By Kamesh Namuduri
One interesting addition to this year’s Farnborough International Airshow was a specialized exhibit showcasing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more commonly referred to as drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Visitors were introduced to the latest drone technologies and applications, which are continuing to drive significant market growth as military and municipal applications for drones are on the rise. This, in turn, has seen new commercial applications bringing brought into play, which have the potential to drive even more rapid and extensive use of drones to address a wide variety of scenarios.
In a recent Goldman Sachs Research report, Aerospace and Defense Equity Research Analyst Noah Poponak says drones are going into business, and that they are on the cusp of driving expansive market growth. Already they have made the leap from military to consumer use, and they're now headed for industries from construction to cinematography to law enforcement. Poponak claims “drones are entering a new era and that there’s a common thread of them increasing efficiency, increasing safety, and doing so at lower costs.” Because of these factors, he sees drones evolving into a $100 billion market by 2020.
With this growth in drone traffic, there are some associated safety concerns over how best to track and monitor not only an increasing number of UAVs, but all aerial vehicles in operation at any given time. In response, IEEE announced the formation of the IEEE Aerial Network Communications Working Group, and the approval of IEEE project P1920.1 that will work to develop standards to enhance the situational awareness of aircraft and enable air-to-air communications in an ad hoc aerial network that includes manned, unmanned, civil, and commercial aircraft.
Creating standards for Aerial Network Communications brings many benefits, such as safer and more coordinated use of UAVs in emergency or natural disaster situations, greatly enhanced tracking of commercial and civil aircraft, and overall safer operation with more advanced collision avoidance data being shared directly between all aircraft. Clearly, with an ever-increasing number of aircraft, both manned and unmanned, collision avoidance is a major concern. IEEE P1920.1 is a major step in ensuring safety through increased situational awareness and direct air-to-air communications for all types of aircraft, but there are added benefits, as well.
Take the example of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which has resulted in the largest and most expensive search in aviation history. The only available means to track the last known position of the lost flight was by analyzing data from Inmarsat’s satellite communication network, a system not typically used to track aircraft. In response to the loss of Flight 370, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) adopted new standards for aircraft position reporting over open ocean, extended recording time for cockpit voice recorders, and, from 2020, will require new aircraft designs to have a means to recover the flight recorders, or the information they contain, before the recorders sink below water. While these changes could very well keep a similar occurrence from happening, and improve search-and-rescue efforts, standards for Aerial Network Communications will go much further by putting in place self-organized aerial networks whereby situational awareness is live and fully functional at all times during aircraft operations.
We are moving into a new era in aviation, and the increased use of drones holds a lot of promise to help businesses pursue new and useful applications for consumers, to help firefighters and law enforcement officials better serve and protect the public, and to bring many more added benefits. The introduction of IEEE P1920.1 comes at a critical time, and will help ensure the utmost in safety and improve the situational awareness that’s essential in building future aerial communication networks.
Sponsored by the IEEE Communications Society, the IEEE Aerial Network Communications Working Group will hold its first formal meeting in September 2016 to begin deliberation on the IEEE P1920.1 project. For more information, please visit the working group’s home page (https://standards.ieee.org/develop/wg/AerialNetworks.html).
The IEEE Standards Association, a globally recognized standards-setting body within IEEE, develops consensus standards through an open process that engages industry and brings together a broad stakeholder community. IEEE standards set specifications and best practices based on current scientific and technological knowledge. The IEEE-SA has a portfolio of over 1,100 active standards and more than 500 standards under development. For more information, visit http://standards.ieee.org.
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