FlightHorizon Explainer video:
Central Role of Safety Systems in Droneport Development - captions:
From the video:
Imagine a world in which drones travel freely throughout the US, inspecting vital bridges and pipelines, responding to emergencies, and delivering packages safely and efficiently.
That future is just over the horizon, but one of the last remaining barriers for safe and legal integration into the national airspace is for drones to be able to automatically detect, track and avoid other aircraft.
Vigilant Aerospace overcomes this final barrier with our FlightHorizon system.
FlightHorizon is flight safety software based on an exclusively licensed NASA patent and prototype.
It provides the logic and algorithms to detect and track other aircraft using a variety of sensors and to issue an avoidance command to an unmanned pilot or autopilot to prevent potential collisions.
When used by a pilot, the software provides a visual map of the aircraft’s location relative to other nearby aircraft around it for tens of miles and provides traffic alerts and collision warnings.
If another aircraft gets close to the drone, the software immediately alerts the operator with a visual and audible notification and if a conflict is predicted, the software sounds an alarm and issues a specific command to avoid the collision.
Once well clear, the operator is given instructions to get the drone back onto its original flight path.
FlightHorizon also provides a 3D model of the drone and the aircraft around it, giving the operator a synthetic cockpit view. Waypoints can be entered to direct navigation of the drone and all flights and encounters with other aircraft are automatically logged by the software.
FlightHorizon can also provide weather radar data, control zones and navigational charts, as well as high resolution aerial photography of the ground.
During recently beyond visual line of sight tests at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, the system was used to complete 18 encounter scenarios over nearly 100 flights and successfully detected and tracking 100% of the air traffic and warned of all potential collisions.
The tests were monitored by staff from the FAA and the FCC and all flight data was collected and analyzed by NASA and Vigilant Aerospace.
FlightHorizon provides commercial drone operators with a complete flight safety and compliance solution for beyond visual line of sight flying and the future of commercial unmanned flight.
Central Role of Safety Systems in Droneport Development:
Solving the Airspace Management Problem
2018 Review Video - captions:
Quick YouTube video links:
- 1:39 – Intro to Vigilant Aerospace Systems
- 5:14 – The Basic Questions – Flight Safety for Droneport Development
- 6:15 – What does my safety system need to accomplish?
- 10:41 – Setting up a Droneport – Step 1: Solving the Airspace Management Problem
- 12:04 – Setting up a Droneport – Step 2: The Industries
- 13:08 – Setting up a Droneport – Step 3: The Analysis
- 15:39 – Setting up a Droneport – Step 4: The Plan
- 17:38 – Setting up a Droneport – Step 5: The Solution
- 18:41 – Setting up a Droneport – Step 6: The Technology
- 21:40 – Setting up a Droneport – Step 7: Enablement
- 24:40 – Quick intro to FlightHorizon COMMANDER detect-and-avoid and airspace management
- 28:47 – Q&A – Audience Question: How is FlightHorizon future-proof?
From the video:
Vigilant Aerospace Systems reached several major milestones in 2018 in our mission to bring automatic detect-and-avoid and intelligent airspace management to the commercial drone industry using our FlightHorizon product.
In 2018, FlightHorizon was selected to provide detect-and-avoid and airspace safety to two of the FAA’s ten integration pilot program teams. The Integration Pilot Program is the FAA’s flagship program to test systems and develop standards for routine beyond visual line-of-sight flights and package delivery using drones. Vigilant Aerospace Systems is working with the Integration Pilot Program teams in North Dakota and Alaska.
This past year, FlightHorizon was used in the program to provide airspace monitoring for the first IPP drone flights over people at the FargoDome in Fargo, North Dakota during a large annual football tailgating party.
The flights were carried out by CNN and BotLink and observed by representatives from the North Dakota Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration.
In 2018, we also partnered with the Unmanned Systems Research Institute at Oklahoma State University to use FlightHorizon to monitor air traffic and track drones flying in a new 13-mile drone corridor in central Oklahoma that allows unmanned aircraft flight beyond the visual line-of-sight of the pilot.
The new corridor, approved under an FAA Certificate of Authorization, will allow Vigilant Aerospace Systems to demonstrate flight safety using FlightHorizon over much longer distances and continue to lead the industry in the development of automatic detect-and-avoid systems for drones.
Also, at the request of NASA, we developed a special version of FlightHorizon, called FlightHorizonX, to track supersonic aircraft and spacecraft. The FlightHorizonX system was used in 2018 to track and log NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project flights in California and Texas, testing new transponders and quiet supersonic booms. Soon, we also expect to be tracking spacecraft.
In September, we announced our partnership with the new DronePort Network and presented a seminar on “Obstacles to launching a droneport and how to overcome them” at the organization’s inaugural meeting. The meeting was attended by industry professionals from 10 states and 28 organizations.
We also joined the ASTM F38 committee, which is currently setting national standards for unmanned aircraft. We serve on two working groups side-by-side with the leading researchers, airspace regulators and current commercial technology leaders on setting standards for detect-and-avoid systems for the industry.
Overall, 2018 was an outstanding year for the Vigilant Aerospace team and we expect 2019 to be an exciting year with the official launch of FlightHorizon COMMANDER, participation in additional supersonic flights with FlightHorizonX, and support for many groundbreaking beyond visual line-of-sight flights throughout the US that will help to advance new regulations and push the entire commercial drone industry forward.
For more information on FlightHorizon or to schedule a demonstration, please visit www.VigilantAerospace.com.
And, be sure to follow us on Twitter @VigilantAero.
Vigilant Aerospace Systems 2018 Year-in-Review:
2018 Review Video - captions:
From the video:
Hello. I’m Kraettli Epperson, CEO of Vigilant Aerospace.
I’m going to go through a story here that will hopefully provide you a little bit of a narrative and a deep dive into a step-by-step process that your program, fleet operation, or droneport can follow in order to be able to achieve some of the things that you need to do technically and regulatorily to be able to operate your droneport and achieve the economic impact that you want to achieve.
We’re going to talk about safety systems. We are going to talk about specific software and we’re going to talk about a story about a fictional droneport that I’ll give us some background for that as we go through this.
I’m going to give you a real quick introduction to Vigilant Aerospace first, so you have a little bit of a background on where we’re coming from.
I’m going to talk about the purpose of these sorts of safety systems in the development of a droneport and why they’re so important to get right as you are setting out to build your droneport and your system.
I’m going to talk about where we get these recommendations and where we get this information from. Then we’re going to go through the story of a tow called Wiseville that is going to go through this process.
And then finally, I’ll give you a little bit more information about the system that we’re using as our central safety system in this story, which is FlightHorizon COMMANDER.
I’m going to try and leave plenty of time at the end for questions. I’m happy to answer questions. Feel free to jot those down and I will definitely try and save time for that.
Vigilant Aerospace Systems Company Background
A little bit of background about us:
We provide safety systems for droneports and for individual pilots – really for both manned and unmanned aircraft.
The primary product I’m going to talk about today is FlightHorizon COMMANDER with integrated hardware. It’s primarily software with integrated hardware. It is based on and incorporates an automatic avoidance system that we’ve exclusively licensed from NASA. It includes a patent. It includes a prototype that’s been well tested and then we’ve commercialized that product and those are the products that we use. And in fact, NASA uses those.
We’re involved in a variety of projects where our system is being used today. These include NASA manned and unmanned aircraft flights, especially including all of their supersonic testing, which goes on off the coast of Galveston and off the coast of Florida.
Some of it goes on at Edwards Air Force base at NASA Armstrong out in the Mojave Desert. They use our system to provide geo-fencing, safety and awareness, traffic awareness, and also to do airspace logging.
We’re also involved in the North Dakota and the Alaska FAA IPP programs. We provided airspace safety for the first IPP flights over people for flights that occurred in North Dakota.
We’ve recently just come back from Fairbanks, Alaska, where we observed radar testing, and other sensor systems testing that we are evaluating for incorporation into our system. We observed encounters between manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft at the Poker Flat Rocket Range. That was a fantastic opportunity. The IPP program is doing very interesting work right now.
We also went out after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and worked with a group called Humanitarian-Drones.org to help them do flights for FEMA in which they, in a matter of a few hours were completing entire neighborhoods doing a damage assessment for FEMA.
Normally it would take about two weeks for them to walk those neighborhoods and they were able to do that in a matter of hours. Have those reports in, which speeds up aid to those communities really dramatically.
We were able to bring our system out there, turn it on and immediately help them de-conflict small groups of drones that were doing these surveys from NOAA aircraft, Red Cross aircraft, Sheriff aircraft, and other people that needed to be in the airspace, so they could get out of the air when those aircraft had to pass through.
We’re also working with Oklahoma State University and participating in their 13-mile beyond visual line-of-sight COA. This is a great opportunity to fly aircraft much longer distances using our system and is intended to help pave the way for things like pipeline inspection, electrical line inspection across broader parts of the U.S.
I also serve on the ASTM F38 Committee. This is a national and international standards setting body. I’ll refer to them a little bit later. They are doing work to help set standards for beyond visual line-of-sight and other standards that can help to drive the industry forward.
We have three product versions.
1. We have the Ground Control Station (GCS) version. (FlightHorizon GCS)
2. We have our on-board version, which is the small black box. This is our pilot version for doing automatic avoidance on-board. That’s in development now. (FlightHorizon PILOT)
3. And then we have our COMMANDER version and that’s primarily what I’m going to talk about today. (FlightHorizon COMMANDER)
That’s the product here. Those are actually NASA aerospace managers using this during some supersonic flight testing.
Enabling a Droneport
When we think about what we need to get done at our droneport to make this a reality, we need to think about how we’re going to be able to enable beyond visual line-of-sight. That really is the top question. In order to have true economic impact, that is where the industry has to be. That’s really what you want for your droneport.
So that’s what we think about first is:
- What do we need to do and what do we need to think about?
