5 Steps to Getting Started with Automated BVLOS and Docking Stations: FlytBase Achal Negi
5 Steps to Getting Started with Automated BVLOS and Docking Stations: FlytBase Achal Negi

FlytBase DJI AirWorks FlytNow Automated BVLOSAt DJI AirWorks today, FlytBase Director of Business Development discussed 5 steps to ensuring that enterprise companies are ready to apply for permission to fly automated BVLOS operations with a docking station.

FlytBase provides the FlytNow cloud-based software for the automation of routine missions using docking stations – a box. that houses the drone, charges the battery, and monitors conditions.  FlytBase has partnered with 15 different drone-in-a-box companies, and support 17 different docking solutions.

“5 years ago, you needed a pilot, an observer, a drone maintenance person to swap batteries – now there can be nothing but a box, anywhere in the world, thousands of miles away from your control rooms.  And all over the world, people are deploying these systems,” says FlytBase CEO and Founder Nitil Gupta.

Gupta and his colleague Achal Negi, FlytBase Director of Business Development, say that getting approvals or waivers is very possible – but requires planning nad consideration to ensure that companies have the right match between use case and hardware and are prepared to demonstrate their risk mitigation strategies.

Achal Negi Describes 5 Steps to Prepare for Automated BVLOS Flight with Docking Stations

  1. Determine the Use Case.   Automated BVLOS flights with docking stations are most appropriate for a use case that requires really frequent operations, high frequency missions, or immediate response.  “That’s when it’s too expensive to have a pilot on site for every flight,” says Negi.  Construction site management, security patrols, solar panel inspection, power plant inspection, Smart City, Emergency Response, Railway Yards Inspection, or Traffic Management are all great use cases for docking stations.  “If you are flying every day, that’s when you need a docking system,” he says.
  2. Select appropriate Hardware.  It’s important for companies to match the right drone – and the right docking station – to the job.  What camera is required?  How robust does the platform need to be?  Do you need battery charging, or battery swapping capabilities that would allow the drone to immediately return to the air?
  3. Setup RDOC – the Management System, and Risk Mitigations.  RDOC is what FlytBase provides, and they’ve helped many of their customers get waivers or permissions for automated BVLOS flight.  That’s because the right RDOC can demonstrate the risk mitigation that authorities need to see.   Both drones and docking stations need to be monitored from the control center.  Operators must be able to monitor the HVAC system so that batteries are protected, monitor the weather data, and more.  Additionally, the software needs to manage every scenario – and be adaptable to different aircraft in different situations.  For example, docking stations with non-weather resistant drones can be programmed not to open during a weather event: those carrying more robust airframes can allow flight.   There’s a lot to think about, and the software should help with all aspects of risk mitigation and have the failsafes that deal with any potential problems, including battery failure, Internet failure, or the failure of the docking station itself.  FlytBase works on BVLOS flight in 5 different countries, and has a different suite of capabilities based on each country’s requirements.
  4. Apps and Inteegration.  The drone and the dock are just part of the solution that regulators need to see to approve BVLOS ops.  In some cases, operations may require a parachute, sense and avoid capabilities, and integration with Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) systems.  For some use cases, the solution may need to integrate with external alarm systems, triggering a drone to respond to a certain area – for example, if a security system is breached, the drone may need to immediately respond to the location of the breach to deliver situational awareness.
  5. Scale and Multiple Deployments.  Finally, says Negi, enterprise companies must plan ahead for scale and multiple deployments – demonstrating that they will be able to monitor and manage all of their systems and field operations.

Automation has been a major theme in the drone industry for several years now.  BVLOS regulations in the US have still not been regularized, but it is getting easier to get permissions as the software and docking stations become ever more sophisticated.  Automated BVLOS flight, however, has such a high ROI to offer for enterprise that companies like BNSF Railway are willing to do the hard work of collaborating with regulators and manufacturers to develop drone and docking solutions.

