Drone innovators showcase single-operator capability

At an expo for new ideas in drone technology, innovators demonstrated how their systems can improve efficiency by connecting drones to a single network.

A dozen or so tech start-ups, innovators and students gathered last night to showcase their ideas for the future of unmanned aircraft technology, in a competition for various cash grants and awards. The event hosted by TandemNSI sought to award $1,000 grants in three catagories—most interesting national security application, most interesting commercial opportunity and most socially beneficial—along with another $500 award going to the audience choice for coolest technology. 

A common thread among several companies was something military researcher have been interested in for some time: the idea of integrating multiple drones and devices to one network or interface, in order to simplify their command and control capability.

Too often, drones operating within the same airspace in close proximity are controlled by multiple people. A common interface is something that could see myriad military applications in the future, considering the interest in such things as universal remotes for drones and remote controls to operate multiple vehicles

Sudodrone, which won the award for most interesting commercialopportunity, showcased a cloud-based platform that aims to allow one user the ability to access multiple devices connected via the cloud. While the platform is still in the research and development phase – as exemplified by their design, which attached plastic Tupperware to the top of their drone – it could have real applications for military users. Currently, Sudodrone has not tested the limits of its cloud system but estimates about 50 devices could be connected at one time. Though, if demand increases, additional high-powered servers could be connected, which could increase capacity to thousands of drones on one network. At the present time, only one drone would be controlled by one user as to limit mishaps with one person controlling multiple devices connected to their platform. Users can also control their devices with smart phones and tablets, receive real-time video feeds and set GPS waypoints.

Similarly, ZiBY Creations demonstrated its 4G LTE network for drone connectivity. Company representatives said that 4G LTE allows for information to be encrypted, enabling greater security for data and video. They said that one of the ideas behind using a 4G LTE network is streamlining service – one single network for multiple users and operators. An operator could be controlling a drone in location A while its video feed can be viewed securely by others in locations B, C and D. Expo attendees appeared to agree, as they voted to give ZiBY’s innovation the audience choice award.

The winner of most interesting national security application, Sentien Robotics, highlighted its surveillance drone platform, which utilizes a concept similar to military intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance orbits. As Sentien’s representative, Brandon Borko, said, it can become infeasible to have a single operator controlling one drone throughout a surveillance mission, considering that battery-dependent drones must constantly be cycled in and out of thee mission.  Sentien’s solution is a graphical interface accompanied by a station that can house tens or hundreds of small-scale drones for surveillance purposes. One user can manage the entire system, which could be used for surveilling a compound, building, single target or maritime environment. Each drone also signals when its battery will run out and is autonomously replaced with another. Operators can set waypoints for specific aircraft using a graphical interface. Since the entire system is mounted on pick-up truck, it can be deployed rapidly. It also has swarming capabilities. The Navy has developed a maritime swarm boat system to overwhelm enemies. Given Sentien’s maritime deployability, it could act as a surveillance resource during boat swarms.

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