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Civil UAVs Still A Distant Prospect

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the i-want-to-be-a-rigger dept.

Robotics 109

holy_calamity writes "The aerospace industry has failed to obtain the radio frequencies that would allow the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in civil airspace, New Scientist reports. It will be 2011 before it can even begin to lobby for space on the radio spectrum. What's more, no national aviation authority in the world will allow civil UAVs without a system for avoiding other aircraft. And no firm has even started development of one. Has the industry cheated us of the benefits of civil UAVs by focussing on the demands of the military?" From the article: "On the brighter side, last week the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization, based in Montreal, Canada, said its navigation experts would meet in early 2007 to consider regulations for UAVs in civil airspace. That could be a step towards internationally agreed rules for how UAVs should operate. Even if the UN body makes rapid progress, however, it will be meaningless unless the industry can obtain the necessary frequencies to control the planes and feed images and other sensor data back to base."

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Waitaminute... (3, Funny)

Atlantis-Rising (857278) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074322)

Civil UAV's are illegal? Then what the fuck have I been flying around the local park for the past year, a mechanical bird?

Re:Waitaminute... (2, Interesting)

jdray (645332) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074580)

Maybe they should call them UAAVs, for Unmanned Autonomous Aerial Vehicles. Do your models have any on-board decision making capability? It seems like with the abundance of cheap PLCs and environmental sensors, some sort of hobbyist collision avoidance solution could be cobbled together. Of course, I've already said about 40% more than I actually know about the subject. Still...

Re:Waitaminute... (2, Interesting)

Atlantis-Rising (857278) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074670)

They have no on-board capability whatsoever, other than basically a radio reciever. However, they have remote automated guidance; the computer they connect to over the 2.4 GHz band can be programed in basically any way you please, including doing autonomous parking orbits, semi-random courses, etc, etc.

If I really wanted to, I suppose, I could move the computer (since it doesn't really require anything more than a small PDA- we're not talking magic super processing here) onto the plane itself and just remotely control the control application, if that makes any sense. ..humm... now you have me thinking about getting a PDA with an onboard camera, hooking it up to a bluetooth GPS, rigging a serial cable for the actual flight controls, and remotely controlling it to get an upgradable UAV surveillance drone...

Re:Waitaminute... (1)

dch24 (904899) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074704)

Get an unlocked GPS-enabled camera phone. There, problem solved.

Re:Waitaminute... (2, Informative)

massivefoot (922746) | more than 7 years ago | (#17076198)

I appreciate how you can think that this would be the case, but I would disagree. I'm a pilot in the UK, and did my training near Manchester, which isn't exactly known for its clear weather, so this may be a worst case scenario, but an aircraft is not necessarilly an easy object to see on a slightly hazy day. Whether you're looking towards the sun or not can make things far worse.

You would need a relatively high resolution camera to be able to make out aircraft at any reasonable distance. The UAV would also require (assuming it is autonomous) software processing to identify objects as aircraft, and assertain information such as type and velocity. Also remember that aircraft often have a large number of sources of vibration, so backups of most systems would be wise. You would also have to devise a seperate system for interaction with air traffic control, who have a stressful enough job as it is.

What concerns me most, however, is the possibility of an engine failure. Civil aviation practically assumes that your engine will fail (you have to be able to glide clear of a built up area with an engine failure, and my instructor would always ask me during circuits "ok, where would you go if the engine failed right now?"). With a UAV, an engine failure will probably require it to act autonomously (straight line radio transmissions would be unreliable at low altittude, satellite relay would have some lag). This requires software that can identify the wind direction near the ground (not too hard), identify a suitable field for landing (would possibly need a colour camera), evaluate the risk to others (identity humans, livestock, buildings in the vicinity) and actually perform a landing in a field of unknown altittude and pitch. Whilst I'm prepared to believe software can be written to perform such a task, I would have concerns regarding its reliability. Actually, I would suggest that a better idea would be to bring the aircraft down into a low velocity 'crash' into a safe area, rather than trying to land it intact.

Re:Waitaminute... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17076310)

Engine Failure triggers self-destruct sequence. Problem solved.

Re:Waitaminute... (1)

Atlantis-Rising (857278) | more than 7 years ago | (#17077946)

You'd need a big enough bomb that it turned the components into vapor, or at least tiny fragments. How about "Engine failure triggers drag chute deployment, followed shortly by multiple main chute deployment"?

Re:Waitaminute... (1)

massivefoot (922746) | more than 7 years ago | (#17079534)

That's actually not a bad idea. You'd want a very good failsafe system though (eg. pressure from flight acts to remove the parachute hatch parachute hatch, the only thing holding it in place being an electromagnet powered by the engine).

Re:Waitaminute... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17078630)

Or perhaps just deploy an emergency parashoot?

Re:Waitaminute... (1)

AB3A (192265) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081076)

Mod Parent Way Up!

Allow me add my two cents as an instrument rated private pilot and airplane owner.

First, all pilots of all aircraft have one very well known collision avoidance scheme: Their eyes. If you're in Visual Meterological Conditions (VMC) you are obligated, even if you're flying on an instrument flight plan, to see and avoid. But a UAV doesn't have this. Even if you installed cameras on the UAV, it would have to be at least a high def camera if not better. So somehow you need to be aware of the other aircraft nearby. How do you do this? Before any of you say TCAS, remember that not all aircraft are required to carry transponders. Another issue is that even if UAV had TCAS and all aircraft had transponders, the aircraft transponder may not have enough bandwidth to handle all of those transponder queries. In fact, present day airliner TCAS systems have to be dialed back in terminal approach areas because of the sheer volume of other aircraft around.

Second, to all you folks who wonder about aircraft parachutes, think about how they deploy. They use solid rocket motors to throw the 'chute in the air. The problem is that unlike sky divers who are usually at terminal velocity when they deploy their 'chutes, aircraft could be flying at any speed from a stall to full speed cruise. That's why they carry those rocket motors with them. Making such things safe for a crash landing in case they don't go off will be an interesting feat of engineering. And keep in mind, parachute or not, you're still going to have an awful lot of fuel and aircraft falling out of the sky at a decent speed. Do you want one of these things hitting a highway during rush hour?

Third, if you have a human pilot on board, they'll do their level best in an emergency to avoid hitting everyone and land safely. A malfunctioning UAV? How does it know that football field below is empty or not? How does it make decisions if it loses communications with the command center?

Fourth, RC aircraft are usually small, low powered affairs. Even so, if you're ever hit by one of these things, you could get seriously hurt or killed. RC aviators are strongly encouraged to carry insurance policies. A UAV is pretty much an RC aircraft on steriods. Get hit by one of those, and it would be like getting hit by a motorcycle going at speeds of 60 MPH or more. The aircraft may be scaled down, but the speeds they fly aren't much slower than the real thing.

Most people like to say that the military thinks it's good enough for other countries, so we should use them here. The difference is that the military assumes that control of the skies is almost absolute. It's not the same in civilian aviation. The bottom line is this: until we figure out acceptable methods for integrating these aircraft in to the National Airspace System, the best recommendation is to keep them out.

Re:Waitaminute... (3, Interesting)

cshotton (46965) | more than 7 years ago | (#17079728)

The whole problem has to do with the industry and public perceptions of what a UAV is. For most people, "UAV" means "big remote-controlled airplane with cameras and/or weapons." That is the old school definition, where the ground station essentially consists of a remote cockpit and the vehicles are flown by a human (or autopilot commands are sent) via a persistent RF link. Communications failure means vehicle failure.

