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by Matt Doernhoefer, Product Director

Before we get started, take a look at this headline from a recent ZDNet article (click the headline to see the full story):

Well, this was a read.

I particularly enjoyed the part where 46 drones (!) dropped out of the sky because of a cheap GPS jammer. Nearly half of the 100 drones for a light show fell and splattered themselves over the concrete jungle of downtown Hong Kong, causing nearly a million HK dollars in damage. Remarks on asymmetrical electronic warfare aside, this raises serious safety concerns about the use of commercial drones in urban areas. This should be of particular concern to the FAA which is currently conducting studies on drones that can conduct operations beyond visual line of sight and how they can safely work.

Most commercial grade drones use GPS as a crutch to keep themselves flying straight and level by providing a frame of reference for the drone to use. Any interruption of GPS service to a drone can quickly cause the drone to spiral out of control as it loses all sense of what’s up and what’s down. It’s closely akin to a recreational pilot flying into a cloud and not having any instruments which often does not end well. The average survival time of an untrained airplane pilot that ventures into clouds is about 178 seconds as they lose reference to where the ground is and try to use their own senses to compensate vs. believing their onboard instruments.

So, this raises the question – is ATTI mode enough safety margin for drones? As both a drone pilot and trained airplane pilot, I would venture to say no. Airplane designers often work to achieve intrinsic stability in their designs, so that an airplane returns to straight and level flight assuming no control input. Drones just can’t do that because of their lack of intrinsic stability. So, what else can you do?

We changed our assumptions when designing our drones: the Aertos product line. We looked for ways to build stability into the drone’s core code so that it can operate with no GPS, optical sensors, or any other externally referenced input, for that matter. Our drone is intrinsically stable assuming all externally referenced sensors fail. This rethink results in a far more stable platform. The DA drone right now will not spiral out of control even if all of our sensors bite the dust.

I picked up the Aertos 120 drone for the first time and, with a little bit of guidance, was able to fly it without crashing – just needed a bit of babysitting to make sure it didn’t drift away. The Aertos 130IR is the next step in our evolution where we start adding sensors that allow the IR to understand and interact with the outside world. All the pieces are there for a superior stable drone without any form of GPS.

Personally, I’m looking forward to all sorts of challenges we can take on. I’d love a part of the FAA Beyond Visual Line of Sight test to include a “Loss of GPS” scenario and make all drones engage in undergoing a loss of GPS system while in flight and ensuring the continued safe execution of flight operations. Our drone would be completely unaffected by the loss and would continue on its mission. This would be truly revolutionary in UAV performance … like we do every day.