Running a drone operation is not easy. Aside from the everyday business challenges, program leaders face shifting demands from the drone industry. Technology developments are accelerating, regulations are in a constant state of flux, and of course, the big data issue.
Luckily there are software solutions that can help you keep a handle on the flight operations side of your program. Below are a couple of features that your software solutions should have, use this list as a tool to evaluate them:
1. Flight Logging
Bread and butter flight operations management. You have to be able to log flights quickly and easily. There are no substitutes here; this is a core function that should be go/no-go criteria. The question will not be if the software does or does not do this, but how well does it do it? Does the software have single point reporting? Does the software attribute flight hours to both aircraft and personnel at the same time?
2. Maintenance Logging
Again, core function here. The question will be how well does the software do the job? Does the software accrue hours to the appropriate aircraft? Does it track periodic or routine / scheduled maintenance (think oil changes on your car)? Can you track maintenance issues on your aircraft and log corrective actions? Does it display the information in an intuitive, easy to decipher way?
3. Quick Field Reporting
A universal truth of services-based work (like drone flight operations), your teams are going to prioritize getting work done over reporting on their work. If the reporting functions are cumbersome or lengthy, they will be skipped. Reporting must be fast, easy, painless and accessible from pretty much any location.
4. Project Planning
If you run a drone program, then you are likely knee deep in operational planning at some level. To keep a drone program moving you must be able to pair up pilots, equipment and customer requirements – ideally balancing multiple projects at the same time with airspace awareness.
5. Equipment Agnostic
It seems simple, but can your solution handle multiple aircraft manufacturers without changing the processes your business uses? With the accelerating rate of tech rollouts, we currently estimate the lifespan of an aircraft to be around 18 months. If you must change hardware that often (and possibly or maybe even probably hardware manufacturers) do you also want to change software too? Make sure your software can handle any manufacturers equipment.
6. Certification Tracking
Not all of your drone pilots are created equally. Some are more qualified than others – make sure you can easily track who is qualified for what. As your operation increases in scale and complexity, easy to read and intuitive tracking of personnel will pay dividends. Also look at the ability to track routine training. If you are running a professional drone operation, you probably recognize a need for periodic training. Does the software monitor your personnel’s certifications? Can it alert you when renewal training are due?
7. Remote Real-time Tracking
You have got a complicated operation on your hands. Drone teams out getting work done, customers calling for new jobs. Flight reports, data to analyze, invoices and purchase orders. Undoubtedly, you have many moving parts to keep track of. Ask yourself this quick question – do you know where each aircraft is right now? Would you like to?
8. Weather Integration
UAV operations is a weather dependent business; there’s no doubting that. At a minimum, your software should provide a high-level overview of the current weather in the area you plan to fly.
9. Airspace Awareness
Airspace integration is now affectively table stakes for drone software. Airspace regulation is a complicated issue, which is further complicated by FAA regulations and the oft-updated TFRs. Does your software display current airspace in an easy to see format? How quickly do TFRs update?
Our Drone Management System™ (DMS) is a secure, patent pending, web-based application that provides any drone operator, whether a hobbyist or a corporation with hundreds of drones, with a fast and easy way to manage a fleet of UAVs. Users can input flight logs, aircraft maintenance needs and daily activities into HAZON DMS™ through the user-friendly software. Supervisors can view all entered information from a desktop computer or mobile device, without the worry of updating multiple spreadsheets. Your business will run more efficiently and effectively allowing you to realize a better return on the investments you’ve made in training and equipment. Read on to see how feature-rich HAZON DMS™ can make your workflow smoother, faster and more accurate. Learn more about our Drone Management System™ (DMS).
BVLOS is Coming – Are You Ready?
BVLOS is Coming – Are You Ready?
As businesses continue to incorporate UAS into their operations, we need to be aware of the inherent barriers that are likely to arise when bringing BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) flight operations to scale. In this article, I will address the possible barriers that businesses will need to prepare for to unlock the tremendous potential of BVLOS flight operations.