Read more about FlytBase:

Skydio - Electric Infrastructure Inspection with Drones - sUAS News - The Business of Drones
Skydio – Electric Infrastructure Inspection with Drones – sUAS News – The Business of Drones

Utility inspections are absolutely critical for ensuring uptime and safety of our power grid, but these inspections often pose serious safety risks to the inspector. Inspectors must often fly low over power plants, transmission towers, and distribution poles by helicopter, or climb to high altitudes in high-voltage environments. In some cases, safety requires so much of the inspector’s attention that the data quality of the inspection suffers.

The solution? Drones. Deploying drones for inspection use cases can help the inspector generate fully comprehensive inspection datasets, while their operators remain safely on the ground.

However, not all drones are created equal. Last-generation manual drones are challenging to fly and cannot be flown up close to utility structures without introducing high crash risk, so manufacturers have raced to add larger, and more expensive, camera payloads to photograph infrastructure from a distance. Skydio autonomous drones can accomplish better inspections with smaller cameras simply by being able to fly closer to the subject, reducing the requirement to carry and risk expensive camera payloads. Skydio drones require far less training because of unmatched obstacle avoidance and fully autonomous missions which provide robotic precision data capture of complex structures.

Electric utility environments are usually accompanied by high voltage electric fields and strong electromagnetic fields induced by current flowing. A drone and its onboard sensors must be able to withstand those fields, which is why Skydio partnered with EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute) — the world’s preeminent independent, non-profit energy research and development organization, with offices around the world — to test Skydio’s drones in these energized environments. After rigorous field testing, EPRI confirmed that our drones worked as expected with no electric or magnetic field impact to the aircraft’s flight behavior, collision avoidance systems or command and control systems.

The Distribution and Transmission Electrical Network

When looking at the landscape of electric utility inspections, many of the most critical inspections focus on distribution and transmission networks. Transmission networks move large amounts of electricity and use larger structures to support the electric lines. Distribution networks are smaller in structure and are used to get electricity from the main transmission hubs to individual homes or businesses. The main difference between transmission and distribution is the amount of energy these different networks move. An analogy to think about this is transmission networks are the arteries and the distribution networks are the veins of the electrical network.

The Need for Reliable Electricity

The assets used to supply electricity to people are often placed in some of the harshest environments in the world. The maintenance task is immense and very challenging. Weather conditions, vegetation and wildlife can degrade the integrity of that support structure or create hazardous conditions that may lead to fires and blackouts. Blackouts can cause millions of dollars in economic loss as well as endanger the health and safety of communities.

power utility degradation

Recurring visual inspections are necessary to assess the health of distribution system components. Drones are a great tool to inspect these distribution structures because these inspections are expensive and hazardous for manned inspection. Automation with drones provide safe, fast, low-cost, and high quality inspections which is key to having reliable electricity.

Flying in Energized and Electromagnetic Environments

Energized electric utility and transmission environments are usually accompanied by high voltage electric fields and strong electromagnetic fields induced by current flowing that can interfere with electronics and GPS signals. A drone and its onboard sensors must be able to withstand those fields and operate in GPS-denied conditions EPRI tested Skydio drones in these energized environments and found that, in fact, Skydio drones can handle and are well suited to operate in electrified environments, even in close proximity.

x2 drone flying near utility equipment

Below you will see a Skydio X2 drone flying in a high voltage electric field with a 230,000 Volt source right below it. The X2 oeprates as it usually would with no differance in operation due to the chnages in the environmental condition.

Flying in Obstacle Rich Environments

Having a drone that is able to fly in an energized environment is necessary, but only half of the equation. To be successful in the utility environment, drones must be able to avoid wires, poles, vegiation, and many other obstacles. As a result, reliable omnidirectional collision avoidance is critical.

drone obstacle avoidance

Skydio’s approach to flight navigation and obstacle avoidance is fundamentally different from the rest of the industry’s. Our aircrafts come with AI and computer vision software that process video images from six integrated fisheye, 4K navigation cameras reconstructing a 360 view of the environment around the drone in real time and without prior knowledge of a location. The onboard AI works as co-pilot assisting the human operator in safely maneuvering around obstacles even outside the field of view of the main camera payload.  Our context-aware AI algorithms can draw conclusions about what they see — for example, concluding that a cable the cameras show floating in mid-air is likely to extend in both directions. That lets them dodge obstacles that their human pilots miss, and is critical to operating in these types of environments.

