Regional UAS Public Safety-focused workshops begin in Virginia

On Thursday, June 27, the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) announced the first in a series of regional UAS Public Safety-focused workshops, which are presented by the Virginia Center for Unmanned Systems and the Office of the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security. Brian Moran, secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, provided an overview of the state of UAS in the Commonwealth during the first workshop, which took place at the Virginia Public Safety Training Center in Hanover, Virginia.  The workshops will seek to accomplish several things, including providing localities with the proper education on the rules and regulations regarding deploying UAS, outlining how to navigate a number of different FAA authorizations, addressing legal considerations, and determining the resources needed for local police, fire departments or other organizations with interests in public safety to establish UAS programs. The workshops will also include case studies using UAS for risk assessments, search and rescue, and disaster response, to name a few. “These workshops build relationships between local, state, and federal agencies to encourage public safety officials to collaborate on UAS initiatives,” says Tracy Tynan, director, The Virginia Center for Unmanned Systems at CIT. “Bringing together communities to share ideas and support UAS expansion requires constant engagement, advocacy, and education from a broad range of players, from legislatures, to drone manufacturers, to pilots, to service providers and beyond. Education is a critical and key component for expanding and deploying UAS capabilities.”

University of Iowa graduates develop robotic quarterback for football players

University of Iowa (UI) graduates have developed what they are calling the first autonomous training device for football receivers. Known as the Seeker, the robotic quarterback throws footballs to receivers autonomously, allowing players to practice independently. The robot also provides a plethora of beneficial data that allows coaches to track the work ethic of their players, including the time of day the player practiced, the number of repetitions, and how quickly they were completed. Video footage of the Seeker in action can be seen below: “We did research to find out if something like this has been done before. The closest machine being used is 45 years old with a patent that expired over 20 years ago,” says Nate Pierotti, one of the robot’s developers. “There is so much room for improvement. We moved forward knowing there was a large gap in technology and realizing we could fill that gap.” Pierotti was a third-year engineering student at UI when he told friends Connor Early and Sawyer Theisen about the idea of the Seeker. Pierotti and Early met in a UI engineering course, and eventually became business partners when Pierotti shared his vision of the Seeker with Early. “If I hadn’t been at the UI, I wouldn’t have met Nate or been part of this company,” Early says. “There were a lot of projects we worked on in school that helped us communicate and work together.” After Pierotti and Early started working together, Pierotti reached out to Ben Hansen, assistant director of football operations for the University of Iowa’s football team, who put Pierotti in touch with the rest of the coaching staff to pitch the idea. Pierotti says that the coaches were impressed with the idea of the Seeker, and assured him that if and when the product came to life, the football team would back it up. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without the UI football staff,” Theisen says. “They’ve been invaluable to our progress. On top of their support, they are some of our biggest proponents.” Upon Pierotti’s and Early’s graduation in 2016, Monarc, the company behind the Seeker, was solidified. Pierotti became the CEO, while Early became the software engineer. Two Northwestern graduates, Igor Karlicic and Bhargav Maganti, are co-founders and mechanical engineers for the company, while Theisen joined the team as director of sales and marketing a little over a year ago. With his alma mater already supporting the idea of the Seeker, Pierotti says that Monarc is working to spread the word about the Seeker to other football programs across the country. With this in mind, the Monarc team is demonstrating the Seeker in action to different football programs, as many coaches believe that the robot is “simply too good to be true,” according to Theisen. Meanwhile, the Iowa football program continues to support Monarc and its Seeker robot, as the program has opened facilities, coaches, and players to help with the testing and development of the robot. Now that the Seeker is complete—production for it finished last fall—Iowa is looking forward to putting it to use and helping spread the word about Monarc, Pierotti says. “We owe a lot to Iowa football,” Pierotti says. “We have met friends in the program that I think we will have forever. It’s not that they just want their team to be successful, but they want to see us succeed as well.” Although the company is currently focused on the sport of football, Monarc is hopeful that in the future, it can branch out to create machines for numerous sports, in an effort to not only help individuals grow, but also help coaches truly know their players.

