AeroEnvironment's newest UAV is rumored to look at lot like the Helios Prototype, which crashed in 2003.
BY SAM BLUMPUBLISHED: MAR 7, 2019
AeroEnvironment’s newest drone will mirror its prior creation, the Helios Prototype.
A race is on to build a fleet of solar-powered drones that beam internet down to the Earth beneath them, and the tech titans are dominating this chase—or so we thought. But now that Google and Facebook both have dashed their plans for roaming unmanned internet planes, a lesser known company is partnering with NASA to bring the project closer to reality, according to an IEEE Spectrum report.
It is the Hawk 30, a massive 10-engine drone in the vein of previous UAVs made by Airbus and the solar-powered Odysseus plane that can fly for months on end. The product of Japanese tech giant SoftBank and U.S. drone manufacturer AeroEnvironment, the Hawk could soon embark on test flights, with a launch from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center potentially slated for this week.
The Hawk, though part of a new $65 million partnership between the two companies, is part of the same family as previous UAVs AeroEnvironment built for NASA. One of those was the Helios prototype, which crashed in 2003 during a high-altitude test. The Hawk mirrors its ill-fated predecessor in both ambition and design. In 2001, the Helios reached the highest altitude of any winged horizontal aircraft when it ascended to 93,000 feet. The milestone set a new precedent for high-altitude, solar aircraft.
While it may be years from commercial readiness, the Hawk 30 has big implications for the broadening of wireless connectivity in remote regions, if indeed it can succeed where others have failed: Facebook made a splashy foray into the internet-beaming drone race by announcing Aquila, a solar-powered UAV the size of a Boeing 737's wingspan that used propellers to ply air. (The project was abandoned in 2017 after the drones were damaged in landings). Google too began vetting its sky-born internet capabilities in 2015, but later scrapped drones in favor of Project Loon, which uses high-altitude balloons to beam down internet.
The Hawk will still have to fend off competition from the likes of Airbus, but its prospects are lifted by AeroEnvironments connections with NASA. IEEE Spectrum reports the company is contracted with the space agency for three flight tests that will take the drone up to 10,000 feet, with the intention go much higher if initial tests are successful:
AeroVironment is paying NASA nearly $800,000 to supervise and provide ground support for the upcoming low altitude tests, which are scheduled to continue until the end of June. If those are successful, the company will go higher in its next round.
There's currently no word on the Hawk's communications payload capacity, but its creators certainly hope that it helps expand wireless internet access across the globe. First, though, it will have to make it out of testing unscathed.
Source: IEEE Spectrum
From New York to Dubai to Myanmar, more smart cities are springing up across the globe. As more countries start to digitally transform, the futuristic cities and state-of-the-art gadgets that once belonged only to the realms of science fiction may soon become our reality... and they will be made possible with the advancement of the geospatial industry.
The global geospatial analytics market is estimated to be worth USD$134.48 billion by 2025, with the market registering a compound annual growth rate of 15% between 2019 and 2025. Asia Pacific is also expected to see the highest growth during that period, fuelled by numerous smart city initiatives such as ASEAN Smart Cities.
These indicators point to the increase in demand for geospatial services, which will no doubt also bring improvements in quality to geospatial services and technologies. Led by factors such as increasing digitalization, access, ubiquity in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) usage and the opportunities of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the geospatial industry is expected to remain a key player across the world in 2020.
Ever since the world entered a technological boom, we have been on a steady climb to become a digital world. Geospatial technologies will continue to enable us to build smart cities with the integration of digital technologies into work processes becoming a commonplace practice.
For example, the implementation of Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) is one of the key elements in the Singapore government’s Construction Industry Transformation Map. IDD integrates every team member and stakeholder into the workflow, increasing connectivity between each member to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Cloud-based visualization and collaboration platforms like the HxDR from Hexagon allow data to be sent to the cloud as they are recorded. 3D point clouds and Building Information Modelling (BIM) can also be easily incorporated into the IDD workflow. This way, all parties involved in a project have access to real-time data and are updated on any new or changed information.
This approach highlights how the digitalization of geospatial technologies supports the construction industry and is important in ensuring that urban planning and construction workflows are operated efficiently, and in tandem.
Access for More Users
While the geospatial industry has always had a strong footprint in the construction industry, it can expand its horizons far beyond its roots. Lidar technology is used in laser scanners and trackers to provide accurate 3D models and land-over classifications to map areas as large as cities. However, there is a lot of anticipation about how geospatial technologies can be incorporated into other businesses. For instance, the automobile industry is looking into how Lidar can be used as 'eyes' for autonomous vehicles. Authorities can similarly use Lidar for urban planning and disaster response.
Furthermore, geospatial services are increasingly moving online as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), allowing users to access a software’s functions over the internet. Geospatial services such as SaaS essentially mean that these services will become accessible to even beginning users. Geospatial providers are likely to improve the intuitiveness and user-friendliness of their products to make them more accessible for prospective users.
The global UAVs market is forecasted to grow to US$40.6 billion by 2028 from US$17.0 billion in 2018, and will play an increasingly important role in optimizing processes in various industries.
Major construction companies in other countries have begun to integrate UAVs into their work processes. The engineering community is one of the first industries to adopt UAV technology to aid virtual design and construction. Not only do UAVs improve the safety of work sites and are cost-saving compared to traditional surveying methods, but their aerial perspective also offers near-limitless ways to gather and analyse data. UAVs in geospatial technology have been used to scope out massive areas, such as a whole city, within a few hours. The integration of 3D visualization tools in UAVs will further revolutionize the way that geospatial technology can inspect, survey and map.