- Who are the fliers?
- What industries are we serving?
- What are we trying to enable our customers to do? (That’s the foundational question here.)
- What does safety mean for us and what does it mean to the FAA in the context of where we’re located?
We’re going to get into some of that detail here. But, that’s really a starting question.
Once you’ve figured out who your industry is, you’ve got to figure out what safety means for the types of flights you’re going to be doing.
What risks do I need to mitigate? Really, when we talk about standards and regulations, a lot of it is about risk mitigation.
What problems do I need to solve to mitigate those risks? And then finally, what’s a good step-by-step plan for my droneport to get this done?
We’re going to go through a hypothetical in this process.
What does the safety system need to do as a part of those larger questions?
It needs to help you mitigate risk. It needs to help you be situationally aware of the air traffic and your own aircraft – the unmanned aircraft that you’re responsible for at your droneport.
You have to know ownship status. You need to know where your aircraft is at all times and what the operational status of that aircraft is.
You need to be able to detect-and-avoid other aircraft. I’ll talk about that in some more detail later. But, that’s a really fundamental part of the way the FAA thinks about unmanned aircraft. They have to be able to detect-and-avoid other aircraft the same way a manned aircraft would.
You need to maintain what’s called “well clear.”
You have a certain distance, both vertically and horizontally, that you must maintain from other aircraft, most especially manned aircraft.
Then, you have to demonstrate that you’re operating safely. That you are in regulatory compliance for the regulations that you’ve chosen to fly under. And then, ultimately, as you achieve waivers or COAs, that you are complying with your waiver or COA. And, that you can document that over time. Right? These are all fundamental things.
I’ve got down here from CFR 91, the definition that’s often used to drive a lot of the thinking about safety systems are that unmanned aircraft need to be able to see-and-avoid the same way that a manned aircraft is able to see-and-avoid.
Industry Standards and Recommendations
Where do these recommendations come from that I’m going to go through here?
Part 107. Part 105. Part 135 is emerging as a possible way to do beyond visual line-of-sight and a way to do delivery. And Part 91 is foundational to the way that we think about the airspace existing.
Part 107.31 line-of-sight waivers that have already been granted and the types of things that are embedded in those waivers are very important to the way we as a company think about our system and the way that we think about what we need to enable droneports and individual pilots to be able to do.
We have a study that we’re going to be publishing. We have a white paper we’ve gone through and analyzed in detail all of the waivers that have been issued. That really informs part of what we’re talking about today. And we’ll make that available probably through the DronePort Network.
We look at the operation of LAANC, the way it’s working now to get access to airspaces around airports.
RTCA SC228 MOPS Phase 1, and then the upcoming Phase 2. Phase 1 is really for on-board systems. These are larger aircraft, higher altitude, but they do have an impact on the way that we think about Part 107 operators as well.
Then phase two is going to have some very interesting things with ground-based detect-and-avoid and ground based use of radars to enable these aircraft. We look at those very closely.
The UAS Integration Pilot Programs (IPP) teams that we’re on provide us with a tremendous amount of insight with the opportunity to actually be operating with these teams and be participating in those flights and talking to the observers that are involved in that as we go.
Remote ID has just finished up a process of some commentary and is emerging as a standard and there’s also an ASTM F38 standard for remote ID that is coming out. And so that’s going to have a big impact on the way that unmanned aircraft can interact in the airspace. It’s an extremely important stepping-stone and we’re excited to see that reaching fruition.
Science and Research Panel (SARP) well-clear is how we figure out how far away aircraft have to stay from each other and that’s an important number that really informs how we manage the airspace.
And then Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS) Airspace Risks, figuring out where you’re flying, what kind of traffic you have is an important part of your risk mitigation strategy. So, we use that.
We are planning to be part of the FAA ASSURE A18, which is a new program for the next stage of ASSURE’s detect-and-avoid and unmanned safety research. We’ve started being involved in that.
We’re on the NASA Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) working group for sense-and-avoid and command and control for UTM.
We’re also on ASTM F38 and the various standards. I mentioned all of that because you’ll likely have questions about why we recommend some of the things that we do. I’ll probably refer back to some of these things.
Wiseville – a Droneport Narrative
Now I’m going to tell you a story. We’re going to go through a narrative of a fictional town called Wiseville and how they’ve decided to develop a droneport and what that means to them. To start with, the town of Wiseville has decided it would like to explore a local droneport.
It currently has an unused, county-owned runway and hangar. This is a story that’s common. You may have some assets like this.
It happens to be a rural property. There’s low population density and low aircraft density and these are all things that they’ve done some basic research about to figure out that this is a candidate location.
The next thing they’ve done is they’ve thought about what potential industries could help to drive this droneport. They came into this knowing that they had several ranches nearby. They had a major oil field within 10-miles and then they have additional similar oil fields, other types of operations and other types of agricultural operations within 30 and 60-miles of the location that they’re considering. So, these are things that come into the picture initially.
They’ve gone out and they’ve raised a little bit of money to begin figuring this out and maybe improve the facilities.
They plan to provide shared resources, as several people have talked about, including airspace safety resources, which we’re going to emphasize to provide lower costs to everyone involved and lower risk for everyone involved. They can go out and they can learn from each other and quickly achieve some of the things that they need to achieve.
After they’ve made this initial decision to pursue this, they go out and approach the industries.
Hypothetically, in this case, we’re going to choose a few operators who are going to be your initial sponsors or the targets for your droneport.
They plan to have two onsite service providers and one corporate operator. The two onsite service providers who hopefully will rent and otherwise use the droneport are all agricultural survey specialists.
They provide services using small and midsize multi-rotors. They’ve got a FLIR camera to help find hot spots that need attention in an agricultural setting, whether that’s in fields with crops or whether it is cattle. They also have one oil and gas production company that has a small fixed wing with a multispectral sensor that’s out looking for leaks, particularly methane leaks, other types of leaks in their facilities and in their gathering lines.
Those are our model users for this droneport. They know that they need beyond visual line-of-sight in order to reach their major customers and initially their target is to be able to do it within 10-miles of the location of the droneport. So that’s where we’re going to start with us.
They go out and they do some analysis. They have to ask themselves some basic questions about how they’re going to enable this operation and reach their beyond visual line-of-sight goal and attract many more users and operators to this droneport.
They discovered that they’re in Class G airspace. So that means it is uncontrolled airspace and they should be able to fly under Part 107 with very few limitations.
If instead it turned out that they were, say near an airport, then they might need to be in a position to either pursue a special Certificate of Authorization (COA) or to use the LAANC system to get authorization to be near that airport.
As many people are beginning to do, they might operate at a small airport, in which case you would typically sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the airport. You would have a set of rules that your operators would sign onto when they want to fly from that airport. That would help to define how you’re able to use those assets cooperatively.
Of course, if you are trying to do to delivery, you may put yourself on a path to fly a certified aircraft with certified ground-based or on-board systems and you might fly under Part 135, which would allow you to achieve those certifications and be able to ultimately reach longer distances and possibly do delivery. As we heard earlier, very exciting to hear that that path is developing.
You look at your airspace risk classification. You figure out how many aircraft are flying here. How would we classify that? That can help us to make our safety case, which is ultimately what we’re going to have to do.
We’re going to have to say: “Well, we’re only likely to encounter aircraft this often and that means that we need to have this system which establishes what our overall risk is.” That’s really the way the ASTM F38 standards around detect-and-avoid are emerging. And, it’s the way that other people are developing standards is to say: “What is the risk and what is the system necessary for this airspace?”
You then figure out what your detect-and-avoid and well clear requirements are. Throughout the United States they’re likely to be the SARP standards. So, you’ve got an easy case there.
In other countries it’s slightly different, but they’re all within a certain range. You’re going to look at your primary airspace. But you also want to be aware of local, nearby airspaces in which you may interact, or your flyers may have to fly towards or through. So, you have to be aware of other airports.
Obviously, you’re going to want to be talking to all of these people as you develop your safety case and your operating case. Then, you’re going to look at what shared assets you need. We’ll get into that in a little more detail here.
Our goal is to fly beyond visual line-of-sight 10-miles and then 30 and 60 as we mature.
Okay, so we’ve done our analysis. Now we have to develop a plan. As part of our plan, we’re going to develop something that’s in the industry called a Concept of Operations or ConOp. This becomes a document that helps to drive what you’re going to tell the FAA and others – underwriters, companies that you’re servicing – about how you operate your aircraft and then what your safety case is.
That [ConOp] becomes part of your standard operating procedure, which all of your operators sign-off on. They may have their own variation based on their own aircraft. You have a standard operating procedure that becomes a very important part of the case you’re going to make to your regulator.
You look at your strategic risk mitigation. You know we’re only flying at certain places; at certain times; and, that allows us to use certain systems for safety and coordination.
It means that we have to know what our communications methods are for these spaces at these times. Then, you proceed through a procedural risk mitigation process. These are things like your:
- Aircraft maintenance plan,
- Pre-flight and post-flight checks,
- Training program,
- Communications program,
- Incident reporting program,
- Airspace logging, and
- Flight-logging process.
All of these things, which can be written down, are part of a process and part of a training program that begins to turn your system and your droneport into the kind of place that people want to do business. Right? This is an important part of this.
Then you look at tactical risk mitigation and that’s really where we begin to talk about the system and where the technology can begin to enable your droneport.
You want to have airspace management. You want to have situational awareness, so you know about the air traffic that’s coming into your airspace.
You want to be able to do detect-and-avoid or sense-and-avoid, so that the aircraft that are unmanned – that you’re responsible for and have to be able to say that they can do detect-and-avoid against other aircraft and avoid those aircraft – can actually do that.
Then, ultimately, we would expect in the future UTM, unmanned traffic management integration.
FlightHorizon COMMANDER for Droneport Airspace Management
The solution at the heart of this problem that we’re going to talk about is our FlightHorizon COMMANDER product.