The Part 107 regulation in August of 2016 ushered in a second unmanned aircraft revolution, or at the very last marked the second revolution of the UAS space. Yes, there were many companies (mine included) flying on Part 333 waivers well before Aug ’16, but the absolute explosion in commercial drone pilots since then makes my case. This is not to say that the FAA has led us as an industry to the promised land, far from it. More accurately, the timing was right regarding technological advances, societal acceptance, and economic conditions. Very clearly the FAA was moving in the right direction, but if we are, to be honest, the prevailing currents were moving that way quickly too.
Many are moving aggressively in the wake created by the Pathfinder program, and understandably so. We are already beginning to see the impact of drones on the operational side of many businesses. Most organizations are dutifully focused on risk mitigation, safety cases, sense and avoid capabilities, and flight characteristics. However, many overlook a few essential details that are likely to be barriers when bringing operations to production. Below is a list of things that are likely to be barriers to bring BVLOS flight operations to production scale. Crack the code here, and you will ensure a long ride on the next revolution of the UAS industry.
Back to the second revolution stuff. Enabled by the now virtually complete Pathfinder Program, companies like BNSF and PrecisionHawk are well positioned to lead the way where BVLOS is concerned. PrecisionHawk has even introduced a BVLOS consulting offering that looks to help other organizations get into the game.
The third revolution is coming, is your business ready?
Command & Control (C2)
It is all about the C2 – the first question the inexperienced are likely to ask about any given UAS is, “How long can it fly?” Folks with some experience in the space tend to focus more on the sensor package of an aircraft. No doubt both are important, but the linkage between the ground control station and the aircraft – known as command and control (C2) – overwhelmingly trumps the first.
Within our industry, we have hardware builders that focus solely on transitional vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), and these manufacturers are habitually breaking flight endurance records. With flight times measured in double-digit hours, how long is far less important than how far; the bottleneck for distance is C2. How far can your radio reach and still sustain your proscribed risk mitigation strategies?
We have been living in an era where daily flight times are quite low, even for a very high-volume operation. Wear and tear on airframes is quite minimal. That will be changing directly. In a BVLOS context, aircraft are going to stack up flight time far more rapidly. UAS operations will be forced to look at crew rest in a new way providing multiple pilots for individual flights as those times stretch well past the limits of pilot fatigue. A premium must be placed on aircraft production quality. How many drone-based solutions have you seen that looked great on paper and in ideal conditions but failed to prove their worth in the real world production quality. It was production quality that forced our operation to retire our S-1000 fleet early; we just couldn’t keep tearing apart arms to replace tiny rubber dampeners, the lost time was too much to bear. It is high production quality that will minimize maintenance downtime and maximize return on investment. It is not enough for a UAS to demonstrate a single 10-hour flight out to 50 miles and back. To build a business, the same UAS must repeat that feat, daily.
So you go out and get your BVLOS waiver. You square away your C2 plan, and you have sourced the best possible hardware solution. Stand by for a data problem. You are about to start generating a literal flood of data. What’s your plan? What’s your back up plan? How are you processing and delivering your data to the end-user? Tough questions. The good news is there are more than a few companies working to help you solve the problem.
A few recommendations:
- Be laser focused on your end-users’ What do are they asking for? What are they paying you for? What do they need to be more efficient at their job? Use those questions to help you pick a data analytics provider.
- Back up your data, back it up early, back it up often.
- Don’t try to change the way your customers do business, integrate with their current operations instead. Accommodating how they handle data already will ensure that you are not asking them to change a business process which could be an emotional event.
- Don’t make assumptions about how you are going to get data out of the field. I do not care what they say; hotel WiFi will not support gigabytes of data transfer – I am looking at you Holiday Inn. Telling your crews to just upload the data to your cloud at the end of flight ops for the day is a recipe for tired, angry, frustrated pilots.
To squeeze the full benefit out of BVLOS flight operations, you are going to need to move around a lot, plain and simple. The US military has been employing small UAS for years from semi-prepared sites with the luxury of massive, towable, launch and recovery equipment and cumbersome directional antennas. That is not going to work for most UAS operators. When picking a hardware solution take a critical look at setup and teardown time. Minimize your infrastructure requirement to the max extent possible so you can maximize your flight time and therefore your flight coverage and data generation.
