Most of us are familiar with the news stories in recent months about retailers in the USA talking about using robotic flying vehicles to deliver online purchases to customers.
This scenario brings to mind some interesting issues – like the dangers of heavy air traffic over cities and the need for new regulations.
But how many of us have had first hand experience watching one of these robotic marvels perform – or better yet, actually use the tablet that controls its flight?
Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to have this type of experience with two small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) developed and built by Aeryon Labs Inc. right here in Waterloo, Ontario!
Aeryon Labs sells two sUAS, the original system, The Scout, and its newer and bigger brother, Sky Ranger. Scout was profiled in an episode of Flashpoint, the popular Canadian police TV series, filmed in Toronto a few years ago.
In that episode, Scout assisted the special police unit to locate a woman being held hostage. In real life, Scout helped Libyan Rebels by providing aerial reconnaissance as they marched to Tripoli.
Multiple scouts were used by British Petroleum to gather aerial images and 3D data to help deal with an oil spill. Scout also assisted Central American law enforcement with a critical drug bust by providing covert aerial surveillance of a suspected narcotics compound.
Every day there are new instances of Aeryon’s Scout and Sky Ranger providing valuable assistance to law enforcement and other organizations world wide.
So how did I manage to get a close encounter with these two technological marvels?
I have a connection!
Dave Kroesch, CEO of Aeryon Labs Inc. and one of the company’s founders, is our Godson. His father, Dan Kroetsch, has been a close friend for over forty years and he works at Aeryon.
One of Dan’s responsibilities is to take these two systems outside for test flights. By law, he must have a spotter with him – and one day, Dan asked me to assist him as his spotter.
Wow! I was so excited!
As it happened, we were blessed with a gorgeous sunny day, and warm temperatures, and ventured to a big, open field beside a church and cemetery in St. Jacobs.
We parked at the edge of the church parking lot and unpacked the system cases. For each sUAS there is a base which sits upon a tripod, and that was set up on the pavement beside the field. Signals are sent and received between the control tablet, the base unit, and the sUAS itself.
Both Scout and the larger Sky Ranger are able to withstand stronger winds than most other systems of this type, so inclement weather is not an issue – except for the people on the ground!
I was very excited as I watched Dan place Scout on the grass beside the parking lot, rejoin me beside the car, and then send the command to start the propellers.
I could hear the sound as Scout remained on the ground with its propellers activated. Dan commanded it to liftoff, and up went Scout, straight up above us, sending video of us back to the tablet.
Issuing more commands on the tablet, Dan sent the Scout even higher and far away from us until I lost sight of it. We could see what Scout saw as it continued its flight. One interesting feature of both models is that if the sUAS loses signal from the base, it is programmed to automatically return to base and land itself.
That blew me away! When it came back, Scout came fairly close to us before we could hear it. Now I understand why Scout was effective as a covert intelligence gathering unit.
Sky Ranger, the larger of the two sUAS, performed flawlessly this day. This unit was a bit louder when close by, and it moved very quickly under sunny skies.
Once Sky Ranger was out of sight, Dan handed me the tablet to try my hand at flying.
He had me move the unit from the left, cross the sky to the right, and then to hover overhead. On the tablet I was able to monitor the images its camera was relaying back to base.
Its camera, mounted under the body housing, is capable of HD or High definition, night vision, video, and still pictures. I’m told it can be purchased with different cameras. Unbelievable!
Dear Santa… I’ve been good…REALLY!!