We would install the safety system – the airspace management. It would provide airspace management and situational awareness.
It’s a self-contained UTM in the sense that it accepts information, tracks all of the aircraft, predicts trajectories, predicts potential conflicts and helps maintain well clear.
It’s intended to either operate in a standalone, self-contained manner as, for example, NASA and other people use it now or to interact with other systems as those other systems emerge.
FlightHorizon provides strategic de-confliction in that you will plan and see where aircraft are going to be in your space. But, most importantly it provides tactical de-confliction.
It provides you real-time, continuously cycling awareness of aircraft entering and exiting airspace while tracking exactly where your aircraft is and providing a prediction of your closest point of approach for those aircraft.
Then, ultimately, it provides your see-and-avoid and detect-and-avoid.
Implementing the Technology
Now that we have our solution in mind, we have to implement the technology. So, we bring this system in. I’m going to go over some of the components really quickly. I’ll go over a little bit more of this in some more detail in a few minutes.
The first thing you have is integration to the flight controller or autopilot, so that you have real-time information about the status, location, direction, and other information about your aircraft. That comes directly into this central orange box, which is the software, that is really doing the airspace model and management and the prediction of where the aircraft are going to be. And, then avoidance when necessary.
You would have an ADS-B receiver, so that you can track larger manned aircraft that are cooperative aircraft that are broadcasting with an ADS-B transponder. You always want to have that so you’re aware of those other aircraft.
But not every aircraft will be cooperative. So, for aircraft that are non-cooperative, you would have a radar. There are emerging radars.
There’s one in particular that we’ve done an integration with and are now doing some testing over the next several months. There are several that we’re talking to. These are relatively affordable. In many cases, they are actually portable radars. They are radars that are intended, ultimately, to actually go on the aircraft. You’re carrying your radar with you. It’s really exciting developments going on in the industry.
Of course, you’ll be able to go see some of these radars of you walk around the [AUVSI XPO 2019] hall. You’ll see them talking about what their latest and greatest radar is.
But we bring all three of these pieces of information into the system. FlightHorizon weights them, values them, and figures out if there is a potential for these aircraft to get too close to each other. That’s called a well clear boundary.
FlightHorizon will then provide a specific recommendation on an avoidance maneuver to the airspace manager and/or to the pilot. Ultimately, our system is designed to provide this to the autopilot. Right now, it provides it to the airspace manager and to the pilot.
FlightHorizon provides the most efficient maneuver and the fastest maneuver within the bounds of the performance of your aircraft to deconflict and self-separate from a potential conflict and to maintain well clear.
You want to avoid the paperwork, right? You don’t want a near mid-air collision (NMAC), which is when the aircraft get too close to each other.
Maintaining well clear is really what the system is designed to do. This is the fundamental heart of the safety system to meet the requirements for maintaining safety at your droneport.
This is what the interface typically looks like: You’ve got your ownship – the white aircraft in the middle. You’ve got these blue tracks of the predicted trajectories of other aircraft that are being tracked.
You have a potential collision in this case and so it’s going to start yelling at you. It’ll put text on the screen saying: “Turn right. Turn right. Turn right.” It will provide you with a green line saying: “Go to this point right now. Ultimately, it’ll do the same thing to your autopilot, but this is the piloted or the airspace manager user interface for this system. This is really where the NASA patent and prototype come in.
So, we’ve installed the system. What we’ve heard over and over from the FAA through the IPP programs and other programs is they really like you to: Crawl. Walk. Run.
What that means is that they want to see you using the least advanced operation to achieve your goal. Prove that that works. For example, visual line-of-sight with a system like this, where you can demonstrate that you’re using the system. That you’re seeing the air traffic. That you are completely logging your flights.
Then, provide that to the FAA as a part of the next step in your authorization and enablement. Then do the next step where, for example, you might be flying beyond visual line-of-sight with a visual observer.
You do exactly the same thing. You document it carefully.
Our system will do all the flight logs for you. It will log everything it sees in the airspace continuously and you can replay that.
NASA uses it for analysis for example. That allows you to be able to prove exactly what you’ve seen and what you’ve done.
You go through this process. The first thing you’re going to do when you’ve collected this data…
You go out and fly at visual line-of-sight with your standard operating procedure and then you select a likely candidate.
As was discussed earlier, your actual waiver or COA holder is not the droneport; it is a particular service provider or operator who needs that particular waiver.
You can begin to achieve some milestones and create a path for others to follow using shared equipment and shared resources. But you have to have that first candidate who’s going to go and apply. That might be a public entity that will apply for COA. It might be a private entity that will apply for a waiver which, of course in this case, these are private entities.
They’re going to apply for a waiver. They go out and they apply specifically for a waiver to the Part 107.31, which is visual line-of-sight operation of the aircraft.
They respond to questions and then they get a waiver to do beyond visual line-of-sight with a visual observer.
We’re doing this with a COA right now. We have a 13-mile COA, that I talked about earlier, with Oklahoma State University and this is exactly what we’re doing.
You go through this process. You have a visual observer, and then you begin to log all of your flights. You fly with your visual observer. You document it. You go along your route. Utilize the system both to track your aircraft and all of the surrounding aircraft.
You document that and then you go out and reapply with your radar-based system and graduate to a beyond visual line-of-sight waiver or COA without a visual observer or with a visual observer. As Tom described, that is sitting watching a screen and providing you with that see-and-avoid assurance for your flights.
You have a pilot. You have an airspace manager. You have a visual observer who’s now using a screen. Right? That’s where we are headed in the industry.
Then you can go out and reapply with additional service providers and be in a situation where you can attract, because you’ve established this milestone at your location, you can attract additional flyers.
That’s our story of Wiseville. That’s how you would go out and actually implement these systems. It’s a process and a series of steps that you can follow.
Now, I’m going to talk just a little bit more about our product, because I just kind of brushed by it before. And then, hopefully, we’ll have some time for questions.
I showed you one with some of the hardware, but this is a very simplified picture of how this works.
You’ve got the airspace model – prediction and avoidance. That’s the piece of software that runs in the middle. That can run on a server. It can run on a laptop or even a tablet.
NASA will put it on a kneeboard tablet and have. F-18 pilots, who are doing supersonic flights, actually monitoring and have geo-fencing on their own airspace while they’re doing those supersonic flights, so that they are not caught by surprise by someone who is not supposed to be in that airspace when they’re moving very fast.
You can run it a variety of places and then it will output to the airspace management display. Or, ultimately, we plan for it to output to an autopilot.
FlightHorizon is pulling information in from the drone itself. It’s pulling information in from, a transponder receiver. That’s that ADS-B receiver, which is a transponder that’s commonly carried. And, it’s supposed to be on all aircraft January 2020, that fly in controlled airspace in the United States. There are other countries where it really is already pretty much universal.
Then you have the radar and the radars are developing quickly.
I’ve just worked with a company in Alaska that was easily getting 3-kilometers – easily getting 3-kilometers. We expect that it’s going to go out to 6-kilometers and 12-kilometers.
If you’re willing to have a larger – this was a little tiny unit about the size of a couple of cell phones. If you’re willing to have a slightly larger unit because you’re starting and willing to use a ground-based system, you’re going to be able to get much longer ranges almost immediately.
That’s where you can begin to integrate radar into your operation and then future sensors.
We have worked with groups that are using audible sensors that are listening and are able to determine where an aircraft might be so that you can then pay attention to that sector.
Those are our actually receiving a lot of favor from some of the regulators. There are things that can help provide really wide awareness quickly and pretty inexpensively.
Everything I’m describing here is relatively affordable and that’s why we take this approach with this package.
All of the data from the sensors comes in, goes through the prediction process. If you have a situation where it’s predicting that you’re going to lose well clear, it will tell you to self-separate. It’ll say you need to do this right now.
FlightHorizon is a turnkey single subscription system. We do sell it as a subscription. Single point of contact for the management of your system. Designed to work with both cooperative and non-cooperative intruding aircraft into your airspace. It’s for tracking alerts, warnings, active detect-and-avoid really has a built-in concept of operations.
We are trying to include everything in the package. We are avoiding complexity. We’re doing the hardware integration upfront for you. You don’t have to necessarily go out, pick a sensor, integrate it, test it, and then establish that you’re going to use it.
We’re doing that work up front by participating in the programs that we’re participating in.
Also, we’re working on helping organizations get these waivers and COAs. We provide consulting services around this and the implementation of this system.
We do have a specific process that we suggest droneports go through in order to achieve these beyond visual line-of-sight authorizations. It’s pretty much everything I just went through with Wiseville. A few things kind of added here in the middle, but this is the process that we would typically take you through.
I won’t go completely into that. That’s its own presentation, which is a little different than the one I just gave. And that is my presentation.
Here’s our contact information. We’d be delighted to talk to you further.
Thank you very much to the DronePort Network and the UAS Cluster Initiative for giving us this opportunity.
How is FlightHorizon Future proof?
Are there any questions from the group?
Kraettli, how does your system futureproof as the UTM gets more standardized throughout the United States and into the future? What’s the process with your software and hardware so that folks can minimize the cost moving forward?
Absolutely. Our system is highly modular. Each of these sensors that we add is actually a separate module.
To us, UTM is a module so that we can pull information in and push information out to it. I’ll say a couple of things about UTM.
As I said earlier, I’m on the NASA UTM working group – particularly for sense-and-avoid/detect-and-avoid and then for command and control, because it impacts the way that we think about detect-and-avoid.
I don’t want to speculate too much where UTM is going, but I’ll just point out some industry trends that you can track.
There are organizations that are planning to roll out essentially private UTMs.
Google Wing, for example, has their own flavor of UTM that they use and plan to use to interact with other people.
You have a variety of companies that are providing an interface into UTM, but they’re not intending to be sort of a backbone server.
