Image credit: Dlapilota
The BFPaaS objectives are closely linked to the current procedures developed for UAV BVLOS flights control within the frame of EU U-Space program. In principle, the drone operator is responsible for his /her operations security, that especially in the pre-flight phase, requires detailed knowledge of the terrain profile along the planned route which is crucial for security reasons.
Poland is one of the leading countries in EU if it comes to BVLOS flights, but at the current stage there are no solutions available in the market allowing drone pilots to assess properly the terrain profile related risk, especially in areas where update data are not available. Other Countries will follow shortly.
The objective is to simplify the current process to request a flight permission, just by submitting the flight details from a mobile phone application – even just by drawing a line on the map- with possibility to automatically calculate and provide the terrain profile along the selected route.
Users and their needs
There are few groups of users who would surely benefit from the new service, ranging from individual certified UAV operators (quite large community and growing fast), through infrastructure operators using UAV for regular surveys up to HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Services) using terrain profiles in planning of medical helicopter flights in low altitude/low visibility and Air Navigation Services providers, formally responsible for eTOD (electronic Terrain Obstacle Database) data availability.
The new service could also add value to users not linked to aviation. For example, updated terrain profiles play an important role in radio planning done by telecom operators, currently using costly visual Line of Sight check in the field to verify possibility of microwave links use.
A number of commercial drone operators have declared the support and will take active part in testing of the different elements of the new solution – starting from the test flights up to the user interface.
Even if the initial pilot trials have been limited to selected areas of Poland, the system can be easily implemented in other countries of Europe or worldwide – thanks to the use of Copernicus Sentinel imagery, the only possible adaption could be related to other country specific data sources use.
Service/ system concept
The concept of the service, as seen by the typical user, seems fairly simple: the drone operator defines his intended flight route and in return gets the automatically calculated terrain profile, as “fresh” and accurate as possible so calculated using the Sentinel 1 latest radar data or possibly from other reliable data sources, such as airborne LIDAR scans. Only if the intended route is safe the user can formally submit his request for official BVLOS flight permission.
As it seems at the moment such possibility is very much appreciated by aviation authorities and there is a strong possibility, that when the automated terrain profiling solution proves its maturity and accuracy, it could become a mandatory element of UAV operations risk analysis, especially in the case of fully automated flights.
Image credit: Dlapilota
Space Added Value
BFPaaS elevation data repository is to be periodically updated by products resulting from Copernicus Sentinel 1 radar data interferometry processing, providing updated terrain profiles and adding value as compared to currently used solutions, mostly based on SRTM digital elevation model. The benefits are:
1) validity – SRTM was produced 19 years ago and in many areas the terrain profile has significantly changed (especially in areas of human activity which in fact are in the main interest of BFPaaS users). Sentinel 1 derived models can be processed/updated regularly or on demand.
2) accuracy – in most cases results of Sentinel 1 time series interferometry processing show better vertical accuracy than SRTM model.
3) timeliness – thanks to Sentinel 1 frequent revisits and independence from weather conditions during acquisition.
Sentinel 1 observations can also serve as a base for perpetual automated change detection analysis in the selected areas of interest
At the current stage actvities are focussed at final validation of the concept, including practical verification of the Sentinel-1 based terain profile derivation method accuracy and possible use of other available data sources (e.g. LIDAR).
The analysis results are currently being consolidated and reviewed together with the involved users.