Tiny ADS-B Could Hold the Key To BVLOS UAV Safety

(This post has been revised, again)

Somebody has finally done it. Beyond the predictable requirements for UAV could be the ongoing concerns about Sense and Avoid as related to ADS-B.

ADS-B was invented to improve Sense and Avoid for all aircraft by 2020.

Reference: If you don’t know what ADS-B is, here is a simple explanation (video). Understanding ADS-B – information here and here (Wikipedia)

The term that keeps popping up in FAA discussions about UAS is “Sense and Avoid”.  ADS-B could provide an answer to those concerns.

But there’s only one little problem…. The FAA airspace requirements apply to much of the airspace that where UAVs would not be operating: – Class E  above 10,000 ft MSL but not below 2,500 ft AGL Here again, the FAA appear to have boxed itself into yet another catch-22 scenario.

Besides being designed and specified for higher altitudes, ADS-B doesn’t solve more realistic concerns relating to the kinds of collision dangers that are more likely to be found at low altitude where UAVs operate, as outlined in this FAA publication, (AFS 400 Policy 05-05)

The FAA is particularly concerned that UA operate safely among non-cooperative aircraft and other airborne operations not reliably identifiable by RADAR, i.e. balloons,gliders, parachutists, etc. most of which will not fall under the ADS-B requirement by 2020. While considerable work is ongoing to develop a certifiable “detect, sense and avoid” system, an acceptable solution to the “see and avoid” problem for UA is many years away. If UA operators were held rigorously to the “see and avoid” requirements of Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 91.1131, Right-of-Way Rules, there would be no UA flights in civil airspace. The FAA supports UA flight activities that can demonstrate that the proposed operations can be conducted at an acceptable level of safety.

FireCrestADS-BWe had encountered one FAA approved ADS-B device built by Sagetech but it seemed more suitable for heavier, long range UAV (BLOS) employed for tasks such as powerline inspection. But for the small UAV there is a new development from ADSBIT.EU in the form of FireCrest, an ADS transmitter for (small) drones.  It is pretty close what we proposed here back in August of 2014: a short range, low power ADS-B out.  (Watch the YouTube Video – View the Firecrest.PDF)  However, we are unable to find any contact sources with the ADSBITS (Firecrest) company.

But perhaps a better solution comes from uAvionix, with several devices, including the “Ping” miniature ADS-B receiver for UAS.

At a drone trade show, we spoke with Adam Paugh of uAvionics about their ADS-B solutions.
Click to play the interview:

Radar or ADS-B can’t prevent low altitude collisions with gliders, balloons and parachutes, but it might solve a critical safety issue for helicopters and other low altitude manned aircraft… but only if those other aircraft are ADS-B equipped. At this point many of the aircraft most likely to interact with UAVs would not be required to install ADS-B in 2020. Then again, if the costs keep coming down as they have been, those aircraft might add ADS-B capability as a safety measure.