even the most rugged of all-terrain land vehicles. Thanks to their smaller size and lower requirements for takeoff and landing, they can also be deployed for applications that manned aircraft and helicopters cannot handle, and can travel at lower altitudes, under bridges, near power lines and wind turbines, in and around urban areas, and even indoors.

Drones can also be put to use in hazardous or hard-to-reach environments without exposing human pilots to risk. They are ideal for operations in disaster zones, chemical and industrial accidents, mountainous regions and other such areas where piloted missions would be too dangerous. BVLOS missions will expand the scope of this type of work even further, and autonomy will also have its part to play in risk reduction by removing operator fatigue as a factor.

Enabling the future of unmanned aviation

As we have seen, BVLOS can act as a multiplier for the advantages that drones already have over traditional operations. However, there is still a way to go before BVLOS flights can be seamlessly integrated into national airspaces around the world, and regulatory bodies are continuing to work out the details.

One of the biggest concerns is that of safety. If you are thinking ahead and looking to convert your business to BVLOS drone operations or to start a new venture from scratch, your proposed solution needs a robust long-range communications solution that will bring peace of mind both for you and your aviation authority.

Elsight’s Halo drone connectivity platform allows you to harness the benefits of cellular communications, including the advanced features of 5G that provide the critical response times and data throughput that are key to the future of commercial drone applications.

With the ability to aggregate up to four unique datalinks from multiple carriers, Halo’s unique cellular bonding capabilities provide maximum redundancy and reliability for BVLOS drone flights, as well as AI-powered automatic traffic balancing that delivers maximum possible bandwidth under changing network conditions.

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