Several companies developing next generation technologies for drones exhibited their solutions at the fourth annual UAS Public Safety Summit last week. The summit was focused on applications related to public safety that enhance capabilities for law enforcement and first responders.
Solutions presented at the summit included detect-and-avoid technologies, a module that tracks cell phone signals for search and rescue missions, and a platform for public safety officials to publish safety advisories about drone operations.
Hidden Level, headquartered in Syracuse, New York, specializes in low-altitude drone sensing software. The company offers a cloud-based solution, the Airspace Monitoring Service (AMS), to process data from sensors to track drones in real time. According to the company, its technology can detect the movements of more than 95% of commercially manufactured unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Hidden Level’s team has collaborated with NASA’s Ames Research Center to evaluate use of the AMS for drone traffic management applications and advanced air mobility (AAM) services. Hidden Level’s sensors enabled monitoring of both cooperative and non-cooperative low-altitude airspace traffic at Moffett Federal Airfield. The AMS data can also support research efforts related to airspace characterization; enable safe take-off and landing at vertiports; and monitor flight conformance.
Hidden Level is also involved in a partnership with Joby Aviation, developer of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. The companies share their expertise in designing scalable airspace operations, relying on data collected by Hidden Level’s sensors installed in dense urban environments.
“We offer drone detection as a service,” explained James Licata, VP of Strategy and Partnerships at Hidden Level. “We build our own sensor technology and install it ourselves on rooftops and cell towers, typically in metropolitan areas, to cover as wide an area as we can,” he told Avionics International during the Public Safety Summit.
The AMS collects data on any drones operating in a given airspace and shares that data with agencies such as local law enforcement or corporate security. Hidden Level installs the technology and maintains it, and provides a data feed to the agency.
According to Licata, the company’s current focus is expanding its network to new cities. He noted that they have expanded coverage in the Northeast, and have installations in Mountain View, California, as well as Dallas Fort Worth. “We’re also working on some FAA initiatives,” he mentioned. “It’s been a lot of growth over the past year—we’ve doubled in size.”
Echodyne, a company that designs and manufactures radars for a range of markets, also exhibited its software at last week’s UAS Public Safety Summit. The software uses artificial intelligence to detect and avoid objects in the airspace such as birds, drones, and other aircraft. It detects not only location and speed but also altitude, size, and range.
Brooks Davis, Director, SLED – Public Safety for Echodyne, told Avionics that the company is constantly updating its software. “Have there been any revolutionary technical changes in the way detect-and-avoid is done? No,” he said. “This is ESA [electronically scanned array] radar—a miniaturized version of what’s in the nose of fighter jets. There’s a lot of possibilities with it.”
Some of these possibilities include putting Echodyne’s software on tethered quadcopters, autonomously flown vehicles, and fixed-wing aircraft. It could certainly be used for eVTOL aircraft, Davis commented. For public safety applications, users can perform masking with Echodyne’s software, essentially telling the radar to ignore a particular location or stationary object.
Echodyne’s software can detect objects as small as butterflies, according to Davis, and can distinguish between different types of aircraft such as drones and helicopters. “New Jersey State Police just bought four of these and is going to mount them on a trailer to use for special events like concerts,” he said.
“Our radar is going to see what RF is not,” Davis mentioned. The range of detection for instrumented vehicles is 6 kilometers. For a Cessna, the range is greater than 2 km, and for something like a Phantom 4, the range is 750 meters or more.
While the software can be configured with four panels for 360-degree awareness, customers can use one panel for a field of view of 120 degrees azimuth and 80 degrees elevation.
A new company called Flyhound, which also participated in the UAS Public Safety Summit, is set to launch its solution in October. Flyhound makes a module that can attach to a commercial drone and detect cell phone signals. The solution was originally designed with search and rescue missions in mind, said Manny Cerniglia, CEO and founder of the company.
Flyhound’s module can help first responders during or after a natural disaster like a flood or tornado to locate survivors that may still be in their homes. According to Cerniglia, they are considering a version of the technology that tracks specific individuals. The module would attach to a firefighter’s equipment, for example, to detect their location inside a building and assist them more quickly.
Another company at the summit that demonstrated its solutions for drones was Aloft. Aloft powers the Federal Aviation Administration’s drone safety app, B4UFLY. The app allows recreational and commercial drone operators to check the airspace before taking flight, and it provides alerts regarding active airspace advisories.
Aloft launched Geo Portal, a free tool for publishing safety advisories related to drone operations, in May this year. The platform supports both permanent and temporary advisories, according to CEO and founder Jon Hegranes, and operators can also schedule future advisories. The Aloft Geo Portal was developed for use cases such as firefighting, public events with special drone rules in effect, and operations in areas with relevant local drone regulations.
“About a third of Geo users are law enforcement or first responders,” Hegranes remarked.
One unique feature of the app is called Notify & Fly. This allows operators to anonymously announce to other drone pilots that they are flying in a particular area, increasing situational awareness as more drones are integrated into the national airspace—without sacrificing privacy, according to Aloft.
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