Hyperlocal Low-Altitude Weather Forecasting for Commercial Drone Operators
Image: Agon Nimani
Commercial drone use has become a common practice in a number of industries but the application of drones in these situations faces a daily threat, unpredictable weather. While equipment, technology and piloting skills continue to improve, drone use is always at the mercy of the weather. This is all very well for the weekend hobby drone enthusiast but for commercial use, bad weather, particularly heavy winds, this could spell disaster. Commercial drone applications for agriculture, inspections, construction, filming, insurance and public safety require precision flying and poor conditions make this extremely difficult. Accurate on-time weather forecasts and information is not available. The good news is that this is all about to change.
Drones operate at a low altitude so the current forms of weather information, high altitude and surface level, are largely unhelpful. The information available to commercial airlines or the general public is not specifically relevant to commercial drones operating at different altitudes.
In the near future, this will no longer be an issue. Earth Networks are implementing a new, low-altitude, hyperlocal weather service. The predictive service will be known as Sferic DroneFlight System and will be invaluable to commercial drone operators. The system will improve efficiencies as well as safety for the anticipated 1.6 million commercial drones that will be at work by 2021.
Once the system is in place, drone pilots will have access to much needed detailed weather forecasts for conditions from 10 to 400 feet. The information will be available in 10-foot increments and the service will be available worldwide. Initially, 90 countries will be included. A collection of 1,500 lightning sensors as well as 10,000 weather sensors will provide accurate weather information to the system. This will include 6-day wind speed and direction forecasts.
The commercial drone industry is growing exponentially as technology improves and more industries appreciate the many benefits it has to offer. Drone manufacturers are embracing the concept and are devising features to use this weather data for flight planning and preventative action. The combination of the new technology and the weather data will allow pilots and flight planners to be more accurate when working out range, trajectory and numerous other important calculations. It will also improve the results of drone accident investigations.
“Until now, drone operators have had to plan missions by relying on surface-level weather information or high-altitude measurements provided to commercial airlines, neither of which provides the needed intelligence to optimize missions,” Earth Networks Chief Marketing Officer Anuj Agrawal told reporters recently. “As the drone market and regulatory environment continue to evolve, weather intelligence will be a key technology to enable longer and beyond line of sight missions.”
Earth Networks will utilize the University of Maryland unmanned aircraft system test site to perfect the technology. They are confident that once launched; the system will be well received by the FAA as well as the public. It will certainly create an added boost to the already thriving commercial drone industry.