The scene is set for hundreds of industries to be revolutionized by the advancement of drone technology, and it is easy to see why. The progress of this industry provides a means to perform everyday jobs faster, safer, and less expensive. The commercial sector has the most significant potential for long-term growth. Without proper planning and preparation, your organization will miss the window to get ahead of the game and remain competitive in your market. The UAS business is deceptively hard to scale well. While BVLOS operations will undoubtedly provide ample opportunities across many industries, it will also present new challenges as well. The time is now to prepare for the third revolution.
Can you predict when your equipment will fail? As a regular part of our maintenance program, we maintain a close eye on our batteries, one of the critical safety of flight elements of most unmanned aircraft. The total cycles (a single charge and discharge) have proven to be the most useful single metric for tracking wear and tear, tracking these in DMS has proven invaluable. HAZON, at our core is an end-to-end drone service provider. Access to relevant data on the performance and lifecycle of the equipment that enables your work is absolutely critical to any business.
We recently took an opportunity to do a study on the useful life of a sampling of some of our batteries. In this article, we will consider TB48D batteries in use on our DJI Matrice 100 fleet. By way of background, we have over four dozen TB48D batteries in service; this study examines a random sampling of those beyond their 50% life expectancy.
The ten batteries we investigated in this study were flown exclusively on Matrice 100s with a Zenmuse Z30 camera installed and configured for a single TB48D battery. The usage period was about six months. Our configuration, flight operations tempo and business demands result in a harder than preferred life of our batteries.
In consideration of this study, it is important to note that HAZON Solutions specializes in providing drone based services and training and not on maximizing hardware life-cycle. Often times the needs of our business’s operations requires a harder than preferred usage of our equipment.
Batteries that indicated 25% remaining
Batteries that indicated 37% Remaining
|TB48D #1, Current Cycles:135
||TB48D #6, Current Cycles:110
|TB48D #2, Current Cycles:125
||TB48D #7, Current Cycles:108
|TB48D #3, Current Cycles:132
||TB48D #8, Current Cycles:108
|TB48D #4, Current Cycles:127
||TB48D #9, Current Cycles:120
|TB48D #5, Current Cycles:126
||TB48D #10, Current Cycles:108
*Calculations used for SET 1:
- SUM:(TB48D#1-5 Current Cycles) =129 Avg. Used Cycles
- 129 Avg. Used Cycles / 75% (*Battery life used*) = 172 Lifetime Cycles
- 172 Lifetime Cycles X 25% (*Remaining Life*) = 43 Avg. Estimated Remaining Cycles
- 172 Lifetime Cycles – 129 Avg. Used Cycles = 43 Avg. Estimated Remaining Cycles
*Calculations used for SET 2:
- SUM:(TB48D#1-5 Current Cycles) =111 Avg. Used Cycles
- 111 Avg Used Cycles / 63% *Battery life used* = 176 Lifetime Cycles
- 176 Lifetime Cycles X 37% *Remaining Life* = 65 Avg. Estimated Remaining Cycles
- 176 Lifetime Cycles – 111 Avg Used Cycles = 65 Avg. Estimated Remaining Cycles
|Result: 172 Lifetime Cycles on a TB48D
||Result: 176 Lifetime Cycles on a TB48D
(172 *SET 1: Lifetime Cycles* + 176 *SET 2: Lifetime Cycles*) / 2 = 174 Avg. Total Cycles Before End of Battery Life (0%)
TB48D Batteries will last approximately 174 Charging Cycles
before indicating 0% Battery Life Remaining
Multiple factors influenced the data set that we developed. One equipment related factor was that these batteries were charged using a DJI Hex Charger. Hex chargers charge at a higher amperage than a standard 100-Watt charger, this could potentially reduce lifetime of the battery. From an environmental standpoint, the batteries were used in temperatures ranging from 20°F to 110°F. This factor should also impact battery life. Two additional factors to note; the operational tempo required the batteries to be cycled 2-3 times per day, and the batteries were often flown from a full charge down to 20-15% of battery power remaining. As previously noted, this is not a study in how to extend the life of a battery, but rather a practical observation of the life cycle of a battery in a high-volume flight operation.