As the former chief architect for software on the DARPA/USAF Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS), I can tell you that the public's perception of UAVs have about as much in common with state of the art UAVs as the Wright Flyer has to a F-16. The difference is the degree of autonomy the aircraft exhibits. J-UCAS aircraft (the X-45C and X-47A) were designed to be completely autonomous in their mission execution, from take off to landing. In fact, the ground stations have nothing resembling a joystick. Mission planning is performed prior to take-off and the vehicle is responsible itself for all re-routing and mission contingencies.

The vehicles are configured to support the standard civil avionics elements such as TCAS, digitally encoded transponders, and data links to air traffic control. The only "frequency" challenge has to do with being able to backhaul voice communications with ATC to a human for interpretation and action when operating in airspace that doesn't support digital data links from ATC.

Traffic deconfliction is usually performed by having the UCAS aircraft operate at altitudes specifically assigned for their use. The reality is that with a little work from the FAA to set aside some dedicated altitudes above 30,000' and ensure that ATC centers can all issue routing instructions via data link as well as voice, UAVs can quite happily and safely operate in the national airspace.

The challenge is how (or if) to accommodate older UAV systems such as Predator and Globalhawk, which require man-in-the-loop control and could never be easily retrofitted to operate autonomously because of their need for persistent communications. Smaller UAVs that have performance or weight parameters that move them from the realm of R/C airplanes (and very light-weight UAVs) into the range of what the FAA defines as "aircraft" will have a serious challenge in the civil marketplace until they can adopt the degree of autonomy and ATC interaction that is just now emerging in the state of the art UAV programs.

While current UAV suppliers and operaters are scrambling for frequency spectrum now, this is fundamentally a software and FAA (ICAO) procedural problem in the future. By 2011, we may find that the industry has moved beyond the first generation UAVs and the issue of spectrum allocation becomes moot. We can only hope so, because the man-in-the-loop control model for large UAV platforms is not the desired end state for the industry.

Re:Waitaminute... (1)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074666)

As long as your UAV is very ill-tempered, it's OK. As long as you can't call it civil.

Re:Waitaminute... (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074682)

That's a remotely manned drone, not an unmanned aerial vehicle.

Re:Waitaminute... (1)

Atlantis-Rising (857278) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074746)

The difference between 'remotely manned drone' and 'unmanned aerial vehicle' is me putting an eraser on the 'go forward' button.

Re:Waitaminute... (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074836)

Well, I think the ability to carry or transport something other than itself (passengers or other cargo) would differentiate vehicles and drones.

(I started my last message before seeing your other response that explained your setup can do computer control.)

Re:Waitaminute... (1)

Atlantis-Rising (857278) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075010)

Well, I think the ability to carry or transport something other than itself (passengers or other cargo) would differentiate vehicles and drones.
...heh, heh, heh. Can you say civillian UAV with hellfire missiles?


(I started my last message before seeing your other response that explained your setup can do computer control.)

Actually, it's not hard. The real difficulty (and I suppose the true difference between a drone and a UAV) is that the range of my plane is negligable. If I'm lucky, I get 150 meters, line of sight, at which point the plane basically keeps doing exactly what it was doing when it's within range. If I'm again lucky, the controls will start flaking out and give me a warning that I'm nearing the edge of range in time to turn the thing around (so I don't have to run after it), but sometimes they just seem to drop out.

A true UAV (and what I figure I'll do... someday when I get off my lazy ass and actually work on this thing) is write some basic logic to have it do a 180 when it loses communication with the base station and fly back into radio range. At that point, there are lots of things you can do, because the logic processor is no longer with the pilot (ie, on the ground); it's with the plane, in the air, which means it can be out of communication with the pilot for the entire length of the program it's supposed to execute.

I suppose you could run some automated collision-avoidance detection and so on, but that sounds way too much like AI programming for my taste. IT is a hobby. If I wanted to take up AI programming, I'd be at MIT- the little I have done of pseudo-AI programming (mostly a fuckton of If/Then/Or statements) was extremely tedious and prone to horrible failure. (and thankfully had nothing at all to do with my plane.)

Re:Waitaminute... (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075618)

Don't they design RC planes to circle when they lose signal? That would give you, the operator, a chance to run towards the thing and try to regain control.

Re:Waitaminute... (1)

starbird (409793) | more than 7 years ago | (#17076640)

No. FM will just flake out when it can't find a good signal. PCM has the option to lock controls in a certain orientation. So you can chop the throttle, put it in a spin if it looses signal. Or not. I'm not getting into that argument here.

There are a few 'autopilots' on the market that will automatically right an aircraft, but none that I know of that will follow a pre determined course. Have to build those yourself.

Re:Waitaminute... (2, Interesting)

Zantetsuken (935350) | more than 7 years ago | (#17078500)

I'm no radio communications expert, but couldn't an autopilot software be written so that in this case of it going out of range, it would perform the 180 as you say, and then possible hunt for the origin of the radio frequency its on by where the stronger signal is, and be at least a bit more precise in returning to the ground transmission antenna instead of just making a 180 when you could be 45 degrees in a different direction?

Re:Waitaminute... (1)

massivefoot (922746) | more than 7 years ago | (#17079562)

The problem with that is that you have to know the aircraft's orientation. This is done with a gyroscope in a manned aircraft, but such a system would be somewhat costly for a model plane. To be honest, the prop is probably the greatest danger, so a throttle cut followed by a spin is the safest option.

Re:Waitaminute... (1)

Dausha (546002) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081142)

"...it would perform the 180 as you say, and then possible hunt for the origin of the radio frequency its on by where the stronger signal is..."

Is it just me, or is there a Hitchcock plot in this? The model gets out of range then turns to find the source. Since it's running WinCE, there's an obvious defect. When it finds the signal, it proceeds to fly directly at the source of the signal. Little Billy ducks just in time, and the model wheels around again for another pass. Billy runs, controller clutched firmly in his mitts. This time, the model is successful, and Billy is struck on the back of the head, driving him into oncoming traffic.

Wouldn't it be great if you could have one of these large enough to use as a lightweight, in-town courier? Then, you could send packages (say 5lbs) across town. Perhaps use GPS to help it find its destination. Of course, cruise missiles are just that---unmanned courier vehicles piloted by GPS. Although, the Tomahawk carries 500 lbs of parcels which are promptly delivered.

I would be more concerned about a cUAV falling into the wrong hands and being used to drop other buildings ala jihad without the obligatory trip to Paradise.

A matter of scale (2, Informative)

erice (13380) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075334)

Not the greatest link but, excerpted from http://iagblog.blogspot.com/2006/06/faa-vs-la-sher iff.html [blogspot.com]

"For RC aircraft flight, the A/C must stay lower than 400 feet AGL (FAA Advisory circular 91-57), and according to the Associationof Model Aricraft's safety code, must stay in the control of, and stay within the sight of,an operator at all times. Autonomous flight is forbidden."

It wouldn't surprise me if there wasn't a size limitation as well.

Re:A matter of scale (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 7 years ago | (#17078652)

http://www.faa.gov/aircraft/air_cert/design_approv als/uas/uas_faq/ [faa.gov]

There is apparently no restriction on autonomy, according to the FAA, but a craft being flown as a civil aircraft (rather than as a hobbyist model airplane - there are restrictions differentiating the two, but I was unable to locate them on the FAA's site) requires an experimental certificate if it's unmanned, regardless of whether or not it's autonomous, and the FAA is limiting issuance of those certificates for the time being.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) (5, Informative)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074366)

Note to article submitters and editors: In the first use of an initialism or acronym it is good practice to write out in long form the title or phrase preceding the initialism or acronym, so the reader will know what you are talking about throughout an article without having to stop reading and go look it up.

