A new record has been set in long-distance drone delivery using cell towers to maintain a connection between a drone in the air and a pilot on the ground, rather than relying on a radio frequency. On May 5, a Nevada UAS Consortium (Team Roadrunner) set the record flying a fixed-wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) over 97 miles to Austin, Tex. using cellular connectivity.
Launched from a central Texas urban location, the UAV flew a preplanned route through the National Airspace System (NAS) using a combination of a mobile command and contro, a visual observer team, and stationary visual observers located across the flight route were equipped with enhanced radios and cell phone communications which allowed the UAV to be flown using a cellular communications link until it successfully landed and delivered its package in Austin..
Team Roadrunner consisted of the FAA-designated Nevada UAS Test Site (Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems), Volans-i UAS, Latitude UAS, AUV Flight Services, and the ground and mobile visual observer support from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Worldwide campuses.
“This was the most challenging, logistically-intensive, and longest package delivery demonstration recorded to date using cellular technology in the NAS, and allowed us the opportunity to demonstrate innovative capability – a demonstration necessity for the UAS industry,” said Dr. Chris Walach, Director of the FAA-designated Nevada UAS Test Site and Adjunct Assistant Professor, College of Aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide. “Assembling a resilient team, being at the right place at the right time, with the right innovative technology, and entrepreneurial perspective is what allowed us to accomplish this mission.”
Walach continued, “Drone package delivery in an urban and remote environment is the wave of the future, and Nevada is leading and helping to grow this major commercial endeavor. These package delivery milestones prove that new UAS technology enables the safe integration of UAS into the NAS for long-distance and urban package deliveries.”
Nevada previously conducted historic package delivery BLOS demonstrations in Hawthorne, Nev. at over 39 miles as well as the first publicly-recorded package delivery to a Reno, Nevada homeowner.
For this mission, to embed an additional layer of safety into this operation, visual observers were placed along the route and a ground mobile visual observer team was deployed in remote areas.
“Team Roadrunner was organized and very professional to work with. It is very exciting to be part of something truly ground breaking. Integration of students and alumni on similar projects with NIAS in the future extends our outreach to the industry,” said Dr. Scott Burgess, Associate Professor, at Embry-Riddle.
“Aviation has evolved much since the days of the Wright Brothers and I truly believe that unmanned systems are going to revolutionize the aviation industry and beyond; I am proud that Embry-Riddle faculty, students, and fellow Alumni are actively playing a part in this incredible journey,” said Kandi Windham, Campus Director of the college.
“This was an extremely complicated mission. Making sure that the UAS met all the performance characteristics was only one piece. Great emphasis was placed on flight safety, airworthiness, communication, command and control as well as air and ground coordination, and VO logistics. The Volans-i, Latitude, AUV Flight Services, and the NIAS team worked extremely well together. Given the complexity and the ultimate success of the mission, it is clear to me that we couldn’t have picked a better team,” said Hannan Parvizian, Volans-i Founder.
“Creating a safe and thriving drone industry is an incredible challenge, especially when you couple that with drone package delivery. The loss of communications during a long flight is a real concern, but because of this mission, cellular technology can be relied upon to ensure that communication with a drone is not lost over a long-distance delivery. The record-breaking success of Team Roadrunner’s aerial package delivery mission proves that diligent testing in complex conditions will lead to drone delivery becoming reality,” said Steve Hill, Executive Director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
The Nevada UAS Test Site is one of seven Federal Aviation Administration-designated UAS Test Sites.