There’s an expectation that either FAA will run or will delegate the running of, essentially, a backbone server through which competing organizations and competing unmanned service supplier (USS).
The USS is the company that provides you with the software – with which you interact with UTM that they can talk to each other without necessarily their servers having to talk to each other. If they do, they talk to each other in a very standardized, regulated sort of way. That’s what we’re gradually seeing emerge with UTM.
For us as a company, it means we’re really eager to have a system that provides a lot of those services on a self-contained, independent basis.
There are people that we know of who are using our system now who need all of that. Right? They need both the user interface where they can see what’s going on in the airspace.
They need something that’s tracking aircraft independently using a variety of methods to see what’s coming into the airspace. And then, can help tell you what to do about.
Our system kind of does the full-cycle and the full-circle. But we fully expect that we’re also going to be interacting outwards to other systems that will provide additional information about aircraft that are coming into that space.
Our system is well-suited to be able to provide a USS, which is the end user interface through which you interact with a UTM system. At this point it’s actually also providing independently its own backend, right?
FlightHorizon is actually doing the work to track the aircraft and figure out where they should be and where they shouldn’t be. Ultimately, we expect that we’ll be informed and be able to interact with other USS providers, either through common industry servers or directly through an FAA server.
If an FAA server is set up to do that, which may be the case, or it may be that industry is primarily doing this.
I’ve had interesting discussions with people where they’ve said: “You know, on the Internet, you’re not talking to a government server, you’re talking to your Internet service provider’s (ISP) server, and yet you can talk and send email and communicate with people that are on different ISPs. Why is that?
The government’s not doing that. There are standards. Everyone inter-cooperates at internet hotels and other places to make all that happen.
There’s a vision that that may be the direction that UTM goes. But in any case, we’re very UTM aware.
We’re eager for UTM to be here because then we can provide our system and know that is interacting safely with other people who are flying adjacent or on top of us.
Thank you very much.
For more information on FlightHorizon or to schedule a demonstration, please visit www.VigilantAerospace.com.
And, be sure to follow us on Twitter @VigilantAero.
FlightHorizon Provides Airspace Awareness for Oklahoma State University Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight Flights Under New FAA Authorization:
FlightHorizon Provides Airspace Awareness for Oklahoma State University Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight Flights Under New FAA Authorization - captions:
From the video:
Vigilant Aerospace Systems recently participated in the first unmanned aircraft flight under a new FAA authorization obtained by Oklahoma State University.
The authorization allows drones to be flown beyond the visual line of sight of the pilot in a 13-mile corridor located in central Oklahoma. Normally, drones are required to be flown only within the visual line of sight of the remote pilot.
Vigilant Aerospace used its FlightHorizon airspace safety and detect-and-avoid system to provide traffic alerts and situational awareness to the drone pilot and flight team during the initial 3-mile test flight.
The flight was launched from the Oklahoma State University Unmanned Aircraft Flight Station by members of the Oklahoma State University Unmanned Systems Research Institute flying a fixed-wing Anaconda drone.
During the flights, the FlightHorizon system tracked 17 manned aircraft flying in central Oklahoma and provided visual and audible alerts in real-time.
The FlightHorizon system is based on an exclusively licensed NASA patent and uses aircraft transponders and telemetry to track aircraft, predict conflicts and send avoidance commands to pilots and autopilots.
The company is currently adding micro-radar to the system.
The new authorization represents an important industry milestone and will allow the university and partners like Vigilant Aerospace to develop safety processes for long-range drone flights.
These flights are necessary for things like pipeline and utility line inspections.
FlightHorizon is currently used by several organizations throughout the US for drone safety including the FAA’s Integration Pilot Program flights in North Dakota and Alaska and for NASA’s commercial supersonic technology flight tests.
For more information on FlightHorizon or to schedule a demonstration, please visit www.VigilantAerospace.com.
And, be sure to follow us on Twitter @VigilantAero.
NASA Detect-and-Avoid Test Flight video:
FlightHorizon - NASA Beyond Line-of-Sight Detect-and-Avoid Flight Tests - captions:
From the video:
Vigilant Aerospace has completed beyond line-of-sight flight testing of its new FlightHorizon collision avoidance system for drones at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center in the Mojave desert.
FlightHorizon is flight safety software that provides drone pilots with the ability to detect-and-avoid other aircraft. It is based on a NASA patent and prototype exclusively licensed by Vigilant Aerospace.
The tests were carried out with two DJI Phantom 4 drones equipped with aviation transponders and a laptop running the FlightHorizon software.
The tests were flown in NASA’s controlled airspace in Edwards, California by professional unmanned test pilots and were monitored by representatives from the FAA, the FCC, airfield safety officers and NASA scientific staff, including inventor Dr. Ricardo Arteaga and company CEO, Kraettli L. Epperson.
The software provides drone pilots with a visual map of their aircraft’s location and the location of other nearby aircraft and provides air traffic alerts and collision warnings by tracking the drone and all the aircraft around it for tens of miles.
The tests involved 18 encounter scenarios over nearly 100 flights including beyond line-of-sight flights in which the aircraft were flown at each other from out of sight.
FlightHorizon detected and tracked 100% of the air traffic and warned of all potential collisions.
The testing team used the FlightHorizon software to track and log all encounters and have since used the flight logs to continue to improve the software.
For more information, please visit www.VigilantAerospace.com
4 Common Obstacles to Launching Successful Droneport and UAS Programs:
Drone Focus 2018 - "How to Manage Integrated Airspaces: Real World Experiences Flying with NASA" - captions:
From the video:
This is Kraettli Epperson. I’m the CEO and co-founder of Vigilant Aerospace.
We’re going to talk about what some common obstacles are. Then we’re going to talk about some specific examples of droneports that are overcoming those obstacles today.
So, I’m going to give you all some practical examples of programs that have gotten off the ground. We’re in a great place to be able to look at an analyze programs, because this is obviously brand new. And, there are a lot of things that are going on and developing with droneports, so we can learn lessons really quickly and apply them.
Alright, so we’re going to talk about common droneport obstacles. Talk about some solutions and some specific examples of droneports that are overcoming these
So, first I’m going to talk about funding sources. That’s job number one. You’ve got to get off the ground somehow. And, finding innovative ways and creative ways to get the ir sources. It’s been really interesting researching that.
Regulatory permissions is a big one, obviously. Lack of commercial activity around or expected for your droneport. How do you make sure you have enough activity and interest?
And finally, lack of qualified companies and pilots that need to use the droneport. How you can make sure you can overcome that problem before you launch.
So, I’m going to start with some examples here.
One example, you all may have heard of is Grand Sky.
Let me clarify when I talk about a droneport -– this presentation in particular is focused on commercial droneports. Droneports that are going to be serving commercial flights.
Obviously, there are a lot of great academic and research droneports that exist. Look at the UAS test site system that the FAA put together and popularized. Those exist, and they are great. In fact, those are leveraged and utilized by some of these.
But, let’s talk specifically about how they’ve created successful, commercial droneports to serve industries in their area and their region. And the other thing, of course, is they’re often cooperating with military organizations, whether it’s a base or whether it’s something else. In this case, obviously, it’s Grand Forks Air Force Base. They have a synergistic relationship.
But, it is a commercial droneport that exists to serve private industry. So that’s kind of our definition for the purpose of this presentation.
You all probably know about Grand Sky. They have a universal beyond visual line-of-sight COA that they just achieved. They worked for a couple of years to get that.
They are private equity funded. Grand Sky Development, Inc. backed this. They have a very innovative program that they’ve used that I’ll talk about on my next slide.
They’re primarily focused on testing. So. they’ve preleased to tenants for all around testing new UAS aircraft. Usually that’s serving the DOD, but they are really trying to get out to larger space. But, that’s definitely private leases with commercial activity.
So, for funding sources they did some really interesting things. All of you, especially the economic developers, will find this very interesting.
So, the Air Force has a special program where they can take a portion of the unused space and they can lease it. So, they were able to lease it to the local county. Grand Sky Development was able to come in and then take that lease. They have a 50-year lease on the land.
It was leased from the airport, to the county, to Grand Sky private corporation. It’s really, really interesting what they’ve done. And, as they were doing this – before they did it, they got a $10MM dollar lease from Northrop Grumman to test new aircraft before they started building.
So, they put together a series of deals that they’ve worked from day one. So that’s one of the most interesting and innovative things that they’ve done.
Obviously [they] worked very closely with US Air Force because they are adjacent to the base. They can actually use of some of the base facilities. That gives them a lot of permissions.
And also, they work very closely with their congressional delegation, which helps a lot.
They pre-leased and had anchor tenants when they started this. The result of that is that they’ve had additional tenants through Northrop Grumman. General Atomics came in as a second tenant. It’s kind of like, “if they’re going to be there, we better be there too.”
We see that as a pattern across other droneports. Once they get an anchor tenant, they’re going to be able to collect multiple, additional tenants, just like a mall.
So, what they did, really, that helped is that they got a lot of national publicity. This is probably the earliest. I start with this, because it is one of the most successful.
Tom Sowyer is the developer behind Grand Sky Development corporation. And, he is a well-known real-estate developer. So, he came into this and learned about how to use all of the programs to create this droneport. So, I really looked at this droneport particularly for great examples of how to go about this. To see how it was done.
Finding qualified companies and pilots. They’re leaning on the military, obviously , and they’re leaning on Northrop Grumman. That helps them a lot.
Not everybody has all of the resources that this group has. I’m very aware of that as I talk about this particular droneport.
Some of the things that they did with the military, Air Force, and use of the airports and facilities that are under-utilitized and the ability to transfer some of those to private use and private leases and then take those on down the line to a company that’s going to use that for a purpose.
Very creative, very interesting thing. It can be done almost anywhere. There are programs like this all over the US that can be used very effectively as you’ll see as I show some of the other droneports. They’ve got similar sorts of things.