Otherwise you're mimmicking the drone who hides their lack of a real job or knowledge behind obfuscation.

Re:Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074440)

I have posted that till my fingers fall off and they STILL do it. Seriously, what the hell. If they can even find one person that knows every tech acronym ever, I'll shut up about it but until them, SPELL THEM OUT ONCE!
and also, what the hell would someone have a use for a UAV that's actually legal that can't be done with existing technology? The only specialty compared to other flying vehicles is a wider view range, better cameras, and no person. So....it's sneakier and more privacy invading? I hope it doesn't pass after 2011 either.

Re:Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074578)

I see someone did correct it just after it went green. I suppose Zonk does read some of the postings :) A small victory, but only until the next article.

I mostly worry about having contingencies for when failure happens. A cool-as-a-cucumber human can think through and come up with ways to bail without killing people or doing a lot of damage on the ground, let alone themselves. What's a computer going to do?

Re:Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) (1)

elmarkitse (816597) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074750)

Not only has that issue been licked for some of the UAV's, but they've even gone to far as to make them invisible to boot.

http://veratech.aero/phantom.html [veratech.aero] This URL shows a fancy cross between a boomerang and a helicopter that falls to the ground in a controlled fashion when it suffers a problem.

Re:Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074886)

Yeah, but if it were over a populated area, can it tell the difference between a house, schoolyard full of children, packed highway and a safe and open location?

Re:Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075762)

That design is fine for sensor drones, but it'll never fly as a passenger vehicle. Firstly, I doubt we have materials light and strong enough. Secondly, people are going to be dizzy as dirvishes when they land.

Re:Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) (1)

stirfry714 (410701) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074590)

The weird thing is that it is spelled out in the "Read More" full listing... but not on the main page summary - even though it looks like a copy/paste. I guess you get what you pay for...

Re:Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074668)

The weird thing is that it is spelled out in the "Read More" full listing... but not on the main page summary - even though it looks like a copy/paste. I guess you get what you pay for...

If it still says

"The aerospace industry has failed to obtain the radio frequencies that would allow the use of UAVs in civil airspace, New Scientist reports. ...
on the main page, do a refresh.

Linux will always fail... (0, Flamebait)

The_Abortionist (930834) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074736)

I was just passing by when I thought of reminding people here that Linux was, is, and always will be a failure.

See how the ancient about box on this web page looks more modern than what you'd get from a Linux GUI even today.

http://www.theinquirer.net/default.aspx?article=36 120 [theinquirer.net]

Re:Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075022)

Well, in defense, there are a limited number of expansions [acronymfinder.com] , and I didn't really expect to find Urban Assault Vehicles [imdb.com] in civilian airspace anyway.

Re:Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075200)

I didn't really expect to find Urban Assault Vehicles in civilian airspace anyway.

What part of Department of Homeland Security and Post 9/11 was confusing to you?

IIRC, the Prez signed some bill into law allowing him to declare martial law in states.

Re:Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075510)

Yeah, I thought about prevaricating on that point, but decided it would detract from Teh Funny.

Re:Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) (1)

twistah (194990) | more than 7 years ago | (#17076796)

STFU

It's Not Time Yet (4, Informative)

dch24 (904899) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074378)

Like most really interesting technologies, Civil UAVs are a solution looking for a problem right now. There are a few really good applications that mostly law enforcement are looking at:
  • Fighting fires, especially at night (current FAA regs prevent piloted aircraft from flying into fires at night)
  • Mobile perimeter surveillance
However, having worked in the UAV industry for the past five years, it's pretty apparent that the current solutions are still pricey. I remember seeing an article about the LAPD launching a UAV initiative for surveillance.

The technology is advancing and prices are dropping, but it's not time yet. Watch companies like Aerovironment [aerovironment.com] and the normal defense contractors (Northrop Grumman, Lockheed, General Atomics, etc.) for future developments.

(Full disclosure: I don't work for any of these companies, and I don't plan on investing in them.)

Bad idea, No Biscuit for you! (1)

Stanistani (808333) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074454)

I really don't like the idea of unmanned surveillance vehicles flying over urban areas, and hope they continue to not appear.

Hmmm. Maybe that burkha idea has some merit... or I could be all old-school and always wear mah hoodie.

Re:Bad idea, No Biscuit for you! (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074522)

We are talking about civil, not government. These would be beneficial for jobs like traffic reports, aerial photography, land surveying and so on.

In other words, don't put your hoodie up just yet!

Re:Bad idea, No Biscuit for you! (1)

The Great Pretender (975978) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074592)

You mean like the CCTV in Britain?

Re:Bad idea, No Biscuit for you! (2, Informative)

sponga (739683) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074960)

No more like L.A.P.D./Long Beach Helicopter Police like you usually get with a response time of a couple minutes or so; you should really just sit out one night on Signal Hill and watch the lights chase suspects through the neighborhoods and give lighting or use night vision for officers in dark areas.

Re:Bad idea, No Biscuit for you! (1)

jdray (645332) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074660)

Umm... Aren't the cops part of "civil" ??

Re:Bad idea, No Biscuit for you! (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074910)

Umm... Aren't the cops part of "civil" ??

Good question. I've noticed that the military has no problems getting approval from the FCC, but I don't know if a locally controlled police department would get the same benefits. On one hand they are locally controlled, but on the other hand, they are capable of purchasing military hardware that us local saps are unable to.

If I had to guess, I would guess that the police would have no problem using UAV's on the "restricted" signals.

Re:Bad idea, No Biscuit for you! (1)

swilly (24960) | more than 7 years ago | (#17076986)

I've noticed that the military has no problems getting approval from the FCC.

The FCC is charged with regulating all non-Federal Government use of the radio spectrum [wikipedia.org] . Since the military is part of the Federal Government, they don't have to play by the FCC rules. If you look at the radio spectrum [fordyce.org] , you will find that the military has their own dedicated frequencies, so they don't have to worry about interference from civilians.

Re:Bad idea, No Biscuit for you! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17074926)

I think someone has been playing too much Half-Life 2.

Cops are executive. As in Executive Branch.

Tin Foil Hat (2, Funny)

dch24 (904899) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074536)

I really don't like the idea of unmanned surveillance vehicles flying over urban areas
Perimeter surveillance -- for private corporations -- is one thing.

But big brother obviously has the funds and is already doing border patrol between the USA and Mexico.

The thing is, current technologies look for only really two things: motion or IR (body heat). If you were wearing enough tin foil you wouldn't have a heat signature. I recommend spray painting it black first. Then hop the fence and proceed into Texas.

Re:Tin Foil Hat (1)

LindseyJ (983603) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074884)

The fact that you classify border security as 'big brother' makes me chuckle. Judging by your post, there may be a market in Mexico for that tinfoil hat you're wearing. You should send it on over, there's always money to be made.

Re:It's Not Time Yet (1)

JCondon (1029908) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074662)

Not quite true... The Deptartment of Defense classifies UAV usage for "Dull, Dirty, or Dangerous" tasks. I immagine that civilian uses would likely follow the same mantra with the added "Cost" factor that military uses don't care about. There are civilian uses in the US right now such as aerial photography, structure inspections, and surveying. However these tasks are currently limited to the RC hobbist ranges.

