Unmanned aircraft project leads push to civilian drones

The "Pandora's box" of unmanned aircraft in the UK has been opened, according to the Astraea consortium.

Yet many technology and ethics issues surrounding civilian drones are yet to be solved, journalists at London's Science Media Centre were told.

The UK-led, £62m Astraea project - which has participation of the UK Civil Aviation Authority - is attempting to tackle all facets of the idea.

Later in November, they will carry out a crucial collision-avoidance test.

Unmanned aircraft or UAs is something of a new name for drones, which have gained notoriety principally in the theatre of war where remotely operated aircraft are used for surveillance or air strikes.

But the same technology put to use for civilian purposes is already a hot topic of debate in the UK and abroad, most recently surrounding their use by London's Metropolitan Police.

It's not just the technology, we're trying to think about the social impact of this

Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal, Astraea project director

A recent report by the UK's Aerospace, Aviation and Defence Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) found that applications for unmanned aircraft are said to be worth some £260bn - replacing costly or dangerous work done by manned planes, or opening up new applications that are currently out of reach.

Crop or wildlife stock monitoring, search and rescue, and check-ups on railway lines are some of the envisioned uses of UAs.

"All these things are currently done by manned aircraft, and they're done in currently quite hazardous environments," said Ruth Mallors, director of the Aerospace KTN.

"We want to use unmanned aircraft in these applications, but to be able to do that we have to demonstrate that were complying with the Civil Aviation Authority regulations, which are for manned aircraft.

"There's not going to be any new regulations - we'll comply with the regulations in place."

That is what brings about the technological challenge. The project involves sensors to be the "eyes" of a UA, the software to carry out manoeuvres and collision avoidance, and the aircraft themselves.

Points of debate

Plans for UAs envision that a pilot will always be on the ground controlling them, but they must have on-board technology that can perform in an emergency - in the eyes of aviation law - as well as a pilot.

"These things are going to have a level of self-determinism, particularly if you ever lose the communication link with the ground control," said Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal, Astraea project director. "They've got to be able to operate fully safely and take the right decisions.

Drones and the UK

Image captionUAs will be free from constraints of size and shape that human pilots bring about

  • It is legal to fly your own drone in the UK without any special permission if it weighs less than 20kg and flies more than 150m from a congested area
  • CAA permission is required if it is used for a commercial activity such as aerial photography
  • Permission has been given for inspecting power lines, police use and crop surveillance
  • Direct visual contact with the drone is currently required at all times
  • Drones larger than 20kg would have to be approved for use by the CAA for use in UK airspace in the same way as commercial aircraft
  • The CAA has made clear that it will not approve their use until it is convinced the drone can automatically "sense and avoid" other aircraft

"But we're not talking about unthinking drones, we're not talking about irrational and unpredictable behaviour, and we're not talking about something that gets itself up in the morning, goes off and does its own things and comes home without any human oversight."

The project has the participation of major contractors including BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Thales UK. But they are also working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority, who will ultimately control the licensing for UAs when they pass stringent safety tests.

Gary Clayton, head of research and technology for EADS Cassidian, another project partner, said theCAA's publication CAP722 is being held up internationally as a template for aviation legislation around UAs.

But Mr Dopping-Hepenstal said the project is aiming much further than the technology and safety legislation.

"What this programme is trying to do is look at this holistically," he said. "It's not just the technology, we're trying to think about the social impact of this and the ethical and legal things associated with it. You've got to solve all this lot if you're going to make it happen, enable it to happen affordably."

Chris Elliott, an aerospace engineer and barrister, is acting as consultant to the project. He told reporters that the licensing and privacy questions were points "to debate, not to pontificate".

"We have a very robust privacy regime now for aviation, and I don't see much very different. A lot of it comes down to what society thinks is acceptable," he said.

"I find it interesting that Google has got away with its [Streetview] because we love Google and we all use it. If this technology positioned to something that is good for us, that we like, then people will accept that kind of behaviour.

"Pandora's box is open - these things are going to fly. What we need is to engage everybody, the public and the specialists, with understanding the good and bad sides."

For now, though, safety is paramount. The Astraea project will carry out real-world collision-avoidance tests using three planes in two weeks' time, putting their autonomous control software through its paces and ensuring that unmanned aircraft can independently avoid a crash.

Let’s un-man the stereotype

By Gina Velde

Automated aerial mapping has transformed the way we survey large, inaccessible areas, yet the term ‘unmanned’ appears to reinforce outdated gender stereotypes all too common in both the aviation and geospatial industries. And as hobbyist and low quality systems with their associated safety concerns are becoming commonplace, the term falls short of an accurate description that reflects the huge safety benefits this technology brings to the mining, construction and surveying industries.

Aviation is one of the most gender stereotyped industries in the world, with men making up the vast majority of airline executives and pilots, women the flight attendants and booking receptionists. A recent campaign by Virgin Australia to put ‘the romance back’ in flying seemed to reinforce these stereotypes, with male pilots flanked by glamorous female flight attendants and a call back to the ‘good old days’ of flying. Sure, they have the odd token woman pilot in their adverts, but in the main male pilots lead the flock of pretty, red-lipsticked cabin crew. And that’s not to single out Virgin Australia as an exception, almost all airline websites feature similar images.

The geospatial industry stereotypes may not be quite as glamorous, but the roles are still neatly defined: men predominate in the board rooms and out in the field, women in receptionist, marketing and accounting roles.

 

When automated aerial mapping was introduced to the geospatial industry in 2011, the two industries crossed paths for the first time. Yet despite the groundbreaking technology that has revolutionised the way we survey large areas or monitor and inspect hard to reach structures, the accepted industry terms use gender-stereotyped language that is all too common in both industries.