So, another one that we’re going to look at is Cape May County. Some of you may have heard of this. It’s in New Jersey.
A couple of things that are interesting about this:
They had an early public use Certificate of Authority. The Certificate of Authority is an FAA certificate to allow you to fly unmanned aircraft under specific conditions for a public purpose.
You have this dual system that the FAA runs and so COA’s – probably everyone knows this, but I’ll just talk for just a minute. COA’s are special permissions to fly unmanned aircraft. Waivers are for private sector.
Fly an unmanned aircraft and you can get a waiver of specific rules to be able to do special things like fly at night, fly over people, fly beyond visual line-of-sight, fly with extended visual line-of-sight where you have somebody watching when it’s out of sight of the pilot. All of which .are flights in which you should get an airspace authorization.
But using a COA like this is very creative. This COA was used to do test flights particularly… – to test a concept for a flying cell phone tower. And, this was really a high priority problem. It’s one of the reasons that they were able to get permission to do this.
The other thing that is really important about this one is that they, just within the last few days – –this was on August 28th – –They attracted a $3MM dollar grant from the Dept. of Commerce. And, again, it’s because they are doing very innovative things and they are using under-utilized resources to do it.
They are building a 20,000 square foot drone facility, where they expect to generate 130 jobs and $1.9M in private investments.
So, for funding sources, this was organized and funded by a local economic development authority with help from the county. They were revitalizing an under-utilized county asset, which was this airport.
They pre-leased their facility prior to building, so they had standing leases in place before they started their building.
So, again, really traditional real-estate things. A lot of this is not exotic. If you build a mall, you’re going to take a similar approach to attract tenants.
So, they’re funding scheme is very creative. You have to get creative to solve these problems quickly.
They work very closely with the FAA, especially the telecom industry.
As a local economic developer, I think that gave them a lot more heft. It allows them to go around talking about solving an important problem. In this case, it’s mobile cell phone towers on a drone that respond to emergencies.
To respond to lack of commercial activity, they pre-leased and launched a county sponsored UAS tech incubator. So, they are immediately taking off a portion of their stakes with a local incubator that’s focused on developing UAS tech. And, they already have this approved COA. That also helps them to attract tenants.
They created a lot of national publicity, particularly with their telecom projects, and then they leveraged that into a couple of drone companies going ahead and taking out pieces after the incubator did everything else. These are high-tech development companies doing a variety of things for drone operators.
So, a lot of similarities happen, even in a totally different places, totally different contexts. No Air Force base nearby. They both put together similar sort of resources to launch a droneport.
Here’s another one you may be familiar with this one. I bet you may even be working with this one.
So, located in Boulder City, Nevada. Organized and funded by Boulder City and Ball 11 – a non-profit organization for workforce development, and then it also has a sister company, Aerodrome, LLC which also does training. So, a lot of overlap with the prior model.
They’re working on construction of that now. They say that it is fully funded. So, it’s getting built.
Focused on UAS research, specialty education training and job development. They have a 50-acre facility, runway, and something that they’re leveraging is that they are close to a FAA UAS Test Site. So, they’re using that COA as well.
Not everybody has access to that otherwise could. That’s one asset that they’re leveraging. The others used access to the Air Force base. Here, they’re using the COA as a starting point that is available through the nearby test site.
They outsourced a lot of their operations initially to a tech training company, Aerodrome, with a proven history of setting up these programs. They are cooperating with a job-based non-profit with STEM education and job development training. They are co-located with that test site, which leverages the existing relationship. They’re providing onsite training and support, which is a way to then attract other people in. And, their first tenant, their anchor tenant, that helped launch the thing, is a funded non-profit.
They’re dealing with the issue of “where do you get the pilots and where do you get the operator companies” by building their own. So, they’re training their own pilots and they’re also running an incubator to incubate the companies. So, they’re attracting additional companies this way.
Alright. One more and I’ll go into a little bit of depth. And then we’ll talk some others that are in development.
So, this is a really interesting one. This is the UAS facility in York County. It’s organized and funded through a state grant program through Go Virginia.
They’ve just raised, through that program, $300K of the total $1.3M they used to build their facility. It’s expected to be done in late 2019.
The primary focus in on business users. They’ve already got the 192 acres and then they’ve got a 241-acre industrial park in which they’re going to be able to fly.
These are a little bit earlier than the other three.
Similar in Hazard, Kentucky. This is organized by the National Unmanned Robotic Research and Development Center. It’s a state organization with local counties, colleges, and private partners. The land is donated.
So, they’re focusing on first responder training with the expectation that it will generate economic development for that area.
And then, finally, Salisbury which is located in Maryland. It’s one of the few of these types of droneports that is co-located with an airport.
They have multiple areas that they are already permitted to fly around that airport.
So, they’ve got pre-three authorized areas with miles of range that they can use. It’s funded by the county airport commission and the county to get it off the ground.
They’ve already recruited fifty outside companies to get this started. And, they’re raising money, so they have some funding to begin building.
Alright. So, that’s little bit of background on droneports that are beginning to solve these four major problems. How they’re doing it and lighting the way.
There are some obvious patterns here. Setting up their system. Getting an authorization. Getting an anchor tenant, just like you would in a mall. So, you can begin to get other tenants to be ready to launch your droneport.
2018 North Dakota IPP Flights Over People with FlightHorizon Airspace Monitoring:
Drone Focus 2018 - "How to Manage Integrated Airspaces: Real World Experiences Flying with NASA" - captions:
From the video:
Vigilant Aerospace Systems has recently participated in a ground-breaking unmanned aircraft flight that helps to pave the way for routine flights over people, a major milestone in the development of commercial drone regulations in the US.
Recently, the company used its FlightHorizon system to provide airspace monitoring for drone flights over crowds of people at a large annual tailgate party at the Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota.
Two drones, operated by CNN and Botlink, provided live video to the media and local law enforcement while Vigilant Aerospace monitored nearby air traffic to alert the pilots of any potential conflicts.
The drone flights were led by the North Dakota Department of Transportation and observed by officials from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The flights were carried out with a special waiver as part of the FAA’s new unmanned aircraft Integration Pilot Program and marked the first major drone flights over people carried out under the program.
Vigilant Aerospace is a member of the Integration Pilot Program teams in North Dakota and Alaska.
For more information about the flights and about FlightHorizon, visit www.VigilantAerospace.com.
How to Manage Integrated Airspaces: Real World Experiences Flying with NASA, a 2018 Drone Focus Presentation:
Drone Focus 2018 - "How to Manage Integrated Airspaces: Real World Experiences Flying with NASA" - captions:
From the video:
Drones should be able to separate themselves automatically for the other aircraft.
That was a concept that senior research engineer Ricardo Arteaga, at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, came up with in 2013. And, he built a system that, included: the algorithms, included some hardware integration, included the filters and then included the algorithms to do the actual tracking of aircraft, and then ultimately, to create avoidance maneuvers when necessary for those aircraft.
He started flying in 2013 on something called the NASA Ikhana, which is a civilian Predator B and began testing that [system].
In 2016, my company Vigilant Aerospace licensed the patent and the software, and we began working with that system in order to enable it to work in different airspaces and be able to work with different aircraft. So, we went out and we did some research at NASA Armstrong. We actually flew the system out there and began taking it out into the field.
So, the system that we began commercializing is FlightHorizon. [It] includes the capability of detecting, tracking, and avoiding other aircraft. It includes the ability to pull in data from a variety of sensors and from online sources like UTM. [We] built that into an airspace model and are now able to detect when there might be a collision far enough ahead of time that you can send that information either to a pilot or a user interface or directly to an autopilot, which is really where we expect the world to ultimately go with fully autonomous flight.
We saw this system tested in Hurricane Harvey with response and relief flights with the Humanitarian-Drones.org team. We brought a system and we sponsored that team with our system. [It] allowed them to have immediate airspace deconfliction. They were able to go out and work with the FAA to get five emergency COAs from the FAA and then fly for FEMA using our system to watch the other aircraft. Keep them safe. Keep their drones away from those aircraft. And ultimately, they were able to do, in a matter of two hours, entire neighborhood damage assessments that normally would take a week. So, that was a really exciting outcome.
The other thing that we’ve had that has happened is that we have been called upon by NASA to work with a couple of really interesting programs. We’ve learned a tremendous amount. Upgraded and advanced our system a lot doing this.
We were called upon to work with the NASA commercial supersonic technology development program and they’re using our system to track their aircraft, to deconflict and do a lot of flight tests off the coast of Florida and now a variety of other places for developing new commercial supersonic aircraft in the United States, which was really exciting.
The other thing, simultaneously, is we were asked to work on the ND-MAX program, which is an environmentally sensitive program that is testing emissions and looking at different fuels and emissions.
That in ND-MAX program flew out of Ramstein Airbase in Germany in addition to flying in the U.S. and they were able to use our system for detailed flight logging and also for actual aircraft formation keeping during the flights.
So, as part of that process, we launched the new FlightHorizon COMMANDER system. This is actually intended for a command band or command center and it’s intended to be a system that is Federated – you can have multiple units. They all talk to each other forming one big airspace model.
It allows you to drop in new sensors as they become available and can expand your system as your operations become larger and have new needs.
We are really excited about that and that’s really based on what we’ve learned from NASA. So, most recently, we have been involved with the IPP program.
We were selected to work with Alaska and work with the team right here [North Dakota]. We are very excited about that.
We know that there has been some talk about that in-regards-to the operations that will be going on there. And so, we’re going to be learning more about this and, as we go forward, we’re just really excited that that initial idea of allowing drones to automatically avoid another aircraft has now generated an entire family of safety applications that we are taking to market as fast as we can. So, thank you very much.
MC: You’re early stage company. There’s over 500 of us here today. What can we do to support you and your team to help you reach your full potential?