Military cares a LOT about cost (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075536)

I immagine that civilian uses would likely follow the same mantra with the added "Cost" factor that military uses don't care about.

The military cares a LOT about Cost:
  - The cost of a defective piece of materiel to a solder's risk.
  - The cost of a dead or wounded soldier to a battle.
  - The cost of a lost battle to a war.
  - The cost of a lost war to the country.
"For want of a nail the horseshoe was lost..."

So the military defines a stiff set of standards and pays a stiff premium for getting good stuff (when they have the time to have it made to their specs). And they pay another stiff premium for having it made in places where the whole process is guarded against enemy sabotage and/or the factory is in a place they can defend it during a war so it's available to make more.

And when they do $100,000 worth of testing to be sure the screwdriver isn't going to break and put it in a toolkit that they make ten of, for an airplane they make five of, they get "a $10,000 screwdriver" and a bunch of flack.

And when that much money is flowing and there are only a few companies that can bid, they get gamed a lot, and there's opportunity for corruption.

But I'll take the military's idea of "Cost", thank you very much. They've cost me a lot of taxes. But they've kept most of the havoc on the other side of a couple of oceans for a century and a half.

Re:It's Not Time Yet (2, Informative)

arpad1 (458649) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074854)

There a couple of other possibilities:
  • agriculture - Yamaha's been selling the RMAX [strategypage.com] for 18 years for crop-dusting. Surveying growing crops from the air for signs of insect infestations allows for early, effective and minimal application of pesticides.
  • utilities - power companies run regular surveys of their lines, some by air, some from the ground but it's always expensive human beings who have to use their personal eyeballs.
  • search and rescue -
  • police surveillance - now done by manned helicopter and very expensively. Related but not exactly the same as the previous usage.
  • post-catastrophe assessment - after a hurricane or earthquake one big problem is finding the places that need the aid the most. The life and property toll can be reduced if the rescue personnel know which roads are passable and which aren't and which areas need them the most. UAV's might also be useful as communications access points in a post-catastrophe situation.
  • flying weather stations - there are a couple of UAV's who's claim to fame is their endurance. The first UAV to fly the Atlantic [insitu.com] managed the trick in 1992. Have them buzzing around where it's difficult, dangerous, expensive for people to do gathering data not accessible by satellites.
There's more but why go on? The point's made. Thing is, all the tasks I listed are doable with current technology. I don't think the list will shrink as the technology improves.

It's not the big fish (1)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074988)

I work in UAVs (grad student, autonomous heli) and I can tell you there are a buttload of potential uses for civillian UAVs that are actually quite acheivable with affordable systems - especially mAVs and rotorcraft. Here's a few: Powerline maintanance (ie. autonomously filming and assessing widespread infrastructure) Crop dusting/assessment (ie. releasing chemicals, using sensors to detect time to harvest or the prevalence of bugs) Mining rescue (ie. fly down mineshafts looking for trapped survivors) Mining safety (ie. fly over a rock face looking for undetonated explosives) Dam wall maintanance (ie. fly close to a dam wall looking for cracks and defects) Inspection of factory ceiling and tall equipment (ie. fly close to obstacles in closed spaces) All are present or near-future capabilities (although true autonomy is still a little ways off) - and thse only the ones I can remember off the top of my head. I guarantee you that UAVs have more civil uses than are obvious. The catch, though, is that because UAVs are an unproven technology, people don't yet recognise that they're available and don't readily see the obvious applications they have because they aren't used to thinking about the capability. Some commercial systems you can get now are the Yamaha Rmax (including a fully robotised version), Camcopter, plus more from outfits like UAVVision and Aerosonde. It's not the big contractors who are going to make revolution in UAVs - RPVs aren't a new idea and autopilots that can fly autonomously have been around for ages - it's the newer, smaller developers who can leverage niche applications with small vehicles that will make it big.

Re:It's not the big fish (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 7 years ago | (#17078118)

how about DWI enforcement, rather than setting up roadblocks the police could have a computer looking at all times for cars exibiting DWI-like behaviour, such as delayed reactions and swerving all over the place.


then when the computer has a "hit" the location, description and current heading is sent to the nearest patrol car to check things out.

Re:It's Not Time Yet (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075378)

Like most really interesting technologies, Civil UAVs are a solution looking for a problem right now.
"Right now" is awfully limiting, but it's not hard for me to imagine cargo planes flying without pilots in the not too distant future

Star One (3, Insightful)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074480)

What's more, no national aviation authority in the world will allow civil UAVs without a system for avoiding other aircraft.

"Keldan Control, Keldan Control, this is Nova Queen on primary approach zero-four-zero. Request orbital entry clearance." [beep]

"Nova Queen, Nova Queen, this is Keldan control. Maintain zero-four-zero. Orbital entry is clear." [beep]

"Keldan Control, this is Nova Queen. I have an unidentified trace on zero-four-zero." [beep]

"Nova Queen, this is Keldan Control. Maintain zero-four-zero and switch to Computer Flight Coordination." [beep]

"Switching to CFC, maintaining zero-four-zero." [beep]
[pause]
"That ship is still coming at us." [beep]

"Nova Queen, this is Keldan Control. The ship is an unmanned ore carrier on Computer Flight Coordination." [beep]

"I hope you're sure about that, Keldan; it's still on zero-four-zero." [beep]

"Nova Queen, computer control is confirmed. No problem." [beep]

"You know that and I know that, but does the computer know that?" [beep]

"It'll switch vectors any time now. Relax." [beep]

"I'll relax when it gets that ship off zero-four-zero." [beep]

"It will." [beep]

"Keldan Control, I have four thousand passengers on this ship and that ore carrier is still on zero-four-zero!" [beep]

"Computer flight coordination doesn't make errors." [beep]

"To hell with that! Do something, Keldan; that thing is coming straight at us!" [beep]
"Keldan Control!" [beep]

"Nova Queen! Switch to manual control! Engage emergency boosters and abort zero-four-zero! Confirm please!" [beep]

"I can see it! My God, it's too late!"

"Nova Queen, Nova Queen, this is Keldan Control, do you copy?" [beep]
"Nova Queen, Nova Queen, come in please!" [beep]

Re:Star One (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074628)

Bah, it was nothing more than a Federation ploy to weaken two star systems so that the Federation could take over. The flight computers worked exactly as programmed. That is, they were supposed to collide.

Must be specific to the USA.... (1)

russ1337 (938915) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074484)

This appears to be specific to the USA, other places in the world appear to have it sorted.

http://www.aerosonde.com/ [aerosonde.com] "August, 21 1998 the Aerosonde Laima was the first unmanned aircraft to cross the north atlantic. The crossing was completed within 15 minutes of schedule after a flight of 3270 km in a time of 26 h 45 min."

While Aerosonde do work with Military and government agencies world wide (including the National Hurricane Centre, Miami, Florida, they are still a civilian organization who had to negotiate with the Australian CAA (Australian version of the FAA) and FAA's for flight authorisation in civil airspace and it was managed through NOTAMS etc. I visited them a few years ago, and they said the CAA were very welcoming to aligning the flight rules for UAV's.

The spectrum is already allocated for TCAS (Traffic Collsion Avoidance Systems), all the aviation radio communications & satellite comms for control etc, so what additional part of the spectrum makes UAV's difficult?

Re:Must be specific to the USA.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17074784)

Those aviation communication frequencies are for voice communication. A continuous control signal being broadcast would obviously prevent using the frequency for its intended purpose. Those frequencies are clogged enough as it is. Try tuning a scanner to 122.8 MHz on a clear day, I can guarantee you'll hear some activity. Now imagine being a mile in the air and hearing pilots for sixty miles in all directions trying to use that frequency.