Opportunities on the BRI
Since 2015, China’s proposed SG$900 billion BRI project has encompassed opportunities amounting to SG$155 billion in the transport and building sectors. With over 200 projects spanning various continents, the precision and speed that geospatial services can provide are invaluable to such projects, and the ability to visualize the outcomes of projects is a great advantage for every party involved.
A notable BRI project is the Edirne to Kars High-Speed Rail Line in Turkey. The 2,000km line is the key link connecting the Guangdong and Shenzhen ports to Rotterdam, while also connecting the Asian markets of Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Iran. A project of this scale will require rigorous and thorough planning to ensure that all these locations are linked, which may also present geographical problems. By using geospatial technology to map and survey locations, any construction challenges faced can be solved and even avoided well in advance.
Furthermore, critics have raised concerns regarding the BRI, such as the safety of sea channels and environmental concerns, as 90% of global commercial trade and 60% of the world’s total oil volume is still conducted through shipping. It is important that these channels remain safe for use. With technology like Lidar, accurate maps can be plotted to ensure new trade routes will not obstruct existing ones. Lidar can also be used to ensure that no excessive damage is caused to the environment during construction.
As the various factors look set for continuous growth, opportunities for the geospatial industry are abound in many areas. In particular, smart cities – a market that will be worth US$833 billion by 2030 – is in the driving seat to be the main growth engine for the industry as cities develop future infrastructure with geospatial technologies.
Please note that this article was written before the coronavirus outbreak.
Author: Mark Concannon
Better regulations and wider acceptance from the general public are key to the growth of commercial drone use across the region.
Drones are playing an increasingly important role in optimising processes in various industries – providing efficiency and effectiveness while prioritising safety and savings. Their near limitless aerial perspective offers the ability to gather and analyse data, and when combined with artificial intelligence (AI), are revolutionising the way companies inspect, survey and map terrain, infrastructure and agriculture.
Malaysia based Aerodyne has carved a global name for itself by combining drones with AI’s powerful analytics. Apart from asset inspection, management and project monitoring in various sectors, Aerodyne also actively provides services in geospatial intelligence, emergency response, 2D and 3D mapping and precision agriculture.
A relative newcomer to the scene, the four-year-old company now has a presence in 24 countries and is ranked the world’s seventh best drone operator by Drone Industry Insights, a market research and analytics company based in Germany. Kamarul Muhamed, Aerodyne CEO and founder said that the growth in commercial applications for drones has resulted in global interest for his company’s unique AI-driven services. However, he admitted that most of his subsidiaries are based outside of Southeast Asia.
Apart from its business in Malaysia, Aerodyne is also active in Indonesia and has contracts in Singapore and Brunei as well. Though he praised the Philippines for being early adopters of the technology, Kamarul said that drones and their accompanying services are tightly regulated in most ASEAN countries.
“In general, ASEAN has adopted a wait-and-see approach to drone use – but we should be taking a leadership role,” Kamarul told The ASEAN Post this week.
“We have inherited a lot of regulations which do not necessarily promote or support (drone) innovation. There are some regulations now based on drones’ usage, their weight and the height they are flown at, but there is no licensing requirement. If we have licensing, we can regulate the industry better,” he stressed.
While Kamarul pointed out that rules are especially tight in countries like Lao PDR and Myanmar, there is no region-wide consensus on drone regulations. Even in Singapore, which has long been at the forefront of technology in ASEAN, lawmakers are still reviewing changes to drone legislature that was proposed by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) last April. Among the changes include a pilot licensing scheme, a compulsory online training programme and stricter requirements such as partial or full certification for heavier unmanned aircraft.
Kamarul used BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) as an example of legislation playing catch-up with technology. BVLOS is a concept which allows drone operators to gather data over large areas without having to be in close proximity to the drone and is seen as the next step forward for the industry.
“Traditionally, it has been seen as dangerous and irresponsible – but the technology is increasingly maturing. If you certify the operation, it is very safe,” he said.
Explaining that while drone adoption is about to go mainstream globally, Kamarul said ASEAN only represents less than three percent of the global drone market which is forecasted to be worth US$127.3 billion in 2020. However, he added that it still represents a substantial sum and there is huge potential within the rapidly growing region. There are a lot of services that can be unlocked in terms of efficiency, and this is especially true in countries which are just building their infrastructure and are looking at cost-efficient ways to maintain them.
Apart from a framework which supports businesses and innovation, there is a need to educate the public on the benefits of drones and their role in building cities of the future. Safety and privacy are the public’s two biggest concerns surrounding drone use, but their increasing adoption in our daily lives is helping to change negative stereotypes.
Airbus successfully trialled the world’s first shore-to-ship delivery in Singapore in March, and in January, Chinese e-commerce platform JD.com conducted what is believed to be Southeast Asia’s first government-approved drone delivery by delivering backpacks and books to Indonesian students in a rural school more than 250 kilometres away. In another regional first, Thailand started using drones to address worker shortages in the farming sector last year, deploying them to help map and survey crops as well as spray fertilisers and pesticides.
While these trials are a good first step, ASEAN member countries should consider implementing training programmes and licencing to better regulate the industry. With drones set to play an increasingly prominent part in the region’s economy, key policies have to be put in place now to ensure better integration without negative effects on society.
12 April 2019