Fortune issued an article on May 5th titled, “This unsexy technology is set to revolutionize the drone industry,” by Clay Dillow
The article discusses two main technologies, automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (or ADS-B) and miniaturized scanning radar beam. It is not clear but I believe the scanning radar beam he is referring to is AESA Radar or something similar because he references Fighter Jets as a platform that uses that technology. ADS-B is important because it is technology that broadcasts a crafts GPS position both to Air Traffic Control as well as nearby aircraft with the intent of preventing collisions. The article references the MH370 as a tragic incident that has brought this tech into the spot-light because in theory it would have allowed authorities to find the airplane. Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar can generate 3-dimensional images or point clouds which can help drones see and avoid obstacles in 3D space. I think Clay usually writes a good article, but I thought this one was okay. I give it (2 drones out of 5) http://fortune.com/2015/05/05/drone-technology/
My Take – Clay references two important technologies, but there are others that I believe are already more widely adopted.
The first is Ultrasonic technology. It works much like sonar systems on boats and senses your proximity to the ground or other objects. The technology is used in the DJI Inspire and Phantom 3 to help improve indoor navigation by maintaining a constant altitude. However, in smaller and lighter forms, current systems become ineffective when a vehicle is moving at high speeds. Those DJI crafts also utilize an optical flow sensor which is a downward facing camera that measures the rate of motion in relation to the ground. The next important technology is Light Detection and Ranging (or LIDAR) which like radar, has the ability to generate 3D images or point clouds that allow crafts to navigate around obstacles. The last tech I will mention is Hyperspectral or Multispectral sensor technology which are special cameras designed to detect specific energy bands on the electromagnetic spectrum. For example, they can be used to detect smoke, certain vegetation, water, and other specific items. I spent some time working with this technology at Lockheed and will explain it in more detail in a later post. There are several technologies that either exist now or are rapidly evolving to help make drone navigation much safer and more effective and I look forward to seeing the progress.
What’s your take?