Re:Must be specific to the USA.... (1)

russ1337 (938915) | more than 7 years ago | (#17076212)

>>>> "Those aviation communication frequencies are for voice communication. A continuous control signal being broadcast would obviously prevent using the frequency for its intended purpose. Those frequencies are clogged enough as it is"

Not quite correct there. The ATC & Aircraft communication channels are not used for control, and not suitable for control as the bandwidth and channel separation is suitable for voice (and sometimes very low speed data). The frequencies used for UAV control are well outside that band, usually in the satellite communication region, up around 200-500MHZ, and 2.2 to 2.3GHz (around the XM satellite and Radio telemetry ranges) see http://www.pacificsites.com/~brooke/FA.shtml [pacificsites.com]

A 2Mbps downlink is typically required for UAV control and a 10Mbps uplink is required to get the data off the UAV to the ground station. You wont get those data-rates down in the VHF range easily.

Re:Must be specific to the USA.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17077420)

If you read what you quoted me on, you'll see that I agree with you that those frequencies are not used for control and are not suited for control. (though for a different reason than I specify)

Re:Must be specific to the USA.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17075962)

Maybe that's one of the reasons that they were acquired [aerosonde.com] by a US company [aaicorp.com] . I'm sure AAI, along with other UAV developers, wants to move into the civilian market. The Iraq war (hopefully) won't last forever. Perhaps Aerosonde's experience wrangling with another civilian flight agency can be applied to the FAA as well.

Great for War, but for civilian usage ?? (0)

Tiger4 (840741) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074486)

I can see why the military would want Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) and UAVs. Long loiter time in hostile territory, high g tolerance, ready at a moment's notice, eyes always clear, reflexes always sharp. And if one crashes or gets shot down, no one you care about gets killed.

But for civilian uses, only a few of those really apply. Quick readiness is good, but how often do you need something like this outside an 8 - 5 day? Hig g loading is rarely an issue. Hardly anyone ever shoots at civilian aircraft. the long loiter time and camera observation ability are nice to have, but the privacy people will eat you for lunch if you use them the wrong way.

I can see how law enforcement might like this kind of thing, to stop smuggling and illegal entry. Or maybe to snoop on Mr Pot Head's next crop up in the hills. But they can borrow some planes from the military if need be. The average Joe Farmer can just buy some satelite imagery from his Co-Op or direct from the satelite photo company if he has the bucks. No need to have a plane ready to go 12 hours on station, watching for corn blight.

Nope, overall, I think civilian UAVs are just a non-starter. And by the way, think of the liability if one hits a passenger plane.

Re:Great for War, but for civilian usage ?? (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074556)

UAV WAP.

Re:Great for War, but for civilian usage ?? (1)

dch24 (904899) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074636)

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes travelling 500 miles per hour at 10,000 feet over your house.

well here's a few (1)

Quadraginta (902985) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075830)

Well...I can think of a few cases.

(1) Wilderness firefighting and monitoring. Dunno where you live, but here in California and in many other big Western states wildfires are a big deal, and can cause $bazillions in damage if they get out of control. In some states they pay college-age schlubs to sit in fire towers all summer and watch for smoke through binoculars, which might be kinda' inefficient compared to an ultralight UAV with good IR sensors meandering along a fixed route for a week at a time. Furthermore, when small fires get going in remote areas, it might be quite expensive to send a human pilot in a big airplane to check them out or monitor them. Small fires should be let burn, unless they'll turn into big fires, because small fires clear out dangerous underbrush. But practically speaking you can only let them burn if you are sure they're not dangerous, because people will kill you if you are wrong. So you need very good and probably continually updated information on these fires.

(2) Search and rescue. Granted, this is not a big economic necessity, but there are a fair amount of these operations and they are very expensive, because there is usually a very big premium on time -- you need to find your lost people as fast as possible, so they don't die. That means a big operation with many high-salary people flying expensive machines. Wouldn't it be better to be able to launch a fleet of UAVs to divide the search area into sectors and get the job done faster by operating in parallel? In principle you can reserve your high salaries for the few people who have to fly the fleet of UAVs and interpret the photos. Not to mention the fact that their expendability means you can fly them in all kinds of weather. This is especially important for marine emergencies. Boats rarely get in trouble in good flying weather.

(3) Wildlife and domestic herd management. Sometimes you want to be able to find and track wild and domesticated beasts in very large areas of land. It's very expensive to hire a human pilot and his expensive machine to do it. But if (say) a rancher could fly a little 16-foot UAV around his land looking for a lost group of cattle with a joystick from the comfort of his workroom, rather than saddling up in the -10 F wind and riding through miles of snowdrift, that might be a very helpful thing. Or if a ranger could do the same thing to find a pack of wolves that he's worried might be getting a little close to a public campground, he wouldn't have to be so cautious about shutting the campground down.

(4) Distributed resource management. This isn't unlike the case for animals, but applied to nonliving stuff. Say PG&E wants to inspect their high-voltage transmission lines after an earthquake, make sure nothing is cracked and ready to fall off. Very expensive to send someone to drive along a few thousand miles of line, or fly an airplane or helicopter along them. But what if they could send a little UAV along them? Faster, cheaper. They could even break the job up and send forty UAVs out to survey the lines in sections, get it done in no time. You can make similar arguments about railroads managing roadbeds, transportation authorities monitoring roads (especially in the mountains), water agencies monitoring canals, oil and gas companies monitoring pipelines (especially in the wilderness) or offshore drilling locations.

I don't think your idea that satellite photography can fill the need is reasonable. Satellites don't have the kind of resolution necessary to find a crack in a pipeline, or a transmission tower leaning funny with a snapped lower leg. Furthermore, satellites are slow -- unless you are lucky and want something photographed at the time the satellite happens to be over it, you've got to wait until the orbit brings it around again. Not to mention the fact that quite a number of places aren't right under the orbits of any satellite.

Nothing that pilots cant do. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17076974)

All of these things can be done by pilots cheaper & better.

(1) Wilderness firefighting and monitoring.

It doesnt take a big plane to carry one pilot around looking for smoke.

(2) Search and rescue.

A good pilot can fly in any kind of weather too, and has a MUCH better chance of successfully picking people off a bobbing raft than any program you could possibly come up with... Cameras & code can only do so much... besides once you had the survivors aboard youd be breaking the law by carrying paying passengers without a properly certified pilot.

(3) Wildlife and domestic herd management.

Pilots do this every day.

(4) Distributed resource management.

Pilots also do this every day.

The most important asset a pilot has is his judgement. He has to be able to make a decision about whatever the situation is in an instant & has to make the right choice every time. Why are we trying to make computers do this? Because its cheaper? I doubt it, by the time you build the UAV and all the computer hardware necessary, trained the users, setup all the necessary infrastructure around it, you may as well have gotten an old cessna & stuck a pilot in it. You can get the plane for $20,000 or so & its not hard to find fresh pilots who will work for close to nothing just to build hours.

Would you trust your PC to drive your car? Would you trust it to drive your kids to school?

UAVs are neat in a sort of technological "look what we can do" kind of way, but they have no practical use that couldnt be better served by having a living breathing thinking pilot aboard.

Re:Nothing that pilots cant do. (1)

typidemon (729497) | more than 7 years ago | (#17079058)

All of these things can be done by pilots cheaper & better.

And un-manned aircraft can do things that Human pilots simply can't do.

