A UAV Sensor’s Worth

By Luke Geiver | April 18, 2016

Last October, our team visited the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Air Security Op­erations Center at Grand Forks (North Dakota) Air Force Base to learn about the team’s efforts to perform beyond visual line-of-sight opera­tions utilizing its General Atomics MQ-9 Predator B. We spoke with David Fulcher, deputy director of the northern border facility. Following the visit, we produced a story on CBP’s BVLOS work, but as you’ll see in this issue, our visit yielded more valuable information than we initially posted. (More on that in a second).

To uncover the offerings and role of sensors and cameras within the unmanned aircraft systems industry, we spoke with payload developers offering product to every size of UAS flying today. In the article, “UAV Sensor Sensibility,” by Staff Writer and Photographer Patrick C. Miller, Fulcher offered what I would argue is the most important quote to take away from the story on sensors. Using lighter, smarter and more capable sensors housed on UAVs has an undeniable value for every party linked to the sensor. “We can start to develop patterns to allocate resources,” Fulcher said, when asked about CBP’s use of high-end sensors with its Predator-B flights.

Sensors today are not only better than those used only two years ago, they are getting smaller and more powerful every quarter. From laser and radar offerings such as LiDAR to bird-noise mimicking one-off packages, sensors are giving end-users reliable, actionable data to truly utilize in budgeting purposes of all kinds. In some ways, as the effectiveness of the sensor package on the UAV goes, so goes the continued growth of the industry. As Fulcher says, “The ‘S’ in UAS is a system, so the aircraft itself is only part of the system.”

Those who have used unmanned aircraft vehicles and sensor packages for engineering or surveying purposes know more than anyone how effective UAS can be in the field. For Staff Writer Ann Bailey’s look into engineering and surveying as the end-use application of UAVs, she started with a simple question for all of her sources. Does your entity use UAVs as a tool in your engineering and surveying service package, or, does your entity perform engineering and surveying as part of your UAS service offerings? Bailey’s story offers perspective from multiple entities that answered that question differently. But, no matter how they answered, the conclusion for every source in the story was the same. UAS used for engineering and surveying cases offers an undeniable benefit. In essence, practically every engineering or surveying job in the future could use UAS. And that’s not even what’s most exciting about the industry to date. We are past hypothetical scenarios and onto real-world use cases showing UAS in the field for engineering and surveying situations. In many instances, we could substitute several other end-use applications that are in action today with engineering and surveying.

As always check out our website for the most relevant, original and in-depth coverage on all things UAS or find us at a UAS-related event to talk shop.

Luke Geiver
Editor, UAS Magazine