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Insitu Flexes Its Muscles In The UAS Commercial World

Insitu roared into the month of May with announcements of new software, hardware and facilities, making it clear that the company intends to be a major player in the commercial UAS world.
By Patrick C. Miller | May 26, 2016

It’s an understatement to say that May has been a very busy month for Insitu, the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) branch of the Boeing Co. The month began with Insitu announcing that it had formed a new commercial business unit to leverage its more than two decades of UAS experience in the emerging unmanned commercial aerial data collection market.

This was certainly evident at Xponential 2016 in New Orleans where Insitu displayed and demonstrated some of its latest offerings during AUVSI’s annual event. I received the grand tour of the company’s booth where I was wowed by everything from the new engine specifically built by Australian-based Orbital Corp. for Insitu’s ScanEagle UAS to the futuristic ground control station software that enables one person to manage numerous manned and unmanned aircraft flying in the same airspace.

Jon Damush, Insitu’s vice president and general manager of missions systems programs, compared the program to a real-time strategy game in which a player uses an intuitive interface to control many different units at once. As a former flight simulation programmer for a computer game publisher, he would know.

I watched as people wearing goggles that projected a Windows 10 interface made gestures to direct aircraft fighting a simulated wildfire. Everything they needed to know was instantly at their fingertips. They had the ability to arrange the information in the manner most logical and convenient to them. The see-through goggles also enabled users to view the space around them.  

“It’s really focused on allowing a single operator to command and control as many assets as possible,” Damush explained. “You decouple the one-to-one pilot to air vehicle ratio and allow an incident commander—like in a firefighting case—to control multiple air vehicles and task them.”

After remarking that the program was similar to a real-time strategy game, Damush said, “That’s a genre that’s proven that a human in a management capacity with the right interface can control a whole lot of assets very, very effectively. You take that paradigm and put it on the ground control station.”

To a longtime computer gaming geek like me, it all made perfect sense.

Insitu earlier this month announced the first sale of its new commercial ground control software and UAS training package to the University of Nevada, Reno College of Engineering. It initiates a new UAS flight coordinator course at the university.

Hanging from the ceiling over Insitu’s booth at Xponential was a ScanEagle equipped with Insitu’s new FLARES system which gives the fixed-wing UAS vertical takeoff capability and can also capture the aircraft when it’s time to land. You can watch a video of the system in action here.

That’s an impressive number of accomplishments for one month, but as the TV infomercials say, “Wait! There’s more!”

Insitu and PrecisionHawk—which specializes in UAS mapping and data analysis—also announced the formation of a strategic alliance that the companies say “brings together best-in-class UAS solutions to help commercial enterprises achieve safe unmanned flight for extended and beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations.”

Finally, Mississippi State University (MSU) and the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) announced that Insitu had opened a new facility at MSU in Starkville. The facility supports engineering, software development and customer-support services. It also provides as access to Insitu’s training program and internship opportunities for students.

If Insitu wanted to use the month of May to let the world know of its entry into the UAS commercial world, it certainly accomplished the mission in a convincing fashion.