THE EYE IN THE SKY: New fleets of unmanned vehicles

Posted by: In: Services 24 Jan 2014 Tags: , ,

Trains and boats and planes are putting increasing demands on spectrum resources. But ATDI’s experience with one of them is helping to accommodate the others.     

The company pioneered aspects of spectrum sharing when it produced a report for Nomad, a provider of wi-fi services for rail passengers. ATDI’s work ensured the on-board broadband was functional and did not interfere with vital systems such as radars when the train passed through or near an airport.

“Spectrum sharing was a big part of the innovative work we did for Nomad,” comments ATDI managing director Peter Paul. “We found ways sharing could be done that meant the wi-fi worked on the train and without causing problems elsewhere – and they were ideas that definitely broke new ground when we first proposed them.”

Some way further down the route ATDI opened up such thinking which is being applied to whole new fleets of unmanned vehicles taking to the air and the water. ATDI’s news services have already noted the Environment Agency’s increased use of robot boats to monitor the winter’s floods, and Rolls Royce’s proposal for unmanned ocean-going cargo vessels. These developments add to the latest generation of unmanned aerial vehicles as organisations from the police to power companies to photographic agencies seek to harness the potential of the eye in the sky. And every vehicle needs spectrum to control it and for it to deliver data back to base.

This drain on scarce resources is a constant problem across the developed world. In the US, it is estimated there will be an additional 7500 new drones flying in the next five years; some of these will be civilian and some military and the Department of Defense produced a spectrum strategy document in February looking at how to accommodate them all. Spectrum sharing is at the heart of that.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us on identifying exactly what the needs are,” Federal Communications Commission chief engineer Julian Knapp commented, adding: “Spectrum sharing is going to be a given.”

Industry leaders in the US feel a positive aspect is that the demands of unmanned vehicles will drive new technology related to spectrum sharing.

In the UK, spectrum sharing is also being looked at as an option as is the potential use of white space; Ofcom is considering all potential uses of white space frequencies and the needs of drones are on the organisation’s agenda.

In the meantime, the Civil Aviation Authority has defined the rules for flying unmanned aircraft: the vehicle must weigh less than 20kg and must not fly higher than 122 metres or further away from the operator than 500 metres. This would restrict Amazon’s vaunted delivery-by-drone proposal: the only customers who could be served would have to live within 500 metres of an Amazon depot or the drone would have to fly above a van in which the operator was sitting.

Amazon notwithstanding, the current range of civilian uses is huge. From power companies inspecting lines to environmental groups seeking to monitor wildlife in remote areas to companies who make their profits from photographing golf courses, aerial drones are being used to go where piloted aircraft cannot – either through physics or cost.

“As a pilot myself, I am very conscious of the potential of unmanned vehicles,” Peter comments. “When there are fleets of them in the air and on the water, it will be satisfying to know ATDI’s work on the rails helped make that happen.”

 

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