Kraettli: Absolutely, so we are eager to get test customers using this system [FlightHorizon]. We’re eager to integrate with companies that have new innovative sensors and other ways to track. We track cooperative aircraft really well. We’re looking for people with great non-cooperative to different types of passive sensors and active sensors that can find these aircraft that aren’t on the transponder system. So, we’re looking for partners and we’re looking for places that we can test fly with you.
MC: Where can folks find you if they want to have that conversation?
Kraettli: Absolutely, so VigilantAerospace.com or @VigilantAero on Twitter. And, I will be around and would be happy to talk with you.
MC: Congratulations. Keep going alright?
Kraettli: Thank you.
MC: Thank you for being here.
2017 Recap video:
2017 Recap video - captions:
From the video:
What a whirlwind year 2017 was for Vigilant Aerospace!
We started the year off with the announcement of our Beyond visual line of sight testing of FlightHorizon at NASA Armstrong, followed up by a big announcement about new FlightHorizon features, including compatibility with far more sensors, better logging and a whole bunch of pilot configurable options.
Then we won the FLC’s highest national award for federal technology transfer, released a new explainer video about our product and published a buyer’s guide.
Mid-year, we supported Hurricane Harvey disaster response flights with the Humanitarian Drone team, who were flying for FEMA,
supported NASA’s SonicBAT supersonic program using FlightHorizon for airspace safety and logging, and then got selected by NASA headquarters for the ND-MAX program, testing alternative aviation fuels in the US and Germany.
We were selected as an R&D100 national Finalist for 2017,
became registered to participate in the FAA’s new Integration Pilot Program and we are working with multiple state governments to help them apply to set up the first unmanned aircraft Innovation Zones in the US.
Finally, we co-Authored a paper with NASA about our Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight testing of FlightHorizon at NASA Armstrong and received an investment from The Flying Object, a venture fund that specializes in unmanned aircraft technologies.
Whew! What a year.
And through it all, we have stayed focused on our mission of helping to keep the US national airspace one of the safest on the planet for both manned and unmanned aircraft to fly in peace and harmony.
Wishing you a happy holiday and looking forward to an exciting upcoming year for the UAS industry at the new frontier of flight.
Thank you to NASA Armstrong development and flight test crews and to the Oklahoma State University Unmanned Aircraft Flight Station for working with us on flight tests.
OSU Flight Demonstration video:
FlightHorizon - Vigilant Aerospace FlightHorizon Demonstration Flights OSU UAFS - captions:
From the video:
FlightHorizon developed by Vigilant Aerospace is flight safety software based on an exlucively licensed
NASA patent and prototype.
It provides the logic and algorithms to detect and track other aircraft using a variety of sensors and to issue an avoidance command to an unmanned aircraft pilot or autopilot to prevent potential collisions.
Vigilant aerospace recently demonstrated the software’s full avoidance lifecycle of detect, track, predict, and avoid functions at the Oklahoma State University Unmanned Aircraft Flight Station.
Avoidance commands were demonstrated during multiple live encounters flown between small unmanned aircraft.
During encounters the software can be seen on the left side of the screen tracking the ownship and intruder aircraft and providing real-time avoidance audible and visual advisories to the pilot. Meanwhile, on the right side of the screen the aircraft can be seen performing the recommended flight maneuvers.
For more information on FlightHorizon or to schedule a demonstration, please visit www.VigilantAerospace.com
2017 R&D 100 Presentation – Commercializing Federal R&D:
2017 R&D 100 Presentation - Commercializing Federal R&D - captions:
From the video:
In this session we’re going to explore a NASA startup case study that well present key information to help other companies and investors effectively pursue the productization of government technology.
Our speakers are Janeya Griffin who’s a Licensing Manager and technology transfer specialist at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, CA. She’s given numerous presentations on transferring technology from federal laboratories. She’s an executive board member for the Federal Laboratory Consortium. For tech transfer she holds a certification in entrepreneurial technology commercialization from Cal State University in San Bernardino and to Bachelor of Science degrees criminal justice and chemistry. She’s a big time techie.
Second speaker is Kraettli Epperson, the CEO and co-founder of Vigilant Aerospace Systems, a company that provides autonomous solution oriented software for unmanned aircraft based on the patent exclusively licensed from NASA. He twenty year career as a serial entrepreneur and investor in federal startups. He also is the co-founder of R7 Solutions, which provides mapping and workflow systems for utilities, pipelines, sonar, wind, and rail systems – including software to manage the land data system for Houston Metro’s billion-dollar regional rail system.
Welcome Janeya and Kraettli.
Okay. So you guys ready? Yes? So, this is going to be an interactive session because I don’t want you guys to get bored and I don’t want you guys falling asleep. So, if you are and I pick on you just be ready to answer a question.
But, like you said my name is Janeya Griffin. I’m at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center. And so, today we’re going to be kind of tag teaming this.
We’re going to be talking about: What are the startup successes and how are you able to basically license a federal laboratory technology as a startup. What does that look like? So, Kraettli is going to give a little bit of talk about what is FlightHorizon, which is the product that they actually commercialized using the NASA technology and we’ll also talk about vetting federal technologies for their commercial potential.
There are a lot of different innovations that come out of the federal labs and so finding out which of those innovations are actually relevant is really important for us in how we actually go about licensing those technologies. We’re going to talk about validating some of the market potential. Where do we see the best fit? How did Kraettli actually look at that market to determine whether or not this was going to be a good fit for his company?
And, then also negotiating a win-win deal. The federal laboratories in general, NASA just be one of them, is really focused on fairness and actually seeing licensees succeed, because it’s great for our economy, right? And, so we’ll talk about that we’ll go into a little bit more detail. We’ll talk about building a market ready product, and I think Kraettli, you’ll go a little bit more in detail on that. And, then what does cultivating the market actually look like that will give you a little bit of a conclusion, some lessons learned and then answer your questions. So, I’ll ask that all questions be held until the end and then I think we will have about ten minutes to answer questions.
All right. Hi. I’m Kraettli and I’m going to be talking about Vigilant Aerospace Systems, which is the startup company that has licensed this technology. We’ve worked very closely with Janeya and Laura who are both in the tech transfer office at Armstrong and fortunately we have senior NASA Engineer Ricardo Arteaga with us today, who is the inventor of the technology.
So, I’m going to tell you really quickly before we kind of go into what we’re really going to talk about the licensing process, the startup process, the transition process from patent and prototype into commercial marketable product. I’m going to give you just a little bit of background on what the technology is and I’m going to go pretty quickly through most of my slides, because I want to leave plenty of time for Q&A at the end.
So, this is the technology both piloted and autonomous vehicles and it actually monitors the airspace and provides specific commands to do self-separation and avoidance of aircraft, whether it is piloted, manned aircraft or unmanned. And, so it is a system to for doing fully autonomous self-separation and situational awareness in the airspace.
It is based on an exclusively licensed patent, which was was fully published at the start of last year. We have fully implemented software. We have transponder integration. So, there’s some hardware including avionic transponders, radars, other things that we’re adding to the system to feed into that detect-and-avoid process. So, it’s either laptop or tablet based. You can see a picture over here of it. It really helps meet FAA requirements and other civil aviation authority requirements who are unmanned aircraft to be able to detect-and-avoid or see-and-avoid aircraft around them.
So, it fills a really important technical gap in the market right now that everybody is scrambling to try and figure out with sensors and then the intelligence on the system to really deliver the safety.
So, it has years of flight testing. We’ll talk a little bit about that and Ricardo was the initial inventor and flight tester of this. And, it’s really designed to meet a growing demand in industrial flying, which is focused on long-range flying for inspecting things like bridges, pipelines, solar farms, highways… All the infrastructure that needs to be looked at regularly that doesn’t always get looked at… really important growing need for public safety.
I’m going to show you a really quick video, just so you can see in the interface how the software works.
So, here you’ll see here that white aircraft represents your own aircraft and it’s going through a maneuver here. Those yellow and red circles are warning circles around the aircraft. And, the software has detected that there’s an potential conflict in collision as so it has as directed to the aircraft to descend. And, then now it is going past that potential conflict and it is ascending back onto its original flight plan. And, you can see that the green line is that flight guidance that the software is monitoring the airfield this is a real quick example of the way that the software works. So, it’s doing a lot of thinking in the background. It can monitor the entire airspace and, on a sub-second basis, make decisions about when to keep the ownship safe.
Okay. So, vetting federal technologies for commercial potential. So, let’s just talk real quick about a lot of the technologies that come out of the federal labs.
So, there are actually three hundred plus federal laboratories, so like I said, NASA is just one of those. And so, what exactly are we looking at when these innovations are coming down the pipeline to us? We have our inventors, our innovators – Ricardo being one – disclose these technologies to us and so we have to actually look at whether or not there is any commercial potential for it. And then, from an investment standpoint, in terms of patenting; in terms of do you put more resources continuously to further develop the technology; in terms of manpower; in terms of reaching out to other companies and kind of looking at what the market looks like from an assessment for that. And so, all of this is it costs money of course and so we need to figure out is this something that we actually want to go forward with.
So, why NASA patents IP. Who in here pays taxes? Thank you. Thank you. Okay, so NASA thanks you. The federal laboratories thank you for paying your taxes, but what we want to do is to bring a return on investment to our taxpayers. So, how do we do that?
We patent ideas that come out of mission specific goals. We have innovations that come out of that. So, like I said, we look at that to see if there is any commercialization potential. NASA’s mission, as opposed to all other federal laboratories… They each have their own mission in terms of what their goal is to actually get these technologies out to the commercial sector. But, NASA’s mission is actually to disseminate all the technologies we have to the widest extent possible. And so, we do that by offering all of the technologies that we have up for these different categories. There are a bunch of different applications that actually come out of the technologies that we have.
