Drone-powerhouse DJI just took aim at dominating the commercial drone market with the launch of its new Matrice 200 (M200) drone at the World Mobile Conference in Barcelona, Spain. The new drone offers a few firsts for DJI and has a lot of customization options which makes it a versatile choice to tackle a wide range of commercial applications.
New features include a dual forward-facing gimble set up. This allows the operator to attached both a HD video camera and a sensor apparatus like a FLIR thermal camera (or whatever combo you want!). The drone also has an upward facing gimble that is placed on the top of the drone—also a first. This gimble is a much needed addition that will make activities like bridge inspection (where you fly under the bridge!) much easier and safer.
But the new feature the team a Drone Dossier is most interested in is the claim this new drone will be “weather resistant”. This is a key issue when talking about commercial application of drones because if you are outside you are going to run into inclement weather. A drone’s ability to perform well in these conditions will be key in making them a viable option for large scale operations. We will have to see how “weather resistant” the drone is once it hits the market.
The M200 also boasts robust sense and avoid ability. It comes standard with sensors, located to either side of its built-in flying camera, which helps the drone with obstacle avoidance by rending objects in 3D. The M200 also has a built-in ADS-B receiver which will alert the drone and pilot if there is another aircraft nearby.
This new drone is not the first drone aimed at more commercial applications that DJI has built. The larger M600 (6-rotor) drone has been out for a while. But the new M200 has the new features mentioned above and only has a 4-rotor power system. Given the powerful software tools available for DJI drones, the M200 is shaping up to be a versatile and able drone that can tackle many of the commercial uses of drones that are starting to take off nationwide (power line inspection, bridge inspection, search & rescue, etc). The M200 is expected to hit the markets sometime in the second quarter of 2017.
A recent report from Research and Markets reveals that the UAV sense and avoid market generated $41.5 million in 2015. The reports also predicts exponential growth over the next decade as the need for sense and avoid systems is driven by the overall increase in drone usage commercially, militarily and for hobby purposes.
Sense and avoid technology for drones will be crucial in making drone operations more autonomous. Indeed, many aviation authorities are making robust sense and avoid systems a requirement that must be proven before any non-piloted commercial uses of drones can ever take place. One of the interesting opportunities the report identifies is the use of sense and avoid for swarm drones.
The report the high cost (at this time) of sense and avoid systems as one of the major restraints of the industry—especially when it comes to collisions avoidance for sUAS.
The reports also identified the following companies it believes will be key players in the growing sense and avoid market.
Intel Corporation, Leonardo- Finmeccanica Spa, BAE Systems Honeywell International Inc., General Atomics, Panoptes Systems, Aerialtronics, Sagetech Corporation, Sagem Safran, IMSAR LLC, Thales Group, Exelis Inc.
At the CES Las Vegas semiconductor and telecommunications company Qualcomm introduced its new Snapdragon Flight Drone Platform that allows a drone to autonomously create flight paths that recognize and avoid obstacles with real time machine learning.
At CES, Qualcomm’s set resembled a cluttered warehouse to demonstrate the abilities of its new platform. It is important to note that Qualcomm’s platform does not need GPS to operate, which make it ideal for indoor flying where GPS can be unreliable.
The onboard navigation processor weighs less than a AAA battery and allows the drone to fly completely autonomously without any off-board computing.
Pretty cool stuff that reminds the team at Drone Dossier of research being done by MIT students back in November of 2015.
If you follow drones at all, you have read stories of planes nearly hitting drones in areas around airports. Some say that a single drone doesn’t present much danger to a large airliner, but a new study conducted by the FAA and its European counterpart the EASA found that medium to larger sized drones could pose a serious risk if they hit a passenger plane.
Unlike birds, drones are made of much harder materials like carbon fiber that can damage a plane’s fuselage with a direct hit or maybe even take out an engine. As an engineer working on the study said, “Birds can disintegrate relatively easily…you get something like a very viscous bulk of fluid on the other side. A drone can be like a rock going through the engine.”
Hopefully this research will dissuade people from flying drones near airports. It also shows the necessity of better sense and avoid systems and even build in overrides that will not allow idiots to fly drones in restricted airspace.
Even though drone package delivery is just taking flight, researchers in Switzerland are already looking into the possibility of a personal transportation drone which they refer to as a Personal Aerial Vehicle (PAV).
In order for this to work sense and avoid systems need to become more advanced and will have to consider the smoothness of flight, beyond just avoiding obstacles. While the research is still theoretical it is pretty crazy to think about.
The Ohio Department of Transportation and the Air Force Research Lab are teaming together to test sense and avoid systems at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport in Ohio.
The hope is that the FAA will approve the airport for beyond line of sight drone testing, which would make it the first airport to be given such clearance in the US. According to the plan, the drones will be monitored by a new ground-based sensor system developed by Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
If approved the $5 million investment will be money well spent as it will draw companies like Amazon to the airport to take advantage of its clearance for beyond line of site testing.
Ohio is an interesting place for beyond line of sight testing of sense and avoid systems as it has rural areas, that are fairly heavily populated. It will be interesting to see how Nevada (the only State designated as a UAV test site) will react and whether it will pursue similar authority to conduct beyond line of site testing.