Guest Editorial by Adam Robertson, Fortem Technologies founder and CTO
Some people say I have my head in the clouds. They’re right, and I’m in good company.
Advances in UAV technology have made it possible to think of a world where many of our everyday activities happen in the air — from having a package delivered via drone, to traveling through a city to work in a UAV.
We’re already seeing incredible examples of this technology in action.
Zipline’s autonomous delivery aircraft is used to drop vital medical supplies and blood in countries like Ghana and Rwanda, where traditional road delivery is impossible.
(See how startup Zipline specializes in drones that deliver blood, vaccines and other medical supplies in Africa. Courtesy of CNET and YouTube.)
Last year, Amazon received a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certificate to begin drone deliveries. Wing delivered books to Virginia students stuck at home during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Klein Vision’s hybrid car-aircraft, AirCar, recently ran a 35-minute test flight in Slovakia.
(Meet AirCar, a dual-mode car-aircraft vehicle as it fulfills a key development milestone in a 35-minute flight from the international airport in Nitra to the international airport in Bratislava on June 28th, 2021. Courtesy of KleinVision and YouTube.)
The technology is here, but we are far from actualizing this futuristic vision of advanced air mobility.
The FAA’s BEYOND program is a step in the right direction, especially with its focus on “beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations that are repeatable, scalable and economically viable.”
But in order to safely fulfill a goal of advanced air mobility, we have to consider more than BVLOS operations.
We must digitize the airspace to understand, in real-time, what’s there, where it’s going, and whether it presents a threat to other aircraft, people, or things on the ground.
Drones and UAVs have long been operating under their own set of rules separate from the National Airspace System (NAS).
Any UAV operating below 400 feet is operating in the ‘wild west’. There is no traffic control telling you what’s flying around you.
While this isn’t an issue today, in order for commercial UAVs to become a reality, we need to know what’s flying in the air at all times.
The new remote ID rule is the FAA’s answer to integrating drones in the national airspace.
This rule requires UAVs to broadcast identification and location information that can be received by a third party, such as law enforcement.
In addition, the new Unmanned Aircraft Systems Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight Operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee (UAS BVLOS ARC) was created to provide recommendations to the FAA for the requirements needed for safe, scalable, and economic UAS BVLOS operations that are not under air traffic control.
Essentially, to figure out a way to allow for the commercial use of UAVs and the technology needed to operate safely. Again, a step in the right direction.
But even before we get to BVLOS, we must digitize the airspace so that we can fully monitor the traffic in the air, much like we do today with traffic on the ground.
(Learn How Fortem Technologies provides total airspace security and defense for an autonomous world, protecting designated areas such as venues, infrastructures, sites, cities, and regions from the ground up. Fortem SkyDome® and TrueView® radar digitize any environment to detect, classify and provide threat assessment for all ground and airborne objects, maximizing situational awareness. Skydome provides intelligent data collection and analytics, integrates with other security sensors and systems, and ensures an appropriate integrated response better than any system in the world. Courtesy of Fortem Technologies and YouTube.)
A roadmap for the skies
How we treat our air space could be analogous to how we treat our nation and states’ roads and highways. Over the last decades, state and local governments have invested in technology and infrastructure to digitize our roadways in an effort to make them safer.
Inductive loop detectors have been around since the 1960s. Used in coordination with traffic lights at roadway intersections and on freeways, they detect traffic changes and incidents, travel speed, and vehicle classification.
Microwave radar detectors can be used to detect vehicle presence, speed, and even pedestrians waiting for a crosswalk. Active infrared detectors are often used in tunnels to detect overheating vehicles or fires.
Automated license plate readers (ALPR) scan vehicle license plates for matches to a database of known criminal plates. If there’s a match, ALPR notifies law enforcement, who can take immediate action to take the car off the road.
Cameras of all kinds monitor when we run red lights, our speed, where traffic is building, or sometimes nothing at all. Dummy cameras passively encourage drivers to follow the law.
How to digitize the airspace
These technological advancements have changed the way we get around and made the roads we travel safer.
Just like we invest in our roads and bridges, we must invest in our UAV airspace and treat it like any other piece of infrastructure that must be monitored and maintained.
There’s a world in which UAV remote IDs can not only share their identification or location information to law enforcement but can also be shared with the FAA or a governing body that monitors the skies below 400 ft.
Just as radar detectors measure traffic presence and speed, sensors and radar can be used to monitor the air; identify high-traffic areas and the speed at which UAVs are traveling.
In conjunction with remote ID data, steps can be taken to identify offending UAVs and keep the air safer.
Digital-first airspace is necessary for advanced air mobility
In this future world, the airspace will be so busy that human air traffic controllers can’t do it alone — we must digitize the airspace.
We must have the ability to fully monitor traffic in the air below 400 feet, much like we do on our highways and roads on the ground.
Until we can fully digitize the airspace and understand what’s safely flying in the sky, we will not be able to actualize this vision of advanced air mobility, regardless of how accessible this technology becomes.
The future we have gives us the freedom to move. It will remove gridlock and it will move more people — we have to take it to the air.
About the Author
Adam Robertson, Fortem Technologies founder, and CTO, began developing miniature radar technology in graduate school over 24 years ago.
At Intel, Hewlett Packard, Agilent, and Honeywell he gained experience with semi-conductors, microwave electronics, aerospace instrumentation, and project/program management.
Adam was an instrumental leader in growing a small business from a handful of people to over 100 employees.
Developing drone-based miniature radar for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and leading the business development team, Adam was key in securing more than $100M in contracts in the company’s first few years.
Most recently, Adam co-founded Fortem Technologies in 2016, and with the aid of investor capital developed the world’s most advanced miniature radar for drone detection and a highly autonomous flying drone hunter system.
Adam has also served as a Representative at Utah’s House of Representatives since 2018.
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SkyDome System 3.7 also pairs DroneHunter’s extensive mitigation range with a long-range camera option that extends the ability to validate a target visually.
While many competing drone solutions utilize camera systems that only have a ~30X zoom, SkyDome System 3.7 offers visual validation up to three times further utilizing an 88X zoom camera.
In conjunction with Fortem TrueView radar, this enhanced visual validation range now allows Fortem to boast one of the longest end-to-end detection, validation, and mitigation ranges in the industry.
SkyDome System 3.7 also introduced urban clutter suppression algorithms which allows the system to accurately view threatening drones in urban and other high clutter environments.
(Drone sales have exploded in the past few years, filling the air with millions of new aircraft. Simple modifications to these drones by criminals and terrorists have left people, privacy and physical and intellectual property totally exposed. Courtesy of Fortem Technologies, and YouTube.)
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