So, I’ll go back to the mission specific goals so each project each program has their own specific mission and so technologies come out of that when problems are solved. The inventors actually to disclose those technologies to us. We look at the commercial potential and what are the functionalities of that technology, right? So, when you look at the functionality of that technology… that functionality can actually be applied to many different industries. So, you might have a technology, for instance, that is in the health and biotech industry, but it was not invented for that initially.
So, these are all the different categories that we actually have on our website which I’ll give you guys a minute that you can look at all the functionality of the technologies and then kind of see where that may fit for you.
There’s three things that we actually look at. So, you look at the market research. Does that technology actually meet a market need? Is there a problem that it’s solving outside of what it was originally invented. So, if that is yes, then we move forward. And, then we also do prior art search. We try to look at it as almost like a competitive matrix. So, what are the other technologies, or methodologies, or even competitors the 50 competitors that exist currently in the market and is there a competitive advantage that this technology would have over what’s currently existing. So, if that’s a yes, then we also move forward. Then the level of development. We like to use what’s called a TRL or technology readiness level. That really allows us to dictate where the technology is development wise.
So, I think in Scott’s presentation, you know we were talking about bridging the gap and what that looks like with development and getting it from a commercialization standpoint… from a development standpoint to a commercialization standpoint. When is it actually ready to be commercialized?
A lot of the technologies that we have within the federal laboratories have a very low TRL, so we need to actually partner with companies and startups to actually further develop that technology, so that it actually is ready to be commercialized from that standpoint.
So, sometimes they’re not ready to go and we need a company that is willing to invest in order to take that next step further. And so, we do a lot of marketing. NASA doesn’t like the term “marketing,” but… What we do is called active outreach. We do a lot of passive outreach as as well, so that’s when you see like our website with the technologies that are available for licensing on the website. And, if you happen to come to our website then you can browse that and go do that and you contact us, but the active outreach that we do is actually going out to conferences and talking to people, cold calling people that we think have a fit or have a need for the technology. So, that that happens as well.
We have a lot of online postings. And, if you go to Technology.NASA.gov it gives you an entire outlook on the actual technology transfer program across the entire agency. So, not just at NASA Armstrong. So, there’s ten different NASA centers – Armstrong being one of them – and we focus on flight research.
So, here you’ll see one of our inventors is actually at a conference talking to potential licensees about the technology, about the benefits of it; how it could potentially solve some of their problems or maybe even asking them what are the problems that they’re facing? Because, what we’re seeing a lot now is that you know when we develop products like I said before they’re not ready to actually go out and be commercialized right away. So, if we could try to include that development process and what those needs are into the development of that product or of that technology, then it furthers it along a little bit more.
We also have NASA licensing webinars and so we’ll have the inventor provide a webinar where they can give all the information about the technology. We’ll invite a bunch of people out and they will be able to ask questions from the webinar and then download the slide presentation. Also, if you go onto this website, we have our patent for the entire patent portfolio across the entire agency in one one place.
All you do is go online you can type in a keyword maybe you like UAVs, like aerospace… all of those technologies that are associated with that keyword will pop up. All of the patents will pop up. It will give you information about that technology: Who you can contact. What are potential applications? What are some of the benefits? And, then there’s also a link that you can click on that will take you straight to a licensing application.
All right so from a startup company, or really an investor’s point of view, how do you find these technologies and how does our particular story go based on on what Janeya is talking about, with all the ways that NASA does outreach? So, this is my not very great cell phone photo of the first time that I saw Ricardo speaking and presenting his technology. And, this was a very exciting moment. I did take a photo of it.
We had heard about this technology because one of our other partners was asking around the NASA and at the Federal Laboratory Consortium organization: What’s an interesting technology? What’s the hottest technology right now in the FLC system? And, someone told us: “You should do see this presentation.” And, so I went to saw this presentation and that’s when we first started having this discussion with NASA Armstrong.
Conferences and publications are fantastic. These websites are great. I look at them regularly. NASA has lots of innovative programs to get stuff out of the lab and have, you know, a stream… There are some technologies… I’m sure Janeya will talk about this today.
They have a really fast licensing process just for specific technologies. So, the first thing that we had to do was validating the market. We did that by initial screening to meet and talk with the inventor. We signed an NDA with NASA, so they provide us with all the technical background on this very freely to look at all that. That led us to do a lot of research.
We looked at market applicability. Where does this fit in the market? You know. Where was it needed? And, it was an obvious need in the future. I’ll talk about what are our problem solution statement looked like as we were doing our analysis. That’s really guided our entire company competitiveness as it compares.
We had to do some initial basic research about as is compared to the other ways to solve this problem. And then, is a disruptive? That’s a word that gets used a lot in early stage technology investing and the idea is: Is it going to create a new category of product? Is it 10 times better than something that exists in that category now? Is it truly disruptive because it’s very difficult to raise private capital and venture capital for businesses if they don’t have that potential to be highly disruptive. And then, ultimately, what we came up with, which I’ll talk about more at the end, is our problem solution statement.
So, when we went out looked at this, this is based on a FAA forecast. This is has to do with the millions of new drones and particularly commercial drones, not just the toy drones, but the midsize and larger group that are rapidly entering the market. That’s happening in the US, it is happening outside the US. There’s a lot of experimentation going on right now. A lot of early market development. So, that was one of the first things we looked at. Half a dozen different forecasts from different people. The other thing that we thought about looked at was the nature and size of the problem. So, this is a problem that we were able to quickly identify of unmanned aircraft encountering manned aircraft. Manned aircraft reporting encounters with unmanned aircraft.
The number that we look at is the fact that in the 2015 for the 2016 reporting period that went up by 46% in the United States. It’s an average of about 5.3 incidents per day all the way to the point that they’re published by the FAA as an incident. There’s probably multiples of that where it doesn’t actually all get all the way to publication. We knew there was a big growing problem here. So, our problem solution statement was millions of drones with no good connection to Air Traffic Control, which is a big open problem that we are hoping to fill. No ability to detect-and-avoid. You’ve got an aircraft that is at the extent of your line-of-sight, extended visual line-of-sight, beyond line-of-sight. These are kind of technical categories of how you fly. So, we looked at that.
There really wasn’t a good solution. The solution exists, is viable and had good IP protection, which is obviously an important analysis that we undertook. Uses the existing infrastructure so I have to remake the way we do Air Traffic Control in the U.S. It meets a likely regulatory hurdle. So, we had to learn about the regulations issued. It was really a first to market opportunity to create a go-to-market strategy.
Okay. So, we’re going to talk about negotiating a win-win deal. And, what does that actually look like?
So, are there any startups in here? Well, maybe you guys know of startups. Or, if you do, you can tell them this information as well.
What you see a lot, and I’ve gone to a lot of different conferences and spoke with a lot of people from the startup era, is that they are really stuck on: “Why would NASA want to work with me? I’m just the startup. This is not something that, you know, that they would really be interested in.” But, that’s actually not true.
So, we know that the startup culture is something that is really taking our economy to the next level, right? So, if you want to continue to help that grow and so, what does that look like for us, right?
What we’ve come up with is actually our startup option for licensing. And, Kraettli didn’t get a chance to take advantage of this, but they wanted through some other… some different terms.
But, the startup license basically is a free license for the first three years of developing a technology or bringing it to practical application. So, we’re telling the startups to basically hold their money and use it towards something else rather than coming to pay licensing fees. So, go out. Develop this technology. Further the development of it. And then, when you find a customer or when you bring it to practical application, then come back to us and then that’s when you will start paying royalties. And, it’s a pre-negotiated license agreement on the terms. 4.2% percent royalty rate. $3,000 as an annual minimum.
So, this allows us to really help those startups who may be you know looking for the next best thing, or the next innovation. Or, to have a competitive advantage against what’s out there on the market.
So, how do you stay relevant is that you continue to innovate. But, if you’re kind of stuck what do you do?
You have access to the NASA portfolio and all those patents. Then you can kind of pick and choose which one you want that may be able to help your product or you may be able to actually create a business out of that product. So, we really look at, like I said, before… The federal government isn’t in it to make money. We want to create a return on investment for the taxpayers. But, we’re not trying to tax the next tax payers, right?
We look at what is a win-win deal, because when our licensees actually succeed that is a success for us. So, what can we do to kind of help them go and help them further go along in-order-to win.
So, there are a bunch of different evaluation licenses, a bunch of different licenses that we have. The Startup is just one option.
We have an Evaluation license, which allows the company to actually evaluate the technology. Evaluate the feasibility if it’s something that’s actually going to be suitable for their company and want to work with the product or the idea to see if it is something they want to go with. Or, if the market even says anything about: “Hey, this is something that we want.” Where it is something that’s actually solving a problem. That’s needed. And so, we give them about maybe six months to a year, it really just depends on, you know, what that program is like. But, it’s $2,500 and we allow you to internally do research and evaluate the technology to make a decision when actually licensing it from a commercial standpoint to create a product.
And then, you have your commercial licenses, so you have a non-exclusive license, you have exclusive, partially exclusive, and then co-exclusive.
So, Kraettli took advantage of the exclusive option and that was something that we negotiated. But, we also wanted to understand what was fair to them and what was something that would allow them to win in, you know, what they wanted to do.
So, a lot of times, investors don’t like the word non-exclusive. So, if that’s something in their strategy in terms of fundraising. How they’re going to get a the capital to get to where they need to go, then we kind of look at that. We’re aware of how businesses or what businesses need to do in order to survive – in order to be successful. We take all of that into account. So, if you’re a startup, but you’re also looking for exclusivity, then we are able to be flexible with what those options look like. Like I said, we want it to be a win-win deal.
And then, they also have Space Act Agreements, which provide you access to our inventors and then sometimes the facilities and the capabilities that we have. With the federal government, there are… I think they normally use what are called CRADAs – cooperative research and development agreements.
