2018 OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE MONTANA PETROLEUM ASSOCIATION
Commercial UAS Research Vital to Effective RegulatioN CONTINUEd
Currently, students at Tech are working on magnetometers and
electromagnetic sensors to attach to drones, as well as using thermal
cameras and developing custom sensors, such as obstacle avoidance
using Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar). Crowley is also teaching
students how to build 3D models from drone captured images and
assisting other professors in teaching automated flight.
COMMERCIAL DRONE USE
At a June 2018 meeting of the Treasure State Resource Association
(TSRA) meeting in Butte, Crowley wowed attendees from a broad scope
of industries with his presentation on commercial drone applications.
Custom sensors designed for industry are rapidly expanding the
drone market. Advanced lidar (infrared) sensors are being used for
mapping topography down to the inch in 3D from up to 400 feet altitude.
Below ground and without the use of Global Positioning Systems
(GPS), cameras and Lidar on drones are being used at Tech and in the
mining industry to map inaccessible areas in underground mines.
Multispectral sensors on drones can inform crop health and soil
moisture, and thermal cameras can discern surface water from
groundwater by detecting variations in water temperature. Methane
sensors can be used for leak detection and photogrammetry can be
used in corrosion inspection, both vitally important in the oil and gas
industry. At least two companies, according to Crowley, are already
selling drones sensors capable of detecting methane. The price tag for
these methane sensors is in the neighborhood of $100,000.
PRIVACY AND PROPRIETARY INFORMATION
Few must be sold on the fact that drones provide many benefits
to commercial users. They’re able to expedite many processes, limit
man-power, save costs, and keep people out of dangerous situations.
But what about keeping away unwanted visitors like those seeking to
cause harm or steal proprietary information?
What came as a surprise to many at the TSRA meeting was that
drones also have a multitude of built-in safety features. Crowley
explained that most commercial drones use GPS and may be programmed
to follow automated flight patterns. Software and sensors
can detect obstacles to avoid collisions during flight operations.
Drone operators can set height parameters and other boundaries
that act as digital fences. Similarly, software exists for companies to
create digital fences around facilities to physically obstruct entry by
drones. This technology is already in place around airports, military
installations, and some critical infrastructure.
HERE TO STAY
One thing is for certain – UAS technology isn’t going away. Annual
worldwide sales of drones are projected to be 12 billion in just 4 years.
There are over a million registered drones in the U.S. alone and technology
is changing daily.
Federally, the FAA and DOT are working with private sector companies
to help guide regulation that doesn’t unnecessarily restrict
commercial enterprise. At the same time, The Department of Homeland
Security Science and Technology Directorate is researching
ways to use drones for national security purposes as well as protect
against UAS-based threats.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least
38 states considered legislation related to UAS in 2017. There was a
total of 329 UAS-related pieces of state legislation and 91 federal bills
(Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International).
Industry must remain at the table as discussions and bill drafts continue.
And with information from experts within the field of UAS research,
perhaps some of the solutions exist within the technology itself.
Special thanks to Jeremy Crowley for lending his expertise on
UAS technology for this article.
Jessica Sena is a contract communications advisor with the Montana
Petroleum Association and independent communication consultant for
various mining companies and trade associations.