(1) Wilderness firefighting and monitoring. It doesnt take a big plane to carry one pilot around looking for smoke.

Sure, but if the price was lower you could have thousands or tens of thousands of them flying over the country. These thousands of unmanned aircraft could act as simple spotters that identify potential fires and then alert human operators so they can come out and have a look

Also, some UAVs can stay aloft for weeks at a time. Something humans can't do.

(2) Search and rescue. A good pilot can fly in any kind of weather too, and has a MUCH better chance of successfully picking people off a bobbing raft than any program you could possibly come up with... Cameras & code can only do so much... besides once you had the survivors aboard youd be breaking the law by carrying paying passengers without a properly certified pilot.

One of the hardest things in finding people is the lack of eyes on the job. If the price was right and you could put thousands of remote eyes facilitating the search in places that humans can't get to. It shouldn't replace humans, it should faciliate them.

The most important asset a pilot has is his judgement. He has to be able to make a decision about whatever the situation is in an instant & has to make the right choice every time. Why are we trying to make computers do this? Because its cheaper? I doubt it, by the time you build the UAV and all the computer hardware necessary, trained the users, setup all the necessary infrastructure around it, you may as well have gotten an old cessna & stuck a pilot in it. You can get the plane for $20,000 or so & its not hard to find fresh pilots who will work for close to nothing just to build hours.

You'd be surprised at the actual cost of some of the new UAVs being developed.

Would you trust your PC to drive your car? Would you trust it to drive your kids to school?

Poor examples, because we are not asking UAVs to fly us or our kids around

What about Micropilot? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17074488)

Don't these guys count? Or are their UAV's too small?
http://www.micropilot.com/index.htm [micropilot.com]

Model planes are illegal? (3, Informative)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074502)

Granted, they can only be flown in *uncontrolled* airspace by law, but that's still civil airspace.

-b.

Collision Avoidance? TCAS! (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074550)

What's more, no national aviation authority in the world will allow civil UAVs without a system for avoiding other aircraft. And no firm has even started development of one.


Well thats precisely what TCAS (Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System) is designed to do, albiet in todays form its a warning system only and doesnt take action on its own but the current rules about it are that TCAS warnings and action guidance take precedence over air traffic control when the two conflict.

All you would have to do is implement this in the UCAV but have it *always* follow the TCAS automatically when it issues an advisory, no need to produce a new system when one already is in existence around the globe.

Re:Collision Avoidance? TCAS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17074946)

TCAS will only work with a few rather big assumptions.

One, all aircraft have an electrical system.
Two, all aircraft have a (properly working) altitude reporting transponder.

Neither one of these assumptions is even close to valid. "See and avoid" is the only way to provide reliable collision avoidance, and no UAV currently has the capability to do that. Looking at it from a pilot's perspective, these things are too dumb to avoid me, and they're too small for me to see them. Not a good situation.

Re:Collision Avoidance? TCAS! (1)

dloyer (547728) | more than 7 years ago | (#17076068)

TCAS needs a transponder with alt reporting to work. Without that it is useless.

Not all aircraft have transponders or even electrical systems. They are not required outside of 30 miles from a major class B airport.

"See and Avoid" is the rule for this type of flight. Too see and avoid, you need eyes, or something at least as good.

Re:Collision Avoidance? TCAS! (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 7 years ago | (#17076506)

Well thats precisely what TCAS (Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System) is designed to do

That's true, but not every aircraft is equipped with the avionics necessary to make TCAS effective. I own a Falcon XP http://www.gecko-ak.org/N600LW/ [gecko-ak.org] . It's basically a glorified two-seat ultralight registered as an amateur-built experimental aircraft, and it has no electrical system. Without an electrical system, I can't run a transponder, much less a Mode-C altitude encoder, and therefore a TCAS equipped airplane will have no idea that I am anywhere near.

Okay, so maybe I should get an electrical system, right? Problem is, there is a *really* limited supply of engines that have the proper size, weight and horsepower to work in my aircraft, and the one that is designed for my airplane (a Rotax 503--well, technically, the airplane was designed for the engine, but whatever) has a tiny generator that only has enough oomph to run the ignition. So, in short, there is no practical way of which I am aware to make my airplane visible to a UAV using TCAS. And I'm not alone--there are a number of small, light, certified airplanes like the J-3 Cub or Aircoupe that were originally certified with bona fide airplane engines that have no electrical systems. In the research I've done, the $1500+ transponder is *always* one of the cheapest parts of retrofitting these airplanes with transponders and altitude encoders.

So...unless the FAA is going to issue a notice to airmen or a temporary flight restriction (like we need more of those, but I digress), you can't guarantee separation between civil aircraft and civil UAVs in our existing airspace until either a whole buttload of existing airplanes are grounded or the UAVs are equipped with much more advanced avionics that can see and avoid airplanes like mine.

Re:Collision Avoidance? TCAS! (1)

jsoderba (105512) | more than 7 years ago | (#17080306)

Is there any real chance that human-piloted airliners will spot you in less than ideal conditions? I don't really know anything about aviation, but it seems like seeing something as small and slow as an ultralight would be hard to avoid for someone flying something as big and fast as a big airliner.

What about ISM? (1)

El Cubano (631386) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074568)

The aerospace industry has failed to obtain the radio frequencies that would allow the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in civil airspace, New Scientist reports. It will be 2011 before it can even begin to lobby for space on the radio spectrum.

I'm not a EE or RF guy, but would the ISM band [wikipedia.org] be of any use in this case? It is unregulated, after all.

What's more, no national aviation authority in the world will allow civil UAVs without a system for avoiding other aircraft. And no firm has even started development of one. Has the industry cheated us of the benefits of civil UAVs by focussing on the demands of the military?

First, I'm sure that anti-collision systems are under development for military applications. Airspace over a battlefield is arguably far busier than most civilian airspace (except maybe some of the busiest airports). Of course, in military air space you must make sure that nothing is below when you intentionally drop explosive devices, which is generally not a problem in civil airspace. I can guarantee that every military that uses UAVs is interested in them not taking out any other aircraft through a mid-air collision.

Second, everybody (the private sector and the military alike) has gotten spoiled by the trends of the last 20 to 30 years to everything COTS. UAVs are arguably much more applicable in a military environment at this time. That doesn't mean that civilian applications don't or won't exist, just that for this the military is the main driver for innovations in this area. People old enough to remember the early days of the cold war will remember that the military was the single largest driver of technological and scientific innovation across the board.

In short, give it time. Nobody has been cheated, things are just progressing a bit differently from what us young'uns are used to.

Re:What about ISM? (1)

fruity_pebbles (568822) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075712)

I'm not a EE or RF guy, but would the ISM band [wikipedia.org] be of any use in this case? It is unregulated, after all.

ISM isn't unregulated, it's unlicensed. You don't have to have a license to operate on ISM band, but there are specific rules about using ISM band, and you have to abide by those rules or you get to write a check to the FCC and/or spend some time in jail.

One of the rules governs maximum power output, and it's pretty low, like 1 watt or thereabouts. If you're trying to control a UAV from miles away you probably want more than 1 watt of transmit power.

Re:What about ISM? (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 7 years ago | (#17078672)

This modem [aerocomm.com] is advertised as having a range of 20 miles at 1 watt (though obviously that's on a really, really good day). It's being used with an autopilot produced by these folks [procerusuav.com] .

Because it's unregulated ... (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075978)

... would the ISM band be of any use in this case? It is unregulated, after all.

