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Unmanned Aerial Systems continue to make the news almost daily and we at Frontier Precision are anxious to see the FAA open the skies up to commercial use of the technology for mapping and surveying.  The FAA has said it will release an initial draft of regulations for operating small drones (sUAS) by the end of this year that will hopefully offer a path to the safe and legal commercial operation of sUAS.  In the meantime, there are some things we can do to get involved in the emerging industry and there are some places we can legally fly with the proper permission.  Trimble recently came to Boise, Idaho, about 100 miles northwest of Frontier Precision’s headquarters, to train 13 people on the operation of the UX5 system.

Among this group were representatives from several Trimble dealers from throughout the US. Frontier Precision was pleased to send three of our staff to the training, (from left to right in first photo) Chase Fly (me), Michael Clancy, and Cliff Askew. Nick Nydegger and Stacey Shaffer from the Environmental and GIS Department at the Idaho Army National Guard (IDARNG) were also in attendance as they have recently purchased a UX5 for a wide variety of mapping, surveying, environmental, cultural, and monitoring projects that occur throughout their facilities and training grounds.

The training was a huge success.  All 13 trainees were able to conduct multiple flights and everyone passed their UX5 flight exams.  Temperatures were frigid.  We started the first day of flight training on the range at 3 degrees and it never got above freezing.  We successfully launched and flew the UX5 in some of the most challenging conditions to operate sUAS.  We survived the cold, even enjoyed it (though the Texans may disagree), and we were fascinated by the autonomy and intelligence of the UX5.  The training was conducted at a site and in a manner that is in compliance with current FAA regulations on unmanned aircraft.

 

The mission planning software included with the UX5 system, Trimble Access Aerial Imaging, is intuitive and allows for simple flight planning, caching basemaps for offline use, selecting safe takeoff and landing locations, and flight simulations.  It then guides the operator through a checklist of safety checks and setup procedures prior to the flight.  Aerial Imaging runs on the Trimble Yuma which functions as a very mobile and rugged Ground Control Station (GCS).  The launcher which is tensioned with a bungee system, performed well even in sub-freezing temperatures.  The Sony Nex5 camera has one of the largest sensors sizes on the market which allows for maximum light and higher quality images and it has a customized lens with a fixed focal length and no moving parts which allows it to bear the wear and tear, multiple crash landings, and constant jostling without the need to frequently recalibrate the camera for accurate photogrammetry work.  The aircraft itself has an internal carbon fiber frame capable of withstanding 15Gs of force, it flies fast and smooth even in high winds, and the eBox contains the brains and autopilot that keeps us all enamored by these intelligent flying robots.  Trimble Business Center and the Photogrammetry module provide simple data processing, analysis, and production tools that allow for highly precise georeferenced and orthorectified data products such as orthomosaics, point clouds, topos, and more.  All of these components and more comprise the UX5 system, the full solution.

In related news, on December 10, 2014 Trimble received an exemption from the FAA under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 that will allow the company to operate the UX5 for commercial use.  This is big news in the UAS industry and it reinforces Trimble’s efforts to to implement the UX5 system safely, responsibly, and legally into US airspace.  Read the official press release HERE.

With a few flights under our belts and a better understanding of how these systems function, what their limitations are, and the data they can provide, we at Frontier Precision are gearing up to provide this technology to our customers.  We are currently working with public agencies and academic institutions who are eligible to apply for and receive a Certificate of Authorization or Waiver (COA) from the FAA to legally conduct UAS flights for commercial or research purposes.  Legal operation by private industry shouldn’t be too far out on the horizon and we look forward to embracing this technology and all the data it has to offer the geospatial community.  Let us know what you are doing and how we might be able to help you get your drone off the ground!