K-State Polytechnic, Simlat partner to provide BVLOS simulator training

The Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus Applied Aviation Research Center has partnered with UAS simulation company Simlat to provide beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) simulator training. The simulators will be part of a partnership with the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), and initially will be used to train partners involved in the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program. Course participants will receive a comprehensive training experience on simulation, as well as live flight events. “Simlat's technology allows us to create a highly realistic representation of the operational environment in which we will be conducting our beyond line of sight operations,” says Kurt J. Carraway, UAS executive director of the Applied Aviation Research Center at Kansas State Polytechnic Campus. “The use of the simulator enables our flight instructors to control environmental conditions and inject anomalies into simulated unmanned aircraft systems to provide initial, abnormal and emergency scenarios to ensure our pilots are trained to respond correctly should these instances occur in live flight. Simlat did a great job in working with us to create a very realistic environment for our operations.” Described as a “seven-day immersive course,” the BVLOS training program will provide participants with a series of ground instruction and hands-on flight instruction. Through the simulator training, course participants can build flight plans and transition effortlessly from simulation to actual live flight. Thanks to the flexibility of the Simlat simulators, instructors can also program unique flight conditions and a variety of flight scenarios such as system failures and environmental and weather conditions. Kansas State Polytechnic notes that as part of the established partnership between Simlat and Kansas State Polytechnic, Simlat produced a simulation environment specific to Kansas, which allowed for detailed BVLOS operations within a local environment. This allows pilots, training participants and students to develop a flight plan with a direct transition from simulator to aircraft. “We are honored to participate in this important Integrated Pilot Program and look forward to a long-term relationship with Kansas State Polytechnic's prestigious UAS program,” says Roy Peshin, Simlat's chief technology officer. Eventually, the BVLOS simulation training curriculum will expand to Kansas State Polytechnic's UAS degree program offerings.

Airborne Response conducts UAS training exercise with National Guard and others

On Jan. 24, Airborne Response completed a full-scale training exercise called Exercise Lightning Shield, during which it provided aerial support for the U.S. Army National Guard, as well as specialized elements of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department, at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. A Miami-based provider of “Mission Critical Unmanned Solutions” for industry and government, Airborne Response says that by deploying a force made up of UAS and Tethered Aerostat Systems (TAS) flight teams, it was able to provide “comprehensive low-altitude umbrella” capable of delivering aerial intelligence throughout the simulated disaster response exercise. “Delivering multiple live aerial data feeds to command and control elements was our primary objective,” says Nathaniel Clutch, director of training for Airborne Response.   “We identified several potential systems for testing, and proved our capability to send real-time video streams from each asset to the incident command.” According to Clutch, the TAS were deployed to provide uninterrupted aerial overwatch throughout the exercise. Meanwhile, the UAS, which were equipped with assorted payload sensors, captured a number of focal length views and perspectives of each training evolution. “We increase our knowledge base by capturing key learning outcomes and garnering new experience each time we deploy,” Clutch explains.  “Exercise Lightning Shield provided us with additional insight as to which systems we need to have available when we deploy UAS and TAS during a complex emergency or disaster response.” Clutch believes that training exercises like Lightning Shield help Airborne Response better prepare for real-world disaster deployments. Ty Rozier, field operations manager for Airborne Response, agrees. These exercises also provide an opportunity for Airborne Response to test new equipment and software to determine what gear should be used for specific types of incidents. With this in mind, Airborne Response also used Lightening Shield to test a new version of a hardened American-made UAS that has specialized flight control and stability software designed to fly in non-GPS environments. The UAS has been used in underground mine shafts, as well as by SWAT teams for dynamic entry bleaching. “The system proved extremely valuable for simulating search and rescue operations under the race track grandstands, as well as conducting aerial sweeps for possible secondary devices up in the rafters,” Rozier says. For Clutch, though, success at the end of the day really comes down to the team, not the equipment. “We have an incredible team that has both trained together and also responded to real-world disasters together,” Clutch says. “That is what differentiates Airborne Response from other solution providers.”

