You likely don’t want to fly your drone in severe weather. But what actually constitutes severe weather can be tough to predict. And with some drones flying at especially high altitudes, the weather data gathered on the ground can be significantly different than the weather where drones are flying anyway.
In fact, up to 40% of crewed aviation flights that are either canceled or delayed due to weather could have flown, said TruWeather CEO Don Berchoff, who is a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and former senior executive Service Technology Director of the National Weather Service Science. And he said that he expects even higher scrub rates will occur for drones that are flying beyond-visual-line-of-sight. That’s because — with no pilot on board to spot problems — it’s even more likely drone flights might not be approved in uncertain weather.
That is — unless the surface and low altitude weather measurement gap can be closed.
And two companies are working to close that gap. It’s all through a partnership with micro weather data and analytics firm TruWeather Solutions and Iris Automation, which is mostly known in the drone industry for its efforts on the BVLOS side of things. (Iris Automation is based in San Francisco, Calif. and is working on computer vision technology to develop advanced detection systems inevitably useful in providing detect-and-avoid capabilities in drones — essential for scaling widespread drone delivery, particularly flights beyond the operator’s line of sight).
With the latest partnership, Iris will integrate TruWeather’s micro weather services and weather sensors into its Casia G ground-based surveillance system (GBSS) to provide up-to-date weather information in an effort to better support BVLOS safety best practices.
What to know about the TruWeather and Iris partnership
Here’s exactly what’s set to happen: Iris and TruWeather together are building what they call a “meshed network,” which will provide communications, collision avoidance and micro-weather data to aircraft operators.
TruWeather’s sensors will be incorporated onto Iris Automation’s non-radar based, passive ground based system, Casia G. Casia G is a ground-based detect and avoid solution that leverages artificial intelligence and computer vision technology that can provide alerts and is capable of manual or autonomous collision avoidance.
Iris claims it Casia onboard systems can detect a small general aviation aircraft at an average distance of 1.2 km with a 93.2% detection rate in milliseconds. That far exceeds the reaction time of human pilots, who take about 12.5 seconds on average to avoid collision threats.
Iris, though a private drone company, works closely with civil aviation authorities globally to support implementation of regulatory frameworks ensuring BVLOS is conducted safely. It has partneed on multiple FAA efforts, including its ASSURE and BEYOND UAS Integration Programs and Transport Canada’s BVLOS Technology Demonstration Program.
Why is weather data so important for drones?
The two companies say that understanding of micro-weather data is crucial, because low-altitude local atmospheric conditions can often substantially differ from that in higher altitudes. Currently only 3% of the U.S. has accurate surface weather and cloud ceiling report measurements, according to an FAA-funded MIT Lincoln Lab study.
“This is what we refer to as a ‘data desert’,” Berchoff said.
And with differing data, drone flights might be cancelled that don’t necessarily have to be. In turn, that may impact drone operations and revenue.
“The industry requires even more low altitude weather measurements to increase data fidelity and flights per airframe,” he said. “Without this, uncertain micro weather and wind conditions will result in conservative business decisions. Failure to resolve this problem will result in fewer flights, disgruntled customers and significant revenue losses.”
BVLOS is one of the hottest topics in drones this year. Just last month, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) published its final report, establishing a basis for scaling uncrewed flight in the national airspace.
BVLOS flights will likely entail a separate license for operators and would mean new right of way rules for drones flying near other aircraft. Because of existing FAA Part 107 weather minimums, it is likely that drone operations will have to meet stringent requirements to fly BVLOS.
Having more accurate micro-weather information could be critical to commercial drone operations in avoiding unnecessarily aborted flights.
“This partnership will drive the expansion of BVLOS safety best practices,” said Lori DeMatteis, VP of Sales, Marketing and Customer Success at Iris Automation, “offering clients immediate value to ensure operational safety, and rapidly changing climate information for emergency preparedness activities, ensuring both public and personnel safety.”