Autonomous Data Capture in Obstacle Rich and Energized Environments

Skydio 3D Scan builds on top of the Skydio Autonomy flight engine, adding the ability  to conduct fully autonomous flight patterns to capture complete and accurate photosets of every surface and angle of energy utility structures. This means that professional drone operators of all skill levels can now perform higher quality area mappings and physical asset inspections in record time and with minimal training.

skydio 3d scan power pole

With 3D Scan the operator defined a simple operating volume (floor, ceiling, and pillars) around the electric pole. Once the 3D Scan software was programmed with the volume, the operator defined the ground sample distance and the drone began to autonomously take all the required images of the pole without any additional input from the human operator. The drone flew for a minute and a half and took 48 photos. With those photos, the inspector can review/ and identify any potential issues that need to be addressed.

Watch the complete “Autonomous Drones for Energy Utilities An EPRI Research Study”


r/drones - Possibly broken gimbal. I tried flying it through the door behind be going very slow. It hit the ground from about 3-4 feet. It cant turn or rotate to one side. I get an alert the gimbal is stuck when trying to fly. Is this broken or is it out of place?
Made in U.S. Zenith AeroTech Partners with VIRTEX on NDAA-Compliant Production, Ensuring Supply

Zenith AeroTech drones manufactured in U.S.VA-based Zenith AeroTech is ensuring that it’s tethered heavy lift solutions meet National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) parameters and can be produced more quickly to meet growing demand.  The company announces a partnership with VIRTEX Enterprises to develop Zenith AeroTech drones manufactured in the U.S.

by DRONELIFE Staff Writer Ian M. Crosby

Last month, Zenith AeroTech, a leading developer of heavy-lift tethered aerial vehicles (TAVs), announced a partnership with electronics manufacturing service provider VIRTEX Enterprises (“VIRTEX”). The partnership was formed in order to meet a rise in demand for TAVs, while also ensuring that the products are delivered in shorter time frames and are NDAA compliant.

“This new partnership allows our two companies to leverage their individual areas of expertise,” said Zenith AeroTech’s chairman, Kutlay Kaya. “Zenith brings years of custom-made TAV and free-flight drone design and manufacturing experience, while VIRTEX—an AS 9100 accredited organization—contributes its sought-after advanced electronics design, manufacturing, and testing capabilities.”

Zenith AeroTech offers its customers the choice of three seperate, highly customizable TAV platforms with its Hexa, Quad 8, and Quadro models. Zenith’s Ground Power-Tether Management System enables these TAVs to remain airborne for days at a time, providing true persistent surveillance.

VIRTEX provides aerospace, military, and commercial markets with engineering services, design, system level integration, PCBA and full life cycle management services, each delivered in vertically integrated solutions with a goal of long-term customer partnerships.

“VIRTEX’s U.S.-based manufacturing capability and its specialized aerospace experience will ensure that Zenith products are all American-made and fully NDAA compliant, unlike other drone suppliers,” Kaya stated. “VIRTEX will also allow Zenith to scale up production to meet larger volume orders in a shorter time frame.”

Zenith will assist VIRTEX with its entry into the emerging, technically sophisticated small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) market, and putting VIRTEX in touch with new defense and law enforcement customers.

“The vertical capabilities of our two companies include full system design, manufacture and integrated test,” said Executive VP of VIRTEX Dana Pittman. “We offer leading-edge custom solutions that support multiple channels, including defense. With this partnership, VIRTEX and Zenith will build complex systems to address diverse and complex problem sets.”

Read more about Zenith AeroTech, their U.S.-based manufacturing, and counter UAS partnership with DroneShield.

Ian attended Dominican University of California, where he received a BA in English in 2019. With a lifelong passion for writing and storytelling and a keen interest in technology, he is now contributing to DroneLife as a staff writer.