How will companies and citizens handle monitoring drones and keeping track of activities in the air, as commercial applications like retail drone delivery expand?
The following is a guest post by Sergio Rodriguez at Access Partnership, global policy consultants unlocking new markets for the world’s newest technology. DRONELIFE neither accepts nor makes payment for guest posts.
Keeping an eye on the sky: What’s next on monitoring drones
In recent years, the public image of drones has changed from undesired, unexpected, and sometimes alien devices. Technological artifacts threaten our wellbeing and privacy, generating instant panic the moment a buzzing set of propellers disrupted the harmony of nearby airspace. However, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are now closer to a human extension rather than an intruder. The incorporation of drones in logistics, security, exploration, agriculture, and even personal transport is projecting a growth of $129.2 billion in the drone market by 2025 (source: Forbes). To secure a smooth further integration of drones in our daily lives, the development of effective monitoring of drone activities will be a key component.
Keeping track of drone movement must evolve according to the growth of the industry, the trend of drone trackers must aim to develop user-friendly interfaces to provide drone traffic information in real-time. The early stages of UAV radars and detectors have gradually adapted to the latest releases by the market-leading drone manufacturers. This will enable real-time monitoring of UAVs in action e.g., a parcel delivery, assistance on building construction, or the irrigation of a crop field. This will also help mitigate the still existing malicious uses of drone technology by identifying the drones in function of their use.
Drone monitoring technology keeps evolving to the point of turning every smartphone or computer into a real-time drone movement monitor. Similarly, some websites and apps provide live updates on aerial traffic such as Freedar UK. Many of the tech giants in the drone industry and mobile communications are now investing to develop effective methods to create digital platforms that will enable the integration of a new sort of aerial traffic: the unpiloted team.
According to the latest releases by Business Insider, the predicted 2.4 million consumer drone shipments by 2023 will create a great interest by the logistic giants to implement and share the real-time information progress of unpiloted deliveries. An effective and reassuring way to perform real-time drone monitoring is by enabling a trustable method to track and pinpoint UAVs during their missions. The projected growth in drones will certainly help alleviate the congested roads in the largest urban areas, as well as facilitate reaching the remotest locations in rural settlements – and tracking methods will play an essential role. The vision of technological growth is to create an aerial road, so to speak, in which drone traffic can coexist harmonically and in a controlled manner.
Monitoring Drones – the Counter-Drone Ecosystem
The evolution of detection and mitigation of drones has boomed in the last 5 years with interesting and disruptive developments from the well-known companies in the industry. Drone detectors and trackers vary depending on the cost, range, and functionality. If we take the clock back a few years we can find the pioneering drone radars reporting any small aerial activity in a customised rudimentary platform (e.g., Echodyne). However, since UAVs have evolved exponentially as well, these companies have adapted their products accordingly.
Nowadays the market offers a wide selection of cost-effective drone detection solutions integrating cutting edge communication systems such as radio frequency (RF) passive detectors which analyse the frequency spectrum activity and detect the presence of drone’s complex communications protocols using machine learning and artificial intelligence, (e.g.,DroneShield, Dedrone, Drone Defence). Moreover, rockstars of mobile communications such as phased array antennas have made a triumphal entry in the world of drone detection by adapting military-grade equipment into user-friendly and easily installable drone detectors (e.g., Aaronia, Radiansa, Echodyne). With special attention to the latest releases from Echodyne, such as EchoGuard which not only offer exceptional and compact drone radars but also ensure a simple way to combine their effective counter-drone radars with additional devices to effectively keep the skies invigilated creating the much-needed system interoperability to lead the way in future developments. In addition to more sophisticated hardware, manufacturers have tended to create digital platforms to present in a clear and illustrated manner all the data gathered by their products, which converges in a single item: a website or an app.
Mobile applications or web pages are undoubtedly the perfect gateways to inform the user of the latest in aerial activity in their surroundings. This trend becomes a guideline for the next developments, as the user may be more comfortable looking at a map and a moving drone icon pinpointing its movement rather than using bulky equipment and a typical black screen throwing incomprehensive metrics. Along with the hardware revolution in drone detection systems, classification must be another key aspect of the aerial unmanned traffic, and this must also be supported by enabling regulation on intelligent detection systems. This feature will determine the purpose of any individual vehicle in transit within an invigilated airspace. By classifying the drone activity in the skies, not only there will be better control of the programmed and expected movement of the service UAVs, but there will also be a timely alert of any potential malicious drone surrounding an area of interest.
According to Statista, only in North America, sales of consumer drones to dealers surpassed $1.25 billion last year. However, only 869,994 drones are currently registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): of which 350,608 are commercial vehicles and 515,997 are recreational. Similar proportions are shown by the UK Civil Authority. This suggests an evident trend on most of the registered vehicles to be of personal, non-commercial use: which, despite being registered, could be subject to malicious purposes. llegal or unauthorised drones could disrupt the privacy of a household, smuggle illegal merchandise, or in the worst case drop explosives over a target. For this purpose, the classification of UAVs must be a priority for the drone detectors and trackers, and this is an observed growing trend in the latest releases.
Is Monitoring Drones a Job for Manufacturers?
As the number one drone manufacturer in the global market, DJI has taken the first step in integrating a classifier with a user-friendly interface with DJI Aeroscope. DJI recently revealed to the market this innovative RF/radar sensor able to detect, track, monitor, and classify any drone activity within a range of 50 Km if these vehicles are built by DJI. Since DJI drones constitute nearly 70% of the market, a DJI Aeroscope would cover a large proportion of the possible unauthorised flights within the coverage area and of course, this sensor displays a map with real-time drone movement. It is therefore expected that the rest of the leading UAV manufacturers (e.g., Parrot, Yuneec, Kespry, etc.) will follow on this trend soon, creating a unified standard to keep track of their own drones in similar interfaces, or will agree on the compatibility or interoperability of these platforms within a single mobile app or website. A good example of these platforms is AirMap which is a trend to be downloaded for apple devices and has started to gather relevant data from different sensors around the world.
All in all, the current trends on drone tracking systems seem to be adapting well to the upcoming developments from the lead manufacturers, however, special attention is needed to develop easily accessible platforms where relevant data of drone traffic can be consulted on the go. Although it is true that the latest trends in hardware are incorporating the best of the available commercial technologies and are powered by artificial intelligence, it is also essential to consider the user as the new recipient of this information and not a specialised business capable to understand large and complex amounts of data. Governmental legislators and regulatory authorities are also adapting the rules to enable this integration to a brave new world, these trends must keep on the path of reaching a unification.
In conclusion, there is still a long way to go in terms of full integration of drones into our daily lives, in part slowed down by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemics, which could potentially change the trends according to the latest technological releases and given the possibility of rearrangement of priorities for the technological giants. This comes as there is a possibility of enabling drone traffic with more relaxed legislation control to unlocking remote-controlled logistics supporting a home-based new model of business. Drone manufacturers and drone detectors will keep evolving as technology will tend to automatise more aspects of our daily lives.
Sergio Rodriguez is an Engineer and supports Access Partnership’s Infrastructure practice. He holds a BSc in Electronics and Communications Engineering from the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico (IPN) and an MSc and PhD in wireless communication systems from The University of Sheffield, specialising in 5G reconfigurable antennas. He is also a member of the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) and has worked in the past for Siemens, The University of Sheffield and Drone Defence Services Ltd prior to join Access Partnership.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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