It's unsuitable precicely because it's unregulated. That means there's no (legal) guarantee that the signal won't be jammed, leaving a potentially hazardous unpiloted device-in-flight uncontrolled.

It's a Bird--- No! A Plane, No-- It's-- (2, Funny)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074650)

One more GD thing to screw up general aviation.

"November Whisky 3 fo niner" what's the icing at one niner five ot ot?"

"You Have Mail!"

Thank God. (2, Insightful)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074658)

The US is one of the last countries that still has General Aviation. The airlines have been trying to gut it for years, post 9/11 regulations have done all they can to limit what pilots can do, and now we have UAVs. The only way to make UAVs "safe" from collisions will likely be to force everyone to fly under positive ATC control. If you have never flown low and slow in a Cub, do it now while you still can.

Not a chance they could be FAA approved anyway (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17074766)

I test UAVs for a living, and while this article may be true, there's much more to the story. UAVs, as they are currently designed, are 50-100 time more unsafe than military vehicles, and thousands of times more unsafe than commercial airliners (these numbers taken from Office of the Secretary of Defense report and white papers on the subject). The avionic computers they use are cheaper and less redundant than commercial aircraft by a large margin, and would not come close to meeting FAA standards. In addition, they require a large amount more of flight critical control software, all of which needs to be FAA certified also, and that takes a lot of time, test, and money. Bottom line is that don't hold your breath for civil UAV's, and go home and sleep soundly knowing you don't have to worry about unmanned air vehicles landing on your house overnight.

Can't lobby? (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074768)

It will be 2011 before it can even begin to lobby for space on the radio spectrum.
What, you mean that aerospace companies are going to be banned from wining and dining and donating gifts and services to politicians?

first Post... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17074770)

Eyes on the real the ooficial GAY that they can hold 3 simple steps! large - kkep your been many, not the

I, for one, welcome our hairdo-buzzing overlords (1)

Sarcastic nerd (457081) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074920)

Has the industry cheated us of the benefits of civil UAVs by focussing on the demands of the military?

Wait, Slashdot is arguing for government probes that fly over our heads omnipresently? What is this, April Fool's Day?

Misleading comment... (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 7 years ago | (#17074966)


From the summary:
> Has the industry cheated us of the benefits of civil
> UAVs by focussing on the demands of the military?"

      Firstly, what "industry" would you be referring to? The issue is that the Federal Government/FCC will not grant the radio spectrum for the UAVs, not that some "industry" will not permit it. Secondly, this has nothing to do with the existence of military UAVs - there would still be spectrum (and aviation safety) issues whether or not the military has UAVs. Thirdly, it's not at all clear that we are missing out on ANY important benefits that cannot be attained under current law.

      Brett

No stupid questions, but some are silly. (2, Insightful)

Roadkills-R-Us (122219) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075448)

``Has the industry cheated us of the benefits of civil UAVs by focussing on the demands of the military?''

No, the industry was created pretty much ex niholo by its customers. Said customers were the military. Nobody else was thinking ahead far enough to anticipate this at this time. So blame whomever you like, but include yourself in there for not being any smarter than everyone else in the governments who didn't forsee it and start planning for it before we knew when it would be viable.

TCAS, what was that all about? (1)

xquark (649804) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075478)

well - tell me?

Bad content (1)

swiftstream (782211) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075632)

What's more, no national aviation authority in the world will allow civil UAVs without a system for avoiding other aircraft. And no firm has even started development of one.

These two sentences contain a good deal of less-than-true content. First, I happen to have an acquaintance who works on civil UAVs, and has flown them, unmanned and autonomous, doing urban mapping in Mexico--with the permission of the government, of course. Second, there is a good deal of work being done on aircraft-avoidance systems for UAVs. I have another acquaintance who is working on just that at MIT--not a firm, certainly, but I'm sure if the team comes up with anything good it will be applied in industry.

Maybe it will end up with open drivers (1)

thombone69 (771957) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075778)

Maybe IBM hasn't been called out because they open their drivers, and AMD as well as NVIDIA do not? Just a WAG.

These systems are, in fact, under development (1)

endikos (195750) | more than 7 years ago | (#17075816)

no national aviation authority in the world will allow civil UAVs without a system for avoiding other aircraft. And no firm has even started development of one.
How unfortunately misinformed. These systems have been in development for some time. Over three years ago I helped with a NASA contract through New Mexico State University's Physical Science Laboratory to establish a concept of operations [nmsu.edu] and a roadmap [nmsu.edu] to help bring UAVs into commercial airspace. This covered everything from systems and hardware that would need to be developed to FAA Certifications and Federal Aviation Regulations modifications. Some test flights with "See and Avoid" systems had already been performed (like this one [spaceref.com] , with Proteus, made by the same folks that made Space Ship One). The state of the art on commercial UAVs has already advanced quite a bit. There are yearly conferences, an international trade organization [auvsi.org] and more. This radio spectrum issue seems to me but a minor setback to which a workaround will be found sooner rather than later.

Why do UAVs need their own frequencies? (1)

Simulant (528590) | more than 7 years ago | (#17076236)

They're autonomous so they don't actually need to communicate at all to fly.
It seems to me that a minimal amount of data would need to be exchanged to obtain necessary control over one. (go here, go there, do this, come back...)

You could do that with a SMS.

I would assume the majority of the bandwidth would be used to send back information... like video. Which may answer my own question...

Still for basic control... why would dedicated spectrum be needed?

Re:Why do UAVs need their own frequencies? (1)

Doppler00 (534739) | more than 7 years ago | (#17077766)

Yeah, I don't understand it either. If you have a device that is so rarely used, why would it have to waste the entire spectrum that blankets the U.S.? Why can't all digital protocols be intelligent instead of wasting significant spectrum space. We'd all be better off.

Re:Why do UAVs need their own frequencies? (1)

Bottlemaster (449635) | more than 7 years ago | (#17078458)

They're autonomous so they don't actually need to communicate at all to fly.
I'm just speculating because it's fun. If there were a reason to have large numbers of these in the sky at once, it might make more sense to make them stupid. They'd probably need to talk to each other to coordinate their project, and would certainly need contact with air traffic control. They could more easily avoid other aircraft if they got all their guidance from a central computer that's hooked up to major aviation-tracking networks, whatever those are. So they'd just be wings, engines, and a communication system (plus whatever payload they need to get the job done).

Of course, this makes them so much less safe, because if they can't communicate with the MCP, they'd all crash and burn with potentially disasterous effect. Besides, they weight required for the equipment for whatever task they're assigned to would probably make negligible the weight and power requirements of an intelligent on-board control system. So, beats me.

P.S. I'm surprised that none of the replies (that I've noticed) have suggested that airline pilots should be replaced by computers. I guess that's only a common conception of the less-geeky among the public.

Civil UAVs (4, Informative)

CompMD (522020) | more than 7 years ago | (#17076248)

I work for a very well known aircraft design and consulting firm in the US. We have worked on numerous civilan UAVs. Personally, I have been a design reviewer for two UAV programs, performed engine testing for another program, and am currently coordinating flight test for another. Let me tell you a few things from the perspective of someone in the business.

The Yamaha RMAX (mentioned in the article) is a nifty helicopter. It uses a water cooled engine, has composite body shell, airframe, and rotor blades, and a nice onboard computer called YACS. Recently, a nearby company in collaboration with the local university installed a third party autopilot system that interface with the YACS and a ground station controller. The RMAX had first autonomous flight at a remote Air National Guard range and was successful. The 150 meter range restriction placed on the helicopter has very little to do with its performance; the RMAX can easily fly much farther and higher. Some useful applications for an RMAX in the US would be for highway traffic monitoring in busy cities ($150,000 UAV vs. several million dollar Bell 206), search and rescue, surveillance, and low cost aerial photography.

