On perilous waters made famous by Discovery Channel’s hit show ‘Deadliest Catch’, the Aeryon Scout is helping researchers monitor sea lions on Alaska’s remote Aleutian Islands
The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a flight Certificate of Authorization (COA) for the civilian operation in under 60 days – a timeline which will soon become the norm for public safety agencies seeking to use small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in the US
Operating from the deck of a highly customized crab boat, now research vessel, University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) researchers are using the Aeryon Scout™ micro-UAV to monitor sea lion ‘haul-outs’ on land with close-up aerial images and video as part of ongoing research and conservation efforts.
Recognized as one of the world’s most dangerous bodies of water for unpredictable weather and sea conditions, the extreme environment of the Bering Sea, combined with the need for precision launch and recovery from a ship, called for the unique capabilities of the Scout.
The Aeryon Scout is designed to operate in all-weather conditions including extreme temperatures and high winds – often when conditions are too dangerous for manned aircraft, and when other UAVs are unable to operate.
Field reports from the initial days of the project have described successful flights in headwinds up to 50km/h from quickly-shifting directions, rain and snow, low visibility – and 3-4 meter swells.
The Scout’s quiet operation and small visual profile are also less disruptive to wildlife than larger aircraft, and permits more natural animal observation. As a Vertical-Take-Off-and-Landing (VTOL) system, the Scout is also able to hover for precise imagery which is important for accurate wildlife counts.
Adding to challenging weather and sea conditions are the complexities associated with operating a UAV from a ship, including physical obstacles such as towers and rigging, high magnetic fields, a moving deck, and constantly changing ship location. “The Aeryon Scout features a smart sensor array and autonomous control software” said Mike Peasgood, VP Engineering at Aeryon Labs. “When operating from a ship, many other small UAVs require complicated launch and catching machinery, or must ditch in the water for risky manual recovery in rough seas. By contrast, in addition to allowing safe operation with only a few minutes of training, the Scout autonomously launches, tracks its ‘home’ location whether stationary or mobile, and returns for safe recovery on deck by the operator.”
While the FAA continues to grant authorization for civilian UAV flights in Alaska and across the US, new federal regulations will soon require accelerated responses for public safety agencies to use small UAVs under 4.4lbs, and subject to other restrictions. “We believe the new FAA regulations represent a significant step forward for civilian use of UAVs – particularly for public safety users such as Police, Fire and EMS, but also contributing to broader adoption for commercial and industrial applications” said Dave Kroetsch, President of Aeryon Labs.
This is not the Scout’s first mission in Alaska – as recently as January it helped guide the Russian Fuel Tanker Renda for an emergency fuel delivery to Nome Alaska by mapping ice flows ahead of a US Coast Guard icebreaker.