For the ten test case batteries, the endurance of the batteries remained within reasonable limits (approximately 15-20 minutes of flight time dependent on conditions) for approximately the first 100 cycles. Approaching 100 cycles of use the crews began noticing a degradation in battery performance. Crew members also reported reduced flight time and abnormal discharge rates. As crews approached 25% remaining battery life (as reported by the built in smart battery features), the endurance of the batteries dropped dramatically to the point where the batteries had to be pulled from service due to significant drops in voltage during flight.
From these observations, we determined that lithium polymer batteries follow the traditional wisdom of non-linear functions up to the 100-cycle point. The chart below shows that endurance remains relatively unchanged for approximately the first 100 cycles of usage. After 100 cycles the tolerance of the battery begins to diminish at an increasingly rapidly rate until the battery is no longer usable.
The overall result of our study affirmed the need for three critical operational functions:
- A Remove from Service protocol
- A battery life-cycle tracking system
- A life cycle forecasting system
This study allowed HAZON to easily update our existing Remove from Service protocol. We identified that TB48D batteries have a lifetime of 174 cycles through our usage cycle and that at approximately 100 cycles the battery performance began to decrease noticeably. Using these two data points, and applying an appropriate safety margin, our maintenance team decided that batteries should not be used beyond 90% of their total life. Based on the findings in this study we have amended our Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to dictate that once a TB48D battery reaches 155 cycles that the battery will be immediately removed from operational service and relegated to low-risk training or testing.
We also identified a need for companies to track battery life cycles outside of the internal tracking of the batteries themselves. At HAZON, we rely on the HAZON Drone Management System (DMS) – a fleet management software for enterprise drone operations that provides operators and managers a single platform for all project-based planning and tracking of your fleet operations. Most importantly, HAZON DMS allows users to capitalize on their equipment investments while maximizing the efficiency of operations.
Resource management is a critical component of any business. We use the data provided by DMS to help us forecast when batteries need to be replaced and provide a cost estimate for that replacement within a monthly, annual, or biennial budget cycle. Having this type of information available to company leadership allows for proactive decision making on purchasing decisions that affect cash flow and enables them to define cost to customers more clearly. For more information on HAZON or HAZON DMS contact Ed Hine at email@example.com. To get in touch with the HAZON R&D team contact Garrett Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Garrett Scott, Training and Technology Division Manager & Todd Boward, PhD, Assistant Training and Technology Division Manager
The unmanned industry is going through a phase focused on technology. The newest sensors, the best aircraft, machine learning, and the slickest data management techniques are all supposed to elevate a drone operator to the highest levels of professionalism. What’s being forgotten are the fundamentals of aviation – lessons learned the hard way over the course of the last century, lessons we in the unmanned business would do well to incorporate.
People remain at the core of every drone operation today and will for the foreseeable future. Even the most automated of aircraft require a person to make decisions about where and when the aircraft should fly. Because of this, a Safety Management System is critical to every professional drone operation. A well developed and executed Safety Management System will reduce mishaps while simultaneously increasing efficiency. Those mishaps can easily be measured in dollars lost as well as dollars not earned.
At HAZON Solutions we developed our Safety Management System based on the Federal Aviation Administration’s and Part 121 commercial carrier’s systems. Our program is complete with safety risk mitigation, safety assurance, safety policy, and safety promotion. These incredibly effective components were used as the foundation of the HAZON Drone Management System™.
Every function in the HAZON DMS™ was built to incorporate and support the needs of a complete Safety Management System. The opening page each user sees at log-in clearly and unavoidably displays that user’s RPIC time in the last 7, 14, and 30 days – an excellent starting point for the pilot to self-assess their risk factors. Aircraft maintenance information is easily accessible as are aircraft inspection reports. Lessons Learned (a recently released feature) is a way to rapidly distribute safety related information across your entire drone network.
An investment in developing and executing a Safety Management System will easily yield a 3x or 4x return. HAZON DMS™ has the ability to effortlessly support all tenants of a Safety Management System; it will keep pilots safe, equipment working, and a drone operation humming.