Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operation is fast becoming a standard requirement in many industrial and mission-critical applications. With drone operations no longer limited by the range constraint within the remote pilot’s line of sight, unlocking BVLOS operations in autonomous drones creates new use cases and performance benefits in various applications.
Industries such as disaster management, precision agriculture, law enforcement and insurance amongst others are considering BVLOS as the future for managing operations. For instance, leveraging on the wide-area surveillance capability that BVLOS offers will allow insurers to assess losses in disaster-stricken neighbourhoods safely and quickly, or search and rescue teams to quickly locate people in distress or imminent danger.
In the recent BIS Research, it was reported that the BVLOS drone market generated revenue of $18.87 billion in 2018, and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 5.94% from 2019 through 2029, reaching $34.65 billion by 2029. With increasing opportunities in BVLOS operations, it is necessary to equip drones with sensors to enhance situational awareness to ensure safe flight operations.
Mr Goh Wai Pheng, General Manager of Satcom & Sensor Systems, Electronics, ST Engineering shares, “the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of autonomous drones and robots for cleaning, delivery, and even policing functions to enforce social distancing. If operated safely within tight space constraints and proximity to human traffic, the benefits of the drones and robots are immense. Achieving this requires the autonomous devices to be equipped with smart sensing capabilities that are responsive and accurate for safe operation. Else, the road to autonomy can be fraught with risks and accidents, resulting in undesirable losses – financial, or worse, physical.”
Safety Challenges in BVLOS Drone Operations
The deficit of trust and confidence in the safe operation of autonomous systems remains a critical hurdle on their path to becoming ubiquitous. The risks associated with collisions and accidents remain a huge pain point for these systems, prompting users and equipment OEMs to constantly look for advance technological solutions that can detect and respond to obstacles efficiently and avoid damage.
Undoubtedly, safety still remains the utmost priority for regulators and vendors, over and above system features and capabilities. How can we enhance flight autonomy? Are we able to provide automatic collision avoidance? Is there a possibility for drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles to operate harmoniously in the skies without causing trouble or disruptions?
Hence, this creates the need for innovative solutions and products that enable drones and other autonomous systems to detect multiple obstacles in crowded spaces at long range, so collisions can be avoided. In addition, these products should be power efficient, lightweight, compact and low cost for widespread deployment to be competitively viable.
New opportunities Ensuring Safety of BVLOS Drone Operations
ST Engineering developed the Obstacle Detection Radar to overcome detection difficulties in collision avoidance systems, enabling drones to fly much further and safer BVLOS. While there are a few technologies available in the market, Radar technology to detect obstacles stands out as compared to others such as LiDAR, ultrasonic and infrared because of its volumetric detection capability. This ensures reliable detection of multiple objects with narrow profiles such as power cables, telephone lines, aerial antennas, wire fencing and lamp posts.
Keeping this unique strength of radar in view, the Obstacle Detection Radar was developed to provide highly reliable sensing capabilities for drones and other autonomous systems.
Towards Autonomy with a Lightweight and Compact Feature-Packed Radar Obstacle Detector
The Obstacle Detection Radar simultaneously senses up to 20 obstacles in a 50-metre range with a 0.3-metre accuracy. Consuming only 1 W of power, it is packed in a compact 64 × 64 × 16 mm IP55 enclosure weighing a total of only 40 grams. This allows users to fit and scale the Obstacle Detection Radar to achieve all-weather collision avoidance to mitigate costly collisions.
With the ability to endure inclement environmental conditions, be it rain, snow or dense fog, users can be assured of the low power consumption capability that allows the autonomous systems to achieve extended flight operations that are safe. The compact, less power-hungry Obstacle Detection Radar can also be scaled to provide a 360° view, allowing the autonomous systems to tackle obstacles from all sides.
In addition to these critical features of collision avoidance, the Obstacle Detection Radar stands out for its cost-effectiveness and ease of implementation on new or existing autonomous systems as compared to LiDAR and other alternative sensors in the market.
Mr Goh adds, “We aim to inform and create awareness in the autonomous systems community on the availability of advanced, low-cost collision avoidance technology, and provide manufacturers and operators with practical and reliable solutions to enhance the safety of autonomous systems operations.”
In a snapshot, here are a few applications and features of the Obstacle Detection Radar.
- Aerial Drones
- Autonomous Vehicles/Robots
- Industrial Machines
- All-weather performance
- Multi-target detection
- Detects moving and stationary objects
- Simultaneous distance and bearing information
- Compact and lightweight
- Low power consumption
- Fast response and high-speed update rate
- UART/CAN interface
About ST Engineering
ST Engineering is a global technology, defence and engineering group specialising in the aerospace, electronics, land systems and marine sectors. The Group employs about 23,000 people across offices in Asia, Europe, Middle East and the U.S., serving customers in the defence, government and commercial segments in more than 100 countries. With more than 700 smart city projects across 130 cities in its track record, the Group continues to help transform cities through its suite of Smart Mobility, Smart Security and Smart Environment solutions.