Just as founder Henry Ford had a vision of “opening the highways to all mankind”, US car maker Ford says it wants to open the skies.
Ford is the only automaker on the US Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) rule-making committee, and a proactive participant in the regulatory conversation around the integration of drones into civil aviation airspace.
Ford says it wants to unlock the full potential of drone-to-vehicle technology – to see the use of commercial drones as companion tools to vehicles, “enhancing the working lives of people across a myriad of industries”.
“At Ford, we are driving innovation in every part of our business to help make people’s lives better,” says Ford Motor Company chief technology officer Ken Washington. “And there is an opportunity to make a big difference with vehicles and drones working together for a common good.”
Ford’s drone-to-vehicle technology would allow drone operators the ability to launch, fly, and dock drones from their vehicles on a job site.
By accessing an app projected through Ford’s integrated SYNC 3 communications and entertainment system, the vehicle would serve as a mobile base station, facilitating a real-time link between the vehicle, the drone, and the cloud, so data could be shared.
For quick and affordable inspection and monitoring, surveying and mapping, data collection and imaging, the scope for commercial applications of drone-to-vehicle technology is endless, believes Ford.
However, drone technology is facing a myriad of regulatory hurdles.
Up till now, there has not been a way to identify and track drones in flight, beyond visual line of sight.
Enter Ford colleagues John Luo and Adi Singh, emerging technology integration and wireless connectivity manager, and unmanned aerial vehicle systems principal scientist, respectively.
Luo and Singh made a recent proposal to the FAA, which Ford believes could become a game changer.
Every drone registered with the FAA is given a ten-digit number, which acts like a vehicle’s licence plate.
Ford’s patent-pending idea is to use the anti-collision lights on the drone to broadcast the drone’s unique number, to be captured and interpreted by a camera-based app the company has developed.
The decoding algorithms can be run on a standard smartphone, which would enable anyone to identify and report a drone operating where it should not be, making it easier for aviation authorities to track rogue drones.
It remains to be seen whether the FAA will adopt Luo and Singh’s recommendation. If they do, however, it could help lay the foundation for Ford realising its vision of making drone-to-vehicle technology available to the mainstream market.
In South Africa, the commercial drone industry is expanding across all industries, including agriculture and farming, mining, antipoaching and wildlife protection, architecture and construction, media productions, sports and entertainment, journalism, telecommunications, traffic management, emergency response, search and rescue, law enforcement, military and national intelligence and private security.
The South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requires drone operators to be fully licensed before flying commercially.
A Remote Pilot’s Licence from a fully accredited CAA training academy, an Air Service Licence from the Department of Transport, and a Remote Operator’s Certificate (ROC) from the CAA itself, are all non-negotiables.
“While we do have comprehensive regulations regarding the use of commercial drones, they are considered highly restrictive, with only 22 ROCs issued by the CAA to date,” says United Drone Holdings CEO Sean Reitz.
United Drone Holdings is a CAA-accredited training academy which educates and trains newcomers to the drone industry.
“There are several converging factors that will allow for growth and development of the commercial drone industry, with the most important one being the wider adoption of beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations. This is where the real value of drones in South Africa will be demonstrated.”