Drones Continue Push on Delivery Operations, BVLOS Testing

Image: HiDRON

October 01, 2019      

Several developments in recent days and weeks continue to show the drive towards commercial drone operations that include medical supply deliveries and first responder scenarios. Here’s a roundup of some of the more recent news:

FAA OKs Drone Delivery Company

The FAA today awarded air carrier and operator certification to an unmanned aircraft system delivery company, UPS Flight Forward, which lets them perform revenue-generating package delivery activities within federal regulations. The Part 135 operating certificate allows the company to deliver vital healthcare supplies, including flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) to customers. The company can also operate multiple drones under one certificate, the FAA said.

UPS Flight Forward drone delivery

UPS Flight Forward will be able to deliver packages via drone. Image: UPS

“This is a big step forward in safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems into our airspace, expanding access to healthcare in North Carolina and building on the success of the national UAS Integration Pilot Program to maintain American leadership in unmanned aviation,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.

As a participant in the U.S. Transportation Department’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) partnered with UPS Flight Forward. As the operator, they have been engaged in delivery of healthcare supplies around a major hospital campus in Raleigh, North Carolina. The flights have focused on the delivery of blood for potentially life-saving transfusions, as well as other medical samples for lab work.

The company demonstrated that its operations met the FAA’s rigorous safety requirements to qualify for an air carrier certificate. This is based on extensive data and documentation, as well as test flights.

Canada Tests BVLOS via 4G LTE

In Renfrew, Ontario, a collaboration between InDro Robotics, Cradlepoint and Ericsson has completed a trual that used 4G LTE cellular connectivity to enable BVLOS drones to deliver automated external defibrillators (AEDs0 to the scene of a cardiac arrest. The trial demonstrated the drones’ capabilities to arrive more than seven minutes before paramedic vehicles during each test flight.

The County of Renfrew said it will use these results to plan deployment strategies that reduce time to treatment for people suffering cardiac arrest, and for those who need urgent medications in private, residential, or rural locations.

drones cardiac arrest first response

A collaboration in Canada tested delivery flight time via drone of cardiac arrest medical equipment.

Held in September 2019, the trial involved the county’s Paramedic Service flying the first LTE-connected drones equipped with AEDs to locations in a 10-mile operating radius beyond the line of sight of emergency services and pilots. The drone flew over cellular to remote take-off points selected by GPS and landed successfully to deliver an AED to the onsite researchers. They then utilized the device to deliver required shocks to a medical mannequin. Translated to an actual cardiac arrest, the extra time provided by the drones would be crucial in saving the victim’s life, the group said.

As technology partners for the trial, InDro Robotics supplied the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), with Cradlepoint providing its NetCloud Service, including the on-board, rugged IoT router that enables LTE connectivity for control data and video between the vehicle and its pilot over a Canadian mobile carrier’s LTE advanced cellular network. Ericsson will offer 4G LTE equipment with carrier aggregation, as well as its cellular network design support and drone research.

Previous line-of-sight trials using drones to assist emergency services have operated within the limitations of non-cellular communications technology and without the ability to use video, limiting them to trips of approximately 4.5 miles. By using the LTE cellular network, the County of Renfrew initiative offers the potential to deliver AEDs to patients up to 80 miles. To improve the mission-critical communications associated with these deliveries, the drones share images and video with operators and employ artificial intelligence to manage key functions, such as collision avoidance, all enabled by the speed, bandwidth and reliability of the LTE cellular network.

“Given the large area and varied terrain that the county encompasses, it is often difficult to get paramedics to patients in a timely fashion, so we have taken a layered approach to their response,” said Michael Nolan, chief of the County of Renfrew Paramedic Service. “We have been successfully using drones to support our emergency responders for several years, but until now, the operators have had line-of-sight of the situation. We will now have further reach than ever. What’s particularly innovative and exciting about this trial is the potential of drone-delivered AEDs to have a transformative impact on emergency care for patients suffering cardiac arrest, especially those in remote private, residential or rural settings, where getting emergency treatment rapidly is the difference between life and death.”

“This new drone technology is especially exciting when integrated into critical scenarios for paramedics – effectively enabling AED ‘on the fly,’” noted Philip Reece, CEO, InDro Robotics. “At InDro Robotics, part of what we focus on is custom design solutions for complex missions, and this is a perfect example of how drone software and hardware can provide a scalable solution to a very real problem. We’re thrilled to be part of this partnership, and to be able to demonstrate the capacity for drones and cellular technology at this life-saving trial.”

Canadian Glider Sets Altitude BVLOS record

A joint project between UAVOS and Stratodynamics announced a record-setting stratospheric flight. A stratospheric glider named HiDRON was released from a Canadian Space Agency scientific gondola at an altitude of 111,434 feet (33.9 km), and performed a 4-hour controlled flight, landing at the Iroquois Falls Airport, about 80 km from the Timmins, Ontario, launch site. The group said the test confirmed the glider’s ability to perform high-altitude missions and BVLOS operations, setting a new operational best for the flight in a challenging stratospheric environment.

The companies said the flight achieved many first in Canadian aviation, including;

  • Highest altitude flight of a UAV or remotely piloted aerial system (RPAS), which is the name used by Transport Canada to encompass UAVs.
  • First UAV above 29,000 feet in Class A airspace.
  • First release of a UAV from a scientific gondola in Canada. Previous launches were carried out by weather balloons.

As the gondola rose to its float altitude, the HiDRON was released at around 12:30 am on Sept. 1st at an altitude of 111,400 feet. The HiDRON performed well in difficult headwinds and -60° C stratospheric conditions, with its AMON detector recording single pixel data in a near-moonless night sky.

The record setting flight is the culmination of 12 months of international collaboration and planning with colleagues in Canada, Belarus and Slovakia and was the second of two flights commissioned to test AMON Airglow detector from Stratodynamics’ client, the Institute of Experimental Physics at the Slovak Academy of Science. The Slovakian team was searching for a cost-effective method for the AMON detector to have a clear view upwards unencumbered by a weather balloon blocking the view. The AMON detector is planned to participate in EUSO-SPB2 mission that will fly on a long duration NASA balloon in 2022.

“HiDRON is a real solution that advances the important research around climate change and other atmospheric chemistry problems,” said Aliaksei Stratsilatau, CEO, UAVOS. “The HiDRON provides solutions for tough problems that affect all of humankind, which is why it is such a necessary platform for researchers.”