Marine Watch Phase-2 was the first in a series of U-Flyte demonstrators that will take place between 2018-2022. In keeping with U-Flyte project objectives, the demonstrator provides real-world test sites, including Waterford Airport, and end-user application test environments. Marine Watch Phase-1 took place in 2017 with researchers from Maynooth University, Airbus and the Irish Coast Guard and focused on initial coastal monitoring to support Coast Guard operations. The focus of Marine Watch Phase 2 remained on the marine/coastal environment and aimed to build on progress made in Phase 1.
Marine Watch Phase-2 undertook a number of drone applications that have never been tested in Ireland before. These tests required careful planning and coordination, permissions, the development of protocols, and the need to establish lessons learned for the roll-out of more efficient marine-based drone services in the future. Maynooth University and the U-Flyte team worked alongside Airbus and the Irish Coast Guard in supporting their existing marine-based activities, for example Search and Rescue, with the use of drone platforms and data captured using drones. The demonstrator took place between September 11th -21st 2018 in Waterford across a number of locations including Waterford Airport.
Drone tests included: integrated airspace testing, locating missing persons using mobile phone RF signal detector, beyond line of sight (BLOS) test and a swimmer in difficulty test.
Marine Watch - Phase 1: Airbus Quad Cruiser Tests
Internationally there has only been a handful of similar tests undertaken. The aim was to explore methodologies for operating approved drone flights in same airspace as manned aircraft. This test required collaboration from partners including the Irish Aviation Authority, local air traffic control, airport managers, aircraft and drone pilots, and researchers/developers. Tasks were focused on air-traffic separation procedures, de-conflicting, navigation, visibility, communication and safety.
This test was the first of its kind in Ireland and deployed a GSM detection and location device (aka GSM Sniffer) on a drone that flew along the coast of Waterford in search of ‘missing’ people. The GSM sniffer, mounted on a drone, is capable of detecting the GSM signal emitted from mobile phones within a radius of up to 2km, regardless of the mobile phone being within range of network service providers.
Current regulation stipulates that drone operators cannot operate drones beyond direct unaided visual line of sight and not further than 300 metres from the point of operation. International regulations are similar and have hampered the roll out of increasingly sophisticated and commercialised long endurance drone operations due to safety and security issues. This Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) test involved the operation of an industry standard drone along an uninhabited 3km stretch of the Waterford coast. The drone was equipped with both dual positioning systems, including Command and Control (C2) GPS, as well as an independent Automated Dependent System Broadcast (ADS-B) reporting the location of the drone in real-time on 1090MHz. The drone operator had a first person view of the flight path using the drone video feed and was in regular communication with team members located on the ground along the 3km stretch. This controlled BLOS test forms one of the fundamental building blocks of future Drone UTM Operations
Panoramic view from Waterford Airport along the coast
This test was carried out in partnership with the Irish Coast Guard and Airbus to determine if drones can improve marine-based search and rescue missions. A high-performance drone, equipped with a state of the art video system, searched a coastal area to locate a swimmer in difficulty. When detected, the coordinates of the swimmer were transmitted to an Irish Coast Guard rib. At the same time, a heavy-lift drone was tasked with flying to the reported position and deploying a buoyancy aid.