Oceans Unmanned, DARTDrones train NOAA personnel on UAS operations

Seven NOAA ship officers and Navigation Response Team members recently received training on UAS operations from Oceans Unmanned and DARTDrones at the NOAA Marine Operations Center in Newport, Oregon. Conducted over the course of two days, training included classroom instruction, as well as hands-on flights that focused on research and mapping missions conducted from vessels. Students also practiced launch and recovery procedures, and programmed mapping missions from the deck of the NOAA Ship Hi‘ialakai while alongside the marine facility. “We have multiple years of experience in vessel-based drone operations supporting missions including wildlife surveys, habitat mapping, shallow water shipwreck surveys, and more, and are excited to assist NOAA in utilizing these systems safely and efficiently,” explains Brian Taggart, chief pilot of Oceans Unmanned. “These relatively inexpensive, off-the-shelf drones, have the capability to support a wide variety of ocean and coastal environmental research projects.” Oceans Unmanned notes that NOAA is integrating small UAS aboard their survey ships for near-shore and shoreline feature charting, “by supporting or augmenting traditional shoreline verification and mapping techniques used by hydrographic survey field units.” This requirement could benefit from the use of UAS in several ways, including “improved data collection efficiency compared to data collection from small boats; more accurate feature investigation than traditional techniques; and, most importantly, removal of personnel from potentially dangerous situations.” The NOAA National Geodetic Survey (NGS) Remote Sensing Division (RSD) supported and funded the training. The division has spent years evaluating and operating UAS to meet coastal mapping requirements. “RSD has developed much of the internal policies, procedures, and protocols necessary for safe and effective drone field operations for mapping,” says Mike Aslaksen, Chief, NOAA Remote Sensing Division. “And we’re big supporters of getting this technology operational across the NOAA fleet.”

Sinclair College's National UAS Training and Certification Center partners with senseFly

Through a recently announced partnership, Sinclair Community College’s National UAS Training and Certification Center will become the primary North American partner of senseFly, providing standardized OEM training platforms for senseFly’s clients, in an effort to complement direct training and training through authorized senseFly distribution partners. Sinclair and senseFly say that their partnership will broaden the reach of senseFly’s expertise in UAS technology, while also expanding its offering of high-quality training through Sinclair’s National UAS Training and Certification Center.   “Sinclair’s National UAS Training and Certification Center is an excellent partner for senseFly due to their innovative approach to creating comprehensive training programs coupled with their experience using drone technology to support their collaborations in applied research and development, commercialization, and consulting work,” says Jean-Thomas Célette, managing director of senseFly. Jeffrey A. Miller, chief operating officer for Sinclair’s National UAS Training and Certification Center, adds, “we are excited to collaborate with senseFly to leverage our vast experience in providing drone training, ensuring their clients continue to be well prepared to effectively maximize their investments in senseFly products.” 

Grossmont College to offer free UAS training starting in March

Grossmont College in El Cajon, California has announced that it will offer a comprehensive UAS training program starting in March. Funded by a $6 million federal America’s Promise grant through the U.S. Department of Labor, the UAS program will be free to anyone who is at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen, as required by the grant. The noncredit program will be geared towards a variety of groups, including but not limited to, veterans, Native Americans, military spouses, ex-offenders, women, high school students and the unemployed and underemployed. “Grossmont College has always been at the forefront of workforce training,” says Grossmont College President Nabil Abu-Ghazaleh. “We place great importance on recognizing hot new careers and ensuring that our students have the tools they need to forge ahead.” Grossmont College’s UAS program will start off by providing UAS Ground School and Part 107 certification classes that students take to become licensed commercial drone pilots. Through the Part 107 certification school, students will be provided the comprehensive classroom instruction necessary to pass the Part 107 written test, which is administered free to students. Once students complete the ground school module and have their UAS pilot license, they can then continue in one of the program’s two tracks: UAS Surveying and Mapping or UAS Cinematography. During the surveying and mapping course, pilots will receive extensive flight time. Those that complete the program will know how to conduct precision mapping missions and data collection for a variety of different industries and operations.  Meanwhile, the UAS cinematography course covers both basic and advanced cinematography techniques, as the theory and operations of both standard and advanced precision camera shots is combined with operational scenarios. Grossmont notes that its program will prepare graduates for both contract and salaried jobs.

