“Beyond visual line of sight” (BVLOS) is the most talked about concept in the commercial drone world today. It means that drones fly beyond the visual line of sight of the operator. There are 2 key factors that make BVLOS flight a tipping point for commercial drone industry expansion. The first is enabling service providers to conduct complex drone operations. The second is enabling drones to be able to conduct truly unmanned flight with no pilot needed for take-off or landing.
BVLOS is the next step in the future of drone operations, but drones have to become “airworthy” to get there. There are technical and regulatory requirements that must be addressed. The primary concern for manufacturers and pilots of BVLOS systems will be meeting the dynamic regulatory requirements for “airworthiness” put forth by the FAA.
Successful flight depends on “see and avoid”. NASA has suggested that instead of “see and avoid’, UAVs should be held to a standard of “detect and avoid”, where the UAS is able to use computers and sensors to detect nearby air traffic and safely navigate accordingly.
Extended-distance drone operations also communicate command and control information and other data back to the people who need it without link loss, so reliability is essential. Various communication technologies are available to facilitate data transfer, like satellite, cell and radio.
Fixed-wing VTOL is the best solution for long-range BVLOS flight. VTOL stands for vertical take-off and landing. Multi-rotor UAVs have less flight time and battery life than fixed-wing UAVs, because they use a significant amount of thrust to hover and mainly rely on downward thrust to keep in the air. This is inefficient. The best combination for BVLOS is fixed-wing VTOL because of the longer flight time, battery life and efficient forward flying.
BVLOS will change the game for commercial drone users, and will enable them to gather data over large areas without the drone operator having to be in close proximity to the drone. This will offer an easier and cheaper alternative to current applications, like helicopters. It will ultimately be safer because there will be no pilots in the air. BVLOS offers many opportunities to introduce safer inspection processes around the world. There will be less human involvement which will drive costs down, therefore it is financially viable across greater spectrum of industries, some of which would otherwise not be economically viable. BVLOS investor interest is at its peak right now, although most eyes are on the regulations as this is a new space for flight regulation.
For the first time we are starting to see affordable, reliable solutions of various types in this space that are able to make BVLOS work.
The Guinn Partners 2018 Drone Industry Overview looked at the state of industry which included looking at companies and trends driving the future of drones. We are pleased to share that ALTI were named as a company to watch for our efficient fixed-wing VTOL UAVs.