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Civil UAVs Still A Distant Prospect 109

Posted by Zonk
from the i-want-to-be-a-rigger dept.
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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Civil UAVs Still A Distant Prospect

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  • by Atlantis-Rising (857278) on Friday December 01, 2006 @05:55PM (#17074322) Homepage
    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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jdray (645332)
      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        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 remot
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by massivefoot (922746)
        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 a
        • by AB3A (192265)
          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
      • Re:Waitaminute... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by cshotton (46965) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @08:14AM (#17079728) Homepage
        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.
        • by jdray (645332)

          this is fundamentally a software and FAA (ICAO) procedural problem in the future.

          Sounds like a good community project (OSS) to me. Would the FAA play?

    • As long as your UAV is very ill-tempered, it's OK. As long as you can't call it civil.
    • by HTH NE1 (675604)
      That's a remotely manned drone, not an unmanned aerial vehicle.
      • The difference between 'remotely manned drone' and 'unmanned aerial vehicle' is me putting an eraser on the 'go forward' button.
        • by HTH NE1 (675604)
          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.)
          • 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

            • 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.
              • by starbird (409793)
                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: (Score:2, Interesting)

                  by Zantetsuken (935350)
                  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?
                  • 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.
                  • by Dausha (546002)
                    "...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 fir
                    • it took me a while to figure out what you were saying with the "Hitchcock" part - aside from killing Little Billy, that would be pretty damned funny to watch
    • A matter of scale (Score:3, Informative)

      by erice (13380)
      Not the greatest link but, excerpted from http://iagblog.blogspot.com/2006/06/faa-vs-la-she r 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.
      • http://www.faa.gov/aircraft/air_cert/design_appro v 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.
  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Friday December 01, 2006 @05:58PM (#17074366) Homepage Journal

    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.

    • 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...
      • by ackthpt (218170) *

        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.
    • by HTH NE1 (675604)
      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.
      • by ackthpt (218170) *

        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.

        • by HTH NE1 (675604)
          Yeah, I thought about prevaricating on that point, but decided it would detract from Teh Funny.
    • by twistah (194990)
      STFU
  • It's Not Time Yet (Score:5, Informative)

    by dch24 (904899) on Friday December 01, 2006 @05:59PM (#17074378) Journal
    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.)
    • 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.
      • by ArcherB (796902)
        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!
        • You mean like the CCTV in Britain?
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by sponga (739683)
            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.
        • by jdray (645332)
          Umm... Aren't the cops part of "civil" ??
          • by ArcherB (796902)
            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.
      • by dch24 (904899)

        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.

        • by LindseyJ (983603)
          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.
    • by JCondon (1029908)
      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.
      • 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 f
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by arpad1 (458649)
      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
    • 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) Min
      • by Lehk228 (705449)
        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.
    • by timeOday (582209)
      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
    • by Dausha (546002)
      "current FAA regs prevent piloted aircraft from flying into fires at night"

      I should hope FAA regs prevent flying _into_ a fire during the day, too. Fires tend to be low to the ground and quite hot. I would think flying into a fire has rather explosive consequences.
  • Star One (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HTH NE1 (675604) on Friday December 01, 2006 @06:07PM (#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]
    • 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.
  • 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 n
  • 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 civilia
    • by HTH NE1 (675604)
      UAV WAP.
      • by dch24 (904899)
        Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes travelling 500 miles per hour at 10,000 feet over your house.
    • 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. Furt
      • by Anonymous Coward
        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 passe
        • by typidemon (729497)

          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 c

        • Hold on a minute....the idea is not to replace a pilot's judgment and observational abilities, the idea is to replace his mechanical skills flying the plane (and avoid risking his life). The pilot is still in the loop as an observer. It's just that, rather than actually being in the plane, flying it, while simultaneously looking around, he's going to be sitting in a comfy chair in front of a computer screen, sipping coffee, and looking "around" by looking through the camera eyes of the UAV. We're talking
  • by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Friday December 01, 2006 @06:08PM (#17074502)
    Granted, they can only be flown in *uncontrolled* airspace by law, but that's still civil airspace.

    -b.

  • 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

    • by dloyer (547728)
      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.
    • 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 air

      • by jsoderba (105512)
        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.
        • Not really. Airlines scoot up to 10,000+ feet as fast as they can (jet engines drink a *lot* of fuel at low altitudes). Plus, there's what's known as "Class C" airspace around most airports big enough for airliners to fly in an out of, and I have to call air traffic control to fly in Class C airspace since I don't have a transponder. What this means is I just avoid Class C airspace, since it isn't worth the hassle for me to fly there. By the time an airliner is out of this airspace, they are higher than
        • Oh...and I forgot one other thing: my airplane has a *really* basic instrument panel, so I don't fly it in less than ideal conditions :) Even though I'm rated to fly in instrument-weather, my airplane isn't equipped for it, so if there's any question about the weather being good enough, I stay on the ground. If I'm flying my airplane in bad weather, airliners nearby are the least of my concerns.
    • A very high proportion of aircraft don't have transponders, so won't be seen by the TCAS in an UAV.

      Most gliders don't, most hot air balloons don't, most Permit aircraft don't, most microlights don't, most paragliders don't, and so on.

      Then when you move on to "real" aircraft, most 1940s cloth-and-stick taildraggers don't ... and so on up to 1970s spamcans, some of which do admittedly have transponders fitted, but whether they work at all is one thing and whether the altitude encoder is also working is anothe
  • 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 start

    • 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

      • 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].
    • ... 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.
  • by postbigbang (761081) on Friday December 01, 2006 @06:16PM (#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. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Shadow Wrought (586631) * <shadow,wrought&gmail,com> on Friday December 01, 2006 @06:16PM (#17074658) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01, 2006 @06:23PM (#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.
  • 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?
  • 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?

  • 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. Thi
  • by Roadkills-R-Us (122219) on Friday December 01, 2006 @07:04PM (#17075448) Homepage
    ``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.
  • well - tell me?
  • 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
  • Maybe IBM hasn't been called out because they open their drivers, and AMD as well as NVIDIA do not? Just a WAG.
  • 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 alread

  • 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?

    • by Doppler00 (534739)
      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.
    • 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

  • Civil UAVs (Score:4, Informative)

    by CompMD (522020) on Friday December 01, 2006 @08:12PM (#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

  • 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 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
    • by CompMD (522020)
      ...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.
  • 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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