What’s coming to AUVSI Xponential + UAV misHAPS

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AUVSI Xponential 2019 — the huge exhibition and conference built around unmanned everything — will run at the West Building, McCormick Place Convention Center, April 29 to May 2 in Chicago.

This is the premier show for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) group and its many members and supporters who have interest in unmanned technology — 8,500 attendees with connection to unmanned and autonomous capability are expected to walk the exhibit hall to see the latest products, hear numerous related presentations, participate in educational courses, and mingle with other like-minded people in the industry.

I was looking for a way to provide a brief overview of the companies exhibiting; a sample cross-section to provide an insight on what to expect. But with more than 700 exhibitors, it’s a difficult thing to do. Then I realized that the company show preview emails in my inbox were from organizations that were actually quite representative of the industry, and I had my overview selection.

Flyability inspection drone. (Photo: Flyability)

Flyability inspection drone. (Photo: Flyability)

Flyability’s drones are adapted for inspection tasks, both indoors and out, with an exterior protective cage. Routine inspection jobs indoors, underground and around complex pipework become quicker, safer and are fully documented by high-resolution video and stills.

This all enables the reduction of costs and process-interruption downtime of industrial inspections, while also reducing to a large degree the risks for inspection professionals. Industries using these inspection drones include power generation, oil and gas, chemicals, maritime, infrastructures and utilities, and public safety.

AeroVironment’s drones are used extensively by the military for surveillance and reconnaissance, and in the commercial sector they focus on tools for agriculture.

Quantix drone. (Photo: AeroVironment)

Quantix drone. (Photo: AeroVironment)

The VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) Quantix drone system is fully automated for takeoff, flight and landing, enabling mapping of farm acreage to monitor crop health to identify anomalies due to water, insect, weed and disease so their impact on yield can be minimized.

Drone mailbox. (Photo Valqari)

Drone mailbox. (Photo: Valqari)

Valqari has developed a drone mailbox that is interoperable with a large number of delivery drones and enables drop-off of packages in residential neighborhoods.

The Valqari drone mailbox automatically accepts packages and safely stores them until the recipient opens the box later to retrieve them.

Cepton makes lidar systems more commonly used for automotive obstacle detection, but now customized for UAV integration and use. Its UAV lidar system provides long-range, high-resolution and low-cost mapping capabilities in a lightweight package. With a scanning range of 200 meters, high-density map-data acquisition becomes possible.

Deseret UAS is a non-profit working to bring UAS business to Utah — the organization offers information, promotes UAS companies and offers test-range access in Utah. In collaboration with Utah State University AggieAir, FAA authority for flight testing in wide open; low-risk operational areas of Utah can be accessed.

And, of course, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI), manufacturer of the well-known Predator military drone, will exhibit. At Xponential 2018, GA-ASI unveiled its MQ-9B SkyGuardian certifiable drone system. Through the year, the company has progressed towards certification of the system for flight within the U.S. civilian National Airspace System and the civil airspace of other countries around the world.

GA-ASI’s latest media release recounted how an MQ-9B was flown by the company’s Certifiable Ground Control Station (CGCS) on March 9, including both take-off and landing. The CGCS architecture separates flight and mission-critical functions. Off-the-shelf avionics and flight computers are used for flight-critical functions, and mission-critical functions run alongside GA-ASI’s Advanced Cockpit payload and weapons equipment.

Certifiable Ground Control Station. (Photo: GA-ASI)

Certifiable Ground Control Station. (Photo: GA-ASI)

Meanwhile, High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) unmanned aircraft are back in the news with what appears to be a crash during the sensitive take-off/climb-out regime. The Airbus Zephyr aircraft — with an 82-foot wingspan, but weighing less than 75 pounds — was engaged in a test campaign in Western Australia when the ground abruptly intervened on March 15.

Airbus is working with the UK Ministry of Defence to demonstrate the operational capabilities of the UAV and its anticipated payload options. Once airborne, Zephyr is intended to climb out to upwards of 65,000 feet into the stratosphere — previously achieving a maximum altitude of 74,000 feet — and has so far been able to remain airborne for almost 26 days. The object is to create a commercial, reusable, reconfigurable satellite-like capability for communications and surveillance applications.

Preparing the Zephyr UAV for take-off. (Photo: Airbus)

Preparing the Zephyr UAV for take-off. (Photo: Airbus)

Airbus and MoD are undertaking a crash investigation to determine what exactly happened and how to prevent future recurrence. The incident occurred about four hours into a demonstration flight, and (reading between the lines) may have been related to rapid weather changes that destabilized the UAV while in the take-off and climb-out phase. An automated launch system is in the works — currently Zephyr is man-handled for take-off.

Other HAPS programs include AeroVironment and Japan’s Softbank, Astigan and the UK Ordnance Survey, BAE Systems and Prismatic, and Boeing’s Aurora Flight Sciences. Thales, meanwhile, is apparently focusing on an approach using an autonomous airship.

So some good news, some not so good. Lots of attendees are expected in Chicago for the AUVSI Xponential show, with new developments in unmanned aircraft, robotics, and unmanned ground and water systems anticipated in the exhibition hall. There will be lots of people in the industry with whom to exchange ideas and conduct business to conduct, hopefully just as spring arrives in the windy city.

Meanwhile, over the coming months Airbus will no doubt continue to work out how to overcome the latest problems in HAPS technology and operations.

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