Angel Eyes UAV has become the first commercial unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) firm, not affiliated with the Department of Defense, to have its aircraft and safety procedures approved as an operational UAV through the Space Florida system..
Space Florida is moving forward in leading the commercial development of the UAV industry in spite of its unsuccessful bid to receive one of the six Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) UAV test site designations. The progress being made in Florida is an important step to safely integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the National Airspace System. To address the technical challenges of this integration, Space Florida is working to ensure that the vehicles are equipped with the proper technology as well as advocating for responsible standards and regulations – including the proper validation of UAVs and their operators.
To achieve approval, Angel Eyes and its founder, Stephen Myers, were put through a rigorous two day flight operations test at the Exploration Park near Kennedy Space Center, Florida. During the test, Myers had to demonstrate his ability to program and safely fly key missions with one of his UAV platforms, in this case the Gator MultiQuad.
In addition to piloting the system, he had to demonstrate the UAV’s safety systems including how the aircraft would remain a safe distance and routinely interoperate with other aircraft which might be present. Additionally, he had to demonstrate the fail safe mechanisms that would be activated in case of an emergency. For example, if the drone lost communications with its base system, it would automatically abort its programmed mission and return to its home base.
With this certification, Myers will be able to operate in Space Florida sponsored areas. It separates commercial grade UAVs from hobbyist equipment which lack the procedures and fail safe systems.
Myers, who is also a member of the board of directors for the Florida Peninsula Chapter of Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), says that Florida stands to profit the growth of the UAV industry. Projections indicate that upon airspace integration, the next three years Florida stands to see a boost of 3,251 jobs and $632 million in revenue.
As a consultant, Myers is focusing on providing business solutions with customized platforms that have the potential to save the agricultural industry millions of dollars. With an integrated platform, payload and data collection system, Myers is able to provide a drone that gives agricultural leaders accurate and actionable data to prevent loss and enhance production at a lower cost.
For example, a UAV could be fitted with a multi-spectral camera and flown over a field of tomatoes or grove of oranges. When the data from the specific frequency range (i.e. wavelengths outside of the visual spectrum) is collected and overlaid with a map, it can pinpoint areas of stress – where there is too much water, not enough water, or early signs of disease and pests.
With the precise location of the “stressor”, farmers are able to proactively address the crop issue before it spreads further and causes more extensive damage. Using this level of data collection also has the potential to reduce the amount of fertilizer and pesticides used to manage the crops, which also reduces costs and the environmental impact on surrounding areas.
Precision agriculture isn’t just limited to food based crops such as oranges, the same technology can be used to more effectively manage golf courses or monitor the health of parks, estuaries and beaches.
“Worldwide we are seeing an increased interest in monitoring and protecting our environment. With the right UAV system, we can have the technology to be more proactive and take precise measures to correct issues before they become major problems,” said Myers.
Unfortunately, government regulations in the United States have not caught up with technology and current laws prevent the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles. However, that will change over the next two years as Space Florida/NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration work together to develop a roadmap to safely integrate unmanned aerial vehicles into national airspace which includes extensive research and testing of the drones at the six selected test sites.
A firm believer of the commercial applications of drone technology, Myers has also been working behind the scenes to help review and draft responsible legislation in his home state of Florida. He is an advocate for certification programs that protect the safety and privacy of citizens while allowing businesses and government entities to utilize this technology.