American Robotics Gets First Ever FAA Approval to Fly Automated Drones without a Person Present
BY Zacc Dukowitz20 January 2021
The FAA recently granted American Robotics the first nonemergency approval ever to operate automated drones without a pilot present on-site. (Skyward received the first emergency approval for automated BVLOS without a person present, which is covered at the end of this article.)
American Robotics’ Scout drone in flight
By definition, this approval also means that the company can operate automated flights BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight), since no one is required to be present during missions.
Prior waivers for automated BVLOS flights issued by the FAA required Visual Observers (VOs) to be present to monitor the airspace in which the drone was operating. This new approval goes beyond these past permissions, allowing American Robotics to fly completely automated missions without anyone there at all.
Removing the cost for a person to be physically present during missions represents significant savings for companies—savings that American Robotics believes will drive widespread drone adoption among many different industries.
With these approvals, American Robotics is ushering in a new era of widespread automated drone operations . . . [we] can begin safely operating our automated Scout platform for the benefit of the energy, infrastructure, agriculture, and security market verticals, helping unlock the projected $100 billion commercial drone market.
– Reese Mozer, CEO and Co-Founder of American Robotics
How American Robotics Got Its Automated, No-Person Approval from the FAA
In order to get this first-of-its-kind approval from the FAA, American Robotics went through a rigorous, four-year testing program.
The tests focused on demonstrating the safety of the company’s Scout drone.
Central to the company’s success in these tests was the Scout’s acoustic Detect-and-Avoid (DAA) technology, which allows the drone to maintain a safe, steady distance from both manned and unmanned aircraft.
By developing a layered, redundant system of safety that includes proprietary technical and operational risk mitigations, American Robotics has proven that its drone-based aerial intelligence platform operates safely in the National Airspace System (NAS), even when it conducts flights Beyond-Visual-Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) of the operator.
The Scout has been put through its paces, with exhaustive field tests conducted throughout the last four years—in 2020 alone, the Scout was used for as many as 10 automated missions every day across a variety of industries and use cases in the U.S.
American Robotics’ Scout System
American Robotics’ automated Scout System has three parts:
- The Scout drone. Autonomous, AI-powered unmanned aircraft with advanced imaging payloads.
- The Scoutbase. Weatherproof base station that serves as the nerve center and communication hub for Scout. ScoutBase autonomously houses and charges Scout, processes the raw data collected on each flight, and transmits the analyzed information to American Robotics’ cloud-based data centers.
- The Scoutview. Secure web portal and API which enables remote interaction with the system, data, and resulting analytics anywhere in the world.
Everything in the Scout System is automated, a fact emphasized by a line on American Robotics’ website that reads “Never touch a remote control again.”
Once the Scout System is installed, it can run missions autonomously, collecting, processing, and analyzing data. Users can schedule it to collect aerial data on a schedule or start missions on demand.
The primary use cases for the Scout System are in those industries that benefit from regular aerial surveys, including:
- Agriculture, where a regular survey of farmland can help farmers and agronomists keep track of and improve the health of their crops in real-time.
- Security, where regular reviews of a building or site’s perimeter or sensitive locations are required.
- Maintenance, where regular inspection data must be collected to track the condition of various assets across multiple industries.
With its new FAA approval, American Robotics will be able to provide a real-time view into the specific aerial data people need to run and improve their operations, without having to wait to send someone out to conduct the data collection.
Our interest in American Robotics’ technology started with the desire to have a drone imagery solution that was reliable, scalable, and executed with minimal human resources. This technology, along with the FAA approvals to operate it without humans on the ground, is key to making drones a widespread reality in our industry. This is a game changer.
– Lance Ruppert, Director of Agronomy Marketing and Technology at Growmark, Inc.
Flying Drones without a Person Present
Although American Robotics is the first company to get approval to fly automated missions without a person present in nonemergency scenarios, other companies have already flown their own remote missions, but in unique circumstances.
Verizon’s Skyward Team Pilots First-Ever Automated BVLOS Mission without a Pilot Present During the Big Hollow Wildfire
In September of last year, the Skyward flight operations team used its aviation management platform to inspect critical communications infrastructure during the Big Hollow Wildfire in Washington.
The mission was made possible by a temporary SGI emergency waiver from the FAA.
This was the first time the FAA had ever issued a waiver for automated BVLOS flight without a person present. The waiver allowed operations 24 hours a day, with less than 3 miles of visibility, and no pilot or observer on site.
Photo credit: Verizon
This mission was proof that these kinds of remote drone operations can be made for emergency data collection—and conceivably during normal commercial operations as well (as American Robotics’ new waiver now allows).
Read more about the mission here.
Rotor Riot Flies Skypersonic Drone from 1,200 Miles Away
Skypersonic is a drone company that has developed a drone that can be flown anywhere in the world, from anywhere in the world.
Check out this video to see Drew Camden, president of Rotor Riot, fly a Skypersonic drone located at Skypersonic’s headquarters in Troy, Michigan from the Rotor Riot office in Orlando, FL 1,200 miles away:
Note: From a regulatory standpoint, Skypersonic and Rotor Riot did not need a waiver for this mission since it was conducted indoors.
Do you think flying remotely will become more and more common over the coming years? Share your thoughts in this post on the UAV Coach community forum.