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Unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operators in the US are required to keep their aircraft within visual line of sight. Operators, both government and commercial, are looking to perform missions over longer distances for aerial imaging, environmental observation, precision agriculture, infrastructure monitoring and inspection, etc.

In the maritime sphere, this state of affairs makes coastline surveys time-consuming and arduous.

Accurate aircraft position information is essential for safe UAS operations within the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (UTM) system. Unfortunately, the primary system that provides position information, GPS, is a single point of failure in the system, subject to jamming and spoofing, along with on-board failure or poor signal quality in locations such as urban canyons, at high latitudes or high altitudes.

To address the challenges, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has selected Black Swift Technologies (BST) to develop commercially viable technology enabling GPS-denied navigation of UAS — technology critical in enabling long distance, beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights. The company has worked with NOAA to supply systems that can be used for both coastline work and atmospheric science.

The company aims to provide a robust, secondary navigation option through their diverse-source global positioning system (DS-GPS) that will provide accurate position updates to UAS in GPS-denied areas through augmented sensor suites and advanced machine learning capabilities, according to the company’s website.

One of the key technologies of this work is to use machine vision (both optical flow and SLAM) to allow continued safe flight of UAS in the event of loss of GPS. Work associated with coastline inspection and mapping would greatly benefit from BVLOS operations since this would significantly reduce the amount of time an operator has to spend in the field.