Four things to watch for in the UAS space next year.
Regulation: I just made up an acronym—“GBVLOS”—Getting beyond visual line of sight. With the rollout of the FAA’s Rule 107 allowing sUAS into the NAS for commercial work, the profession breathed a sigh of relief. Issues still remain, though: namely exemptions for BVLOS. So far, the FAA has given BVLOS exemptions to only three companies: CNN, BNSF Railway, and PrecisionHawk. Without streamlined BVLOS exemptions or, better yet, regulations that incorporate BVLOS flights, a host of applications will be significantly restrained. These include precision ag, pipeline and utility inspection and monitoring, mining, and many more. Let’s hope 2017 sees progress in this area.
Direct georeferencing: UAS mapping without ground control points is the next step in making UAS operations more efficient. Direct georeferencing can be accomplished by using RTK/PPK (eg. Sensefly’s eBee Plus) or by incorporating a GNSS/INS/IMU solution into the UAS (eg. Microdrones mdMapper3000DG). Not having to rely on GCPs reduces or eliminates fieldwork for faster mapping projects.
UAS-borne lidar: Using lidar on UAS platforms yields increases in accuracy and reductions in processing time (a few hours to process lidar data versus 100+ hours to process photogrammetric data in one project I’ve seen). Downside is the expense of lidar. However, Riegl and Velodyne are making these systems more affordable. Watch this trend in 2017.
Hybrid fixed-wing/multirotor platforms: At the Commercial UAV Conference, I was happy to see the team at BirdsEyeView showing off its FireFLY6 Pro, a hybrid fixed-wing/multirotor. I asked how the FireFLY6 was being received. “We’re selling a lot of them!” was the response. Market acceptance and other hybrid platforms entering the space make these unique “best-of-both-worlds” UAS something to keep an eye on in 2017.