Oceans Unmanned, partners expand drone training to Scotland

In an effort to provide UAS support for marine mammal disentanglement response efforts in Sweden, Oceans Unmanned Inc. (OU), the Scottish Entanglement Alliance (SEA) and DARTdrones have expanded their freeFLY initiative into the country. Through the freeFLY program, which was launched in 2018, networks of local volunteer drone operators that are available to support regional response groups are provided with equipment and hands-on training. OU notes that UAS operators were provided with initial flight training and advanced safe launching, operating, and recovering drones from small boats and support vessels over the course of a two-day session that it hosted.  “Based on the available data, the rate of entanglements and range of species impacted appear to be increasing in Scottish waters,” says Ellie MacLennan, coordinator of the SEA project. “The addition of aerial imagery from on-scene, vessel-launched drones will provide improved situational awareness and increased safety for both the animal and responders.” One of SEA’s goals is to improve reporting rates of marine animal entanglements. SEA also wants to provide fisherman with opportunities to get involved with entanglement research and disentanglement efforts through workshops and training courses. The entities note that the freeFLY training was part of a larger workshop that focused on “encouraging better reporting of entanglements, widening Scotland’s existing entanglement response network, and sharing insights to better understand, mitigate and respond to incidents.” “This event was a great opportunity to work with both SEA and the IWC and hopefully begin a long-term partnership” says Brian Taggart, chief pilot for Oceans Unmanned. “We were able to donate complete drone equipment sets, safety gear, and provide a significant amount of on-the-water training for the response teams.”

Embry-Riddle acquires Penguin C UAS for flight training

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has announced that it recently became the only university to acquire the Penguin C UAS specifically for flight training. Described as one of the most sophisticated long-endurance, long-range professional UAS on the market today, the Penguin C aircraft “instantly transformed Embry-Riddle” upon their arrival on campus earlier this year, the university says. According to Embry-Riddle, which was the first organization in the world designated as an AUVSI Trusted Operator Program (TOP) training provider, and the first to obtain TOP Level-3 Instructor qualification, the acquisition of the Penguin C’s has opened the door for missions controlled from multiple ground-based stations, called “remote-split operations,” as well as flight beyond the operator’s visual line of sight (BVLOS). The Penguin C’s can be used for a variety of operations, including fighting wildfires, search and rescue, and military surveillance.  With all of these applications, the Penguin C offers no shortage of career paths for Embry-Riddle graduates trained to fly Penguin C’s, the university says. The new fixed-wing Penguin C UAS, which feature a 10.8-foot wingspan, can fly up to 20 hours over a 60-mile range while carrying electrical, optical and infrared camera sensors. Professor Mike Wiggins, chair of Aeronautical Science on the Daytona Beach Campus, says that the UAS will offer a “leg up” for professional UAS pilots-in-training at Embry-Riddle. “Students currently learn to fly small fixed-wing survey platforms, and beginning in 2020, the military-grade Penguin C aircraft,” Wiggins says. “The goal is to ensure our graduates have the skills they need to run a successful business or operation using all types of UAS in a safe, responsible manner.”  Embry-Riddle has recruited two graduates, Shane Aldridge (’15) and Mike “Zeb” Zebehazy (’10), to help run the university’s Penguin C fleet. The two were selected based on their knowledge of a similar platform called the Aerosonde, and they are working with Alexander Mirot, associate professor of Aeronautical Science, who has an abundance of knowledge about UAS, such as the MQ-9 Reaper, thanks to his time with the Air Force. Aldridge and Zebehazy spent a month in Latvia last September training to fly Penguin C’s before they arrived at Embry-Riddle. “We learned how to pack the parachute that helps the aircraft land safely, and how to maintain it and fly it,” says Aldridge, who is now a UAS Flight Supervisor at Embry-Riddle. Aldridge notes “it’s all about the sensor you’re carrying on the aircraft” when it comes to longer endurance missions. Stabilized by a gimbal, the sensor on Embry-Riddle’s Penguin C’s carries either an electro-optical camera with a 30-power zoom lens for daytime use or a long-wave infrared sensor that captures images in darkness.  The Penguin C’s are currently being tested over controlled airspace near Bunnell, Florida, which is about 25 miles north of the Daytona Beach Campus. According to Zebehazy, who is the UAS Maintenance and Inventory Manager, Embry-Riddle is working on applications for FAA waivers that would allow students to fly the Penguin C’s over the Bunnell field via a remote-control operation in Daytona Beach. The UAS have a digital datalink, so the goal is to fly them through a network connection, Aldridge notes. Aldridge says that if the FAA waivers are approved, Embry-Riddle would become the only organization other than the military with remote-split UAS capability.  Embry-Riddle Students will have access to the Penguin C’s starting spring 2020.