Aircraft can avoid each other, contrary to what the article states. Other users have mentioned TCAS, which warns a pilot when he is too close to another aircraft. The system interfaces with the aircraft's transponder and flight control system to decide what course correction should be made. For two aircraft approaching each other, opposite instructions will be given to the pilots so they fly away from each other. In a UAV, a system like this can be easily modified to simply command the flight control system to change course. In coordination with sense-and-avoid systems (RADAR), terrain avoidance, and other aircraft transponders, a safe automatic flight control system can be made for UAVs.

The technology for UAVs is young, and the equipment being used in many UAVs is not up to par because the only regulation is "you can't fly UAVs." Commercial airliners have triple redundancy for flight critical systems. If you think you have a rat's nest of cabling in your server rooms, you've never seen the wiring in a jet. Even a business jet has a enormous quantity of wires running through it. The reason for so much redundancy is very simple: if aircraft systems fail, people die. Death is generally bad. Since there is nobody onboard UAVs, the same redundancy is rarely installed. I have not worked with a single UAV that has any sort of redundancy for flight critical systems. Now, I'm not saying all UAVs are this way; the GlobalHawk is most certainly well equipped with redundant systems. Because the manufacturing cost of UAVs is so much lower than manned aircraft, many are considered expendable. The maintenance costs of manned aircraft are very large, and for some aircraft, those costs can eclipse the acquisition price very quickly.

There are many people involved in working with industry and the government to get UAVs flying in the US. Standard and regulations need to be formed, and I know several folks involved with that. Take a look at RTCA Special Committe 203 (SC203 Unmanned Aircraft Systems [rtca.org] ). Also look at groups like the Kansas UAV Consortium [kansasuav.org] . They are comprised of industry, academia, government, and military partners dedicated to promoting UAV operations in Kansas and the US.

The UAVs flying today are rather impressive. In October I was an exhibitor at the Unmanned Aerial Systems/Future Systems Symposium [salair.org] . There were demonstrations of the Aerovironment Raven and AAI Shadow 200 UAVs. Both the Raven and Shadow demonstrated very good flying qualities. The Shadow even performed a flawless landing on a dirt runway.

Safety issues will be solved. If you're worried about the safety about civil UAVs when they get here, you aren't paying attention to the real problems in aerospace engineering. If you want to be worried about safety, look at companies like Grob Aerospace [grob-aerospace.net] who just lost one of their "spn" light-jet prototypes and an exceptional and well known test pilot. Grob performs computational fluid dynamics analysis of their aircraft and doesn't perform wind tunnel tests. CFD is great, but there is no substitute for a wind tunnel to determine lift, drag, sideforce, and your roll/pitch/yaw moments. I would not fly in an aircraft like that. Eclipse Aviation [eclipseaviation.com] is another company whose safety I question. Recently, the company president stated that they intend to produce over 500 aircraft next year. Cessna (the world leader in general aviation aircraft) across all Citation lines, produces less than that. Cessna also has been in the business for decades, producing many different aircraft. Eclipse has never produced an aircraft before. Currently, their test fleet is grounded due to cracking windows and abnormal wear to a bolt that helps hold the wing on. Don't be afraid of civil UAVs right now. Worry about some millionaire who doesn't know what to do with his money being stupid in a VLJ that doesn't fly right. Sorry about the rant, but I needed to make a point.

Bottom line is this: civil UAVs are on their way. Yes, there is a lot of bureaucratic muck to get through, but we'll have them soon. And I, for one, will welcome our robotic aircraft overlords.

Re:Civil UAVs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17080164)

Yeah, yeah, banish general aviation. Only the airlines and robots should fly. I can't see and avoid a stealth UAV so obviously I shouldn't be allowed to fly. Cessna (part of the horizontally integrated evil monopoly of Textron) has done more to raise the cost of aviation then any other entity but the trial lawyers. Cessna & Lycoming are still selling aircraft and engines desgined in the 50's with and built with 50's era technology, and that's expensive and dangerous. I'm glad Honda's and Eclipse are entering the market, because they're focused on reducing costs, not increasing them. Fundamentally, Cessna is an anchor dragging the aviation industry, not a leader.

Re:Civil UAVs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17080484)

If you mean >10 years by "soon" - then may be -- just may be. I know the RTCA work and many of the other UAV work that is going on. TCAS is a collision aviodance system (like the last few second "swerve" in cars) and is not a separation assurance system (like normal driving where you avoid cars by looking and avoiding). The integrity requirements are small for TCAS and it is a single thread system, whereas a system that shares airspace will paying passengers on commercial airplanes has to be MUCH more robust and high integrity.

There is not even an generally agreed to Concept of Operations for a civil UAV yet. All it would take is a single accident with a civilian airliner for the program to be delayed by many years/decades. At the current state of art/technology, the civil UAV is not possible at all. A LOT of things will have to change before they are practical in the civil airspace. Just take the single problem of "see and avoid" and try to solve it and you'll see the challenges (just technical) that are out there. Add the "follow instructions of ATC controller" and you magnify the problem by quite a bit. Then the certification with airspace collision probability in the order of 10E-9 (or better) and figure in the rate at which we solve the problems and even a 10 year schedule looks hard to achieve. Add in some basic autonomy when the control data link is lost, and the problem becomes HUGE.

The US army crashes about one UAV per about 1000 hours or so of operation, for a quick comparison. There is orders of magnitude difference between "worked that time (or a few times)" vs "works every time with low collision probability (of the range talked about above)."

-srr

Whats wrong with... (1)

brandonb (875429) | more than 7 years ago | (#17078078)

Whats wrong with using GSM, CDMA, or WiMAX. Whats the use for a dedicated frequency? Once can set up a wimax base station on a tower and use the unlicensed frequency, or use GSM or CDMA from a cellular network and send/receive data via the internet.

+1 for claiming we've been cheated (1)

eagl (86459) | more than 7 years ago | (#17078306)

+1 to the original poster, for letting us know his real feelings by claiming people have somehow been cheated by an entire industry.

Whether it's civil or military, the "industry" goes where the needs are matched with money, plain and simple. The military has identified a CRITICAL need for UAV technology and has consequently poured a ton of money into deveopment. There is apparently no corresponding critical need for civil UAVs, and with nobody putting money into the research OF COURSE there is no movement in the industry in this area.

But I guess the original poster feels we are all cheated somehow, and that makes me question very seriously his motivations and concept of how the world works.

Re:+1 for claiming we've been cheated (1)

CompMD (522020) | more than 7 years ago | (#17078362)

...and industry is going with civil UAVs. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) [aiaa.org] releases an annual poster listing all the world's UAVs. The last one I have is the "2005 Worldwide UAV Roundup." Guess which country has the most UAVs? Yup, the United States. And, the vast majority of them are not military or attack aircraft. Alternatively, you can pick up a Shepard UAV Handbook. That will list them all out as well.

Package delivery... (1)

Myself (57572) | more than 7 years ago | (#17080590)

Some time ago the folks in #mi2600 got to talking about the possibility of postal helicopters, for packages weighing a few pounds or less. I'm a big proponent; I think the prediction went like this:

  Sure, when you're expecting a package, you print out helipad.pdf and tape it to the middle of your driveway.
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