‘Unmanned Aerial Systems’ or UAS has become the widely used term to describe either fixed wing or multi-rotor solutions for a range of different industries. It may seem a perfectly adequate description and it has the advantage of differentiating these industry-specific solutions from the more generic term ‘drone’ with all its negative connotations to do with war and espionage.

You may also think the word ‘unmanned’ is harmless given its route in the word ‘mankind’ (and so far there’s been no push to change this to ‘peoplekind’), yet the Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘not having or needing a crew or staff’ is technically incorrect when it comes to describing these systems, as they require a certified pilot on the ground to control them.

When looking for alternatives that would enable us to keep the UAS or UAV acronym that has become widely accepted as an industry term, it seems that all the variations fall short. ‘Unattended’ suggests the aircraft is left to its own devices, ‘uninhabited’ suggests unchartered landscapes and hardly rolls off the tongue, ‘unpiloted’ is better but ignores the fact that there is a certified pilot on the ground who went through rigorous training and is in control at all times. ‘Unoccupied’ is perhaps the most technically correct option and provides a gender inclusive alternative if we are to keep the acronym.

We are doing the technology a disservice by not reinforcing its safety benefits and supporting gender neutrality in our language.

Pushing for gender equality is highly topical, given recent campaigns by major Australian companies such as ANZ bank to create an ‘equal future’ for the next generation. In an emotive video whereby young girls read out statistics such as “women make up 40% of the world’s workforce, yet control only a ¼ of the world’s wealth,” the campaign states that although girls learn to read and talk faster than boys, “the system’s not designed for women to succeed.”

 

This Drone Stays Airborne For as Long as You Need

Like most modern technology, drones suffer from the fact they they have finite power sources. Now a Boston-based CyPhy Works has launched a commercial version of its Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications (PARC) which stays up in the air indefinitely—but it’s not as magical as it sounds.

The drone actually uses a thin cable—CyPhy refers to it as a ‘microfilament’—to send power to the drone and data to the ground. The wire is said to be thinner than a headphone cable, and despite the tether the drone is able to fly at heights of up to 500 feet.

The fact that it never has to land is obviously attractive for some applications, such as surveillance; in fact, Engadget points out that the military has already used it to monitor compounds in the past. But CyPhy Works has now received an exemption allowing it to be sold commercially.

The six-rotor drone is fitted with high-res cameras that can provide visible and infrared images, and the drone can be left to fly at a set altitude for the kind of surveillance work described above. Pricing and availability are yet to be announced.

'Drone may have spooked' police horse Fimber before he died

A police horse may have been spooked by a drone before his death, West Yorkshire Police have said.

Fimber, 14, died after an incident at Carr Gate police headquarters near Wakefield on 15 October.

CCTV footage showed the horse, who had been with the force for 11 years, looking "spooked" in the paddock before vaulting a fence and colliding with a wooden post.

Police have appealed to the owner of a drone found nearby to come forward.

Officers are now investigating the possibility that Fimber's death was linked to a radio-controlled drone found nearby a few days later by the crew of a police helicopter as it came in to land.

Drone Pilot First to be Convicted - Newspaper Watch

John Simpson Crime Correspondent - The Times

A security guard has become the first person tobeconvictedof misusinga done after flying the small unmanned aircraft too close to Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament.

Nigel Wilson,  42,  wasfined£1,800 and banned from buying, owning or flying drones for two years. A judgetold him he had shown "disregard" for public safety while shooting videos from heights above lOOm (328ft).

Wilson also flew drones over league football matches, startling police horses, and ignored severalwarnings frompolice,  whoseizedthem Westminster magistrates' court was told.

He uploaded videos from the flights to his YouTube channel between September and November last year. Some showedBig Ben from close range, the Queen Victoria memorial near the palace and the Shard skyscraper.

District Judge QuentinPurdytold Wilson he had put the public at risk. "In each and every case you knew what you were doing.  Severaltimesyouwere warnedbypolice,  whoseizeddrones from you, and on numerous occasions bypeoplepostingonyourYouTube channel.

It was the height of arrogance in terms of public safety." WiIson, of  Bingham,  Nottingham¬ shire, admittedfourcharges of flying small un-mannedsurveillanceaircraft over a built-up area and five of not maintaining direct visual contact with them.

Wary insurers bring drones back to earth - Paper Watch

Miles Costello writing in the Times

They are set to be used for everything . from delivering Amazon parcels and producing spectacular bird's-eye-view movies to catching poachers and in­specting hard-to-reach rooftops. But one thing may have been overlooked amid all the excitement about drones -getting the necessary insurance.

The lack of harmonised international regulation, the danger of cyber attacks and worries about the competence of human drone operators are growing concerns of the insurers that provide cover for the industry, according to a new report.  Leading figures in  the Lloyd's of London insurance market have warned that unless the burgeon­ing industry for commercial drones pulls together a basic set of regulatory standards, it could be harder to secure insurance cover.

The world's oldest insurance market calls on manufacturers, operators and regulators to work with insurers to make sure that the risks associated with commercial drone activities do not es­calate to the point where-underwriters balk at providing protection.

Nick Beecroft, the manager of emerging risk and research at Lloyd's, said:"If nothing happens, the key impli­cation will be greater uncertainty.  Drones have significant potential but at the same time they are a controversial emerging technology. As the market for drones continues to grow, so does the interaction of risk exposures."

The market for drones, which in Britain is regulated by the Civil Avia­tion Authority,  is expected to reach $9 billion by 2024, according to the Teal Group, double the size that it was last year.

Jay Wigmore, an aviation underwriter at Tokio marine Kiln and an expert in insuring drones, said that some under­ writers might decide to walk away from the market if the lack of widespread rules made it an unattractive risk.