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  • Charl Jooste

First fully automated commercial flight by Reliable Robotics – A great success

Image: Reliable Robotics

We told you recently about the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) approval for the first fully automated commercial drone flights. We also knew that Reliable Robotics would be the first to take on this challenge, and they have.

Video: Vimeo user Reliable Robotics Corporation

The California-based company has just successfully completed their first remotely operated drone flight from their Mountain View location. They operated a Cessna 208 Caravan that had been retrofitted and piloted the drone from a distance of 50 miles.

The test run was a fairly basic operation involving taxing, take off, and maneuvers over a region that was populated. The entire time the UAV and the team were in constant communication. The point is that the mission was a major success and proved the reliability, effectiveness, and safety of remote operations. The communication, control, and performance were exactly what Reliable Robotics wanted and expected.

It has encouraged the company to pursue commercial operations such as a delivery service for the likes of DHL. Autonomous drone operations, with no active pilot, opens a world of opportunities.

Former CEO for Aviation at DHL, Charles Graham, had the following to say about this experience: “Automating a large aircraft with remote piloting infrastructure is an impressive technical achievement for commercial aviation, coming years before many in the industry expected. Operating from a control center increases safety margins, reduces workload and enables pilots to focus on communications and complex decision making.”

Reliable Robotics has put much effort into this project and relies on professional' pilots in their control centers. There are no autopilots involved although they do ensure that they have the latest and best technology in order to perform these operations safely, effectively, and reliably.

Their remote pilots on hands-on and control every aspect of the flight from start to finish. There is always a flight plan and nothing is left to chance, “Pilots-in-the-loop” is what they call it.

The drones or UAVs themselves are also upgraded and up to the task. They use Reliable Robotics devolved sensing and computing systems. These allow them to handle the challenges of remote flight safely and effectively. They also have mechanical redundancy as an added precaution.

The network operating the system is secure and seamless. There is constant control, observation, and communication which minimizes any risk to other craft operating in the same airspace. The technology looks after any fault issues and the built-in redundancy means that there is little to no risk of technical or mechanical failure.

Air traffic controllers and other aircraft have full communication from the team operating the drone remotely. The system and technology used are reliable and secure with state of the art “authenticity- and integrity” as well as “end-to-end encryption”. The remote pilots, as well as the drones, can be securely verified.

Director of remote piloting at Reliable Robotics, Casey Klebba, explains.“Routine flight testing from our control center is essential for validating our design and developing human factors guidelines for commercial remote piloting. Equally important is our work to support and advance the certification basis for autonomous aircraft systems so they can be operated at scale.”

This is an exciting development and further proof that safe remote navigation and control is now a viable reality. This means a lot to the industry and is sure to fast-track future developments.


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