So, NASA is unique and we have the authority to use a Space Act Agreement, which came about during kind of like the Cold War. We were doing the space race or up against Russia. So, they wanted NASA to be able to partner with industry in order to get us there a lot faster. Those agreements are able to be negotiated as well.
If you are looking for maybe some time from an inventor in order to help you develop your product, would like the to consult for you, if you would like to use some facilities, we could negotiate with that mechanism; which is basically a mechanism that allows for that flexibility.
Alright. So, continuing on with the story of Vigilant Aerospace, and how we fit into this framework.
We did go through the full licensing process and negotiated terms. And, also, we have a Space Act Agreement – which has been very helpful. So, in our process, we applied for the license.
So, there’s a formal application process. As a part of that, we were competing to describe to NASA what we were going to do and how we were going to be the best option for this technology. So, we put together the business plan. We put together full pro-formas. Then we put together a forecast and a balance sheet Profit and Loss in order to have the full business plan in place as a part of our application and bid for this technology.
So, the bidding process we went through and put all those materials together as an ongoing discussion with NASA. And, then we placed our formal bid for this technology through a federal register publication process to be doing the type of license that we’re doing.
So, you know, I had ideas all through that process. We’ve done all of our research and homework. So, we were optimistic that it was going to work out. That’s the process that we went through.
Critical factors in us getting the license and really us being able to make the startup work. Getting familiar with the market technology was really takes a lot of homework. We had a vision for the product, so we didn’t just say we take this and we’re going to put it on the market.
We really have a larger vision for how it fit in overall aviation, unmanned aircraft ecosystem that’s rapidly developing in the U.S. We had an idea for product market fit – where it was going to fit into that market. And then, a vision for the future. So, how do we take that second or third version of this product, as the market developed, and bring that out. We feel that those things were very important.
So, we negotiated with NASA. The things that I would say about that negotiation… Obviously, we negotiated a lot of things like license fees, percentage rates, milestones – things that NASA needs us they complete at certain points in order for the license to continue to be viable from their point of view. And, in that process, you know, we learned a lot.
All of those things were important parts of our negotiation. We relied up on books. We relied upon the guidelines. There’s obviously a whole industry of information out there. Some of you were probably involved in the industry.
We had an attorney with great experience. We had other advisors who had great experience. And, all of that allowed us as a startup to quickly get the expertise we needed to go ahead and put our business plan together and be successful at licensing.
So, I’m going to talk a little bit about our development process. The commercialization process… So, once we won the license… YAY! We’re very very happy about that. Really excited.
We started our IP transfer process pretty quickly. So, we collected all the information about patent prosecution. All of the source code for the prototype software that Ricardo and his team had been developing and then test plan for years. All of the documentations, the notes that were lab notes.
NASA is great about having lots of materials around their inventions. So, that was great. We took that in and we put into our own commercial Agile software development process. We put it on a timeline and we started working on an extensive evaluation of the existing software. So, we were really lucky.
One of the reasons that we licensed this was there was existing software and existing flight tests on it. So, that put it head and shoulders above a lot of other technologies we might have considered.
So, we immediately started looking at what is was going to take to take this problem where it was being used at NASA out to the larger commercial markets. We worked on the interface. And, worked with a piece of software on functional changes.
The market was changing rapidly. We wanted to be able to deal with smaller aircraft, for example, so we made changes. New hardware was coming out almost all the time. Aviation is a little slow with new hardware, but there were these things on the market that we wanted to be able to talk to, so that we could get a much larger swath of the market.
So, we immediately started working on that while reviewing quality control just to continuous cycle. And then, it started taking it out to customers and started getting customer feedback, which was the most exciting part of this. And, that allowed us to create a product market app of specific things that customers wanted around this sort of kernel of value. How is this going to fit into their operation? And, so we started working on that and doing testing, testing, testing. Lots of different types of flight testing.
So, I’ll just mention. Ricardo and his team began testing this in 2013. We went out and created, as soon as we had our small UAS… So very large very expensive Ikhana, which is a Predator civilian model that we don’t have ourselves and really don’t have access to. And, most of our customers are not necessarily flying large aircraft like that, so we decided we’re going to prove to market… This was really quite a deliberate decision on my part… That we can also find the same technology that NASA’s been using on these large and expensive operations on very small aircraft. And, we immediately went out and did that and we had a lot of support and cooperation from NASA in doing that.
So, we went back in 2016 and 2017 and have been doing additional flight testing. Basically, through our Space Act Agreement and NASA’s been very generous with their airspace, which they can control to allow us to do things like beyond visual line-of-sight testing. And, to get the FAA and the FCC involved. That’s been great.
And, Ricardo Arteaga and his team have an AIAA paper coming out that we’ve been able to make some contributions to in December and January.
So, we have ongoing flight testing now. This is what we do. We’re adding new features, filters. We are working on what it looks like when you have swarms of aircraft in the air talking to each other. And doing lots of customer demonstrations and now customers flights.
Okay. So, we’re going to talk about some of the outreach contributions that we shared with the commercialization and also internally. So, like I said, and this is like my motto… You know. We want to bring a return on investment to tax payers. So, what we do is… How we show you that we’re bringing you an investment… or bringing you a return is by writing success stories.
So, what are the successes that our licensees are doing in the commercial sector with technology that was not originally invented for that? How is it impacting the economy? What type of products are they putting out? What problems are they solving? And, how is the money that the taxpayers are providing really able to help that? So, we also put in for awards. One of the… I guess at the federal labs, a lot of the outside companies are not able to submit themselves for them. So, what we do, because we are a member of that community, we are able to include them into that submission.
So, we have won several awards that focused on commercialization of technologies, being innovative, licensing, and actually working with the commercial industry. And, so we actually do that for all of our licensees, because we want them to be successful. When they are successful, we are successful.
And, of course, NASA has a broader reach in terms of who’s actually looking at them. So, if we can put out to our audience that: “Hey, these are the technologies that are in the commercial space that you now have access to.” Then, that actually works out for both of us.
So, we just have a few minutes left. So, I’m going to go through the few slides real quickly here.
So, we have pursued… As a startup, we don’t have a huge amount of money for marketing, so we have focused public relations and have been very successful with that. People are very interested in what we’re doing. NASA republishes some of our press releases, which has been very helpful. And so, we’ve gotten a huge amount impressed and that’s resulted in a lot of people in the industry quickly finding us and approaching us, which has been fantastic. We also speak to a lot of conferences. That’s really been great to talk to the people who are really focused on our area.
And, we do a lot of Industry outreach. So, this is something that even the smallest startup can do, at very little cost, and have a big impact.
We manage a newsletter. We only talk about ourselves and we have a lot of subscribers. So, people are very interest in the products that were talking about. We have a blog. We have a strong social media presence, by months. And, we want to be on your desk.
And, the other thing is that we actually created an initiative to maintain and a beyond line-of-site capable drone list for the industry. All we ask for is that you subscribe to our newsletter to get that for free. And so, about quarterly we will update that. It’s the only list of all of the beyond line-of-sight capable drones on the market available now in the U.S. And, that’s had a great industry response. It’s tangential, but very, very important to what we do.
We’ve been very well received by the senior analysts in the industry. I’ll just skim through these as I know that we’ve got limited time here. And, I’ll let Janeya take over.
Okay. So, in summary. NASA is a good source of innovations to be commercialized. So, other government agencies as well. So, like I said, we’re part of the Federal Laboratory Consortium of over 300 labs. We all do tech transfer. And so, that is I guess a secret is not really a secret. Unless you know where to go. And so, having that out all the websites. Basically, bringing awareness to: “Hey you guys have access to these technologies. You have access to our innovators. You have access to our facilities and capabilities that we provide. Because, we want to help you be successful.” I think is a message that not a lot of people hear. But, this is why you’re here so you can learn the secret. And so, there are a lot of collaborative R&D benefits for both parties.
As Kraettli said, we’ve actually helped them with some of the R&D that they were doing in terms of the testing. So, they actually came out to the center at this dry lake bed, that has no lake, of course it’s dry. And so we flew over all that. That was a great opportunity, not only for us, but also for them because they were able to get gave data that they can now share and actual integrate into more product development and better testing and better information for their customers.
Alright. I just have a few final lessons learned from our startup’s point of view that I’m gonna share with you.
At the end of the day, first thing was we did a lot of homework. Do your homework! That was important when we were bidding on this to be the elusive licensee. We needed to know what we were talking about.
Find great technologies to start with. We were able to look at things that we really thought were really at the top of the list in the federal laboratory ecosystem. And, something that was really ready for commercialization. We researched it in depth. We were looking for…. At the same time you have to match that to a rapidly growing market and that’s something that we were really able to do with that. That was really a key. We hired experienced advisers. That should go without saying but it really is important when you’re doing something like this.
You have to be patient. Obviously accessing federal technology does take time. You know you have to follow the rules and go through the process to make that happen. And, the thing that we’re constantly reminded of and that we take out to the market. And, we take to our investors. We take to our employees… Everyone that we talk to… It’s so important, that relationship with NASA. We really are standing on the really huge shoulders and a lot of research and effort that’s gone in. That we’re then able to just be sort of the tip of that spear and take it out into the market. And, that’s incredibly helpful.
But, obviously, it does take that time and patience to make that happen. And, we’ve also been very happy to take advantage of what agreements and opportunities that NASA’s continued to make available to us, and we’ve created with our time and money with NASA, so we the best impact. You can do sorts of tests there can’t do anywhere else with people and sensors and things that we just don’t have anywhere else. And, that’s been really fantastic for us. And that’s commercializing federal R&D.
Are there any questions?
Audience Member #1:
Kraettli, you mentioned about bidding process. Can you explain what the bidding was? I didn’t understand what that means. Was there more than one licensee at the time?
I’ll let Janeya answer part of that as well. But, yeah… In order to get the exclusive license for this technology you have to go through a process of presenting, in our specific case, to NASA and their technology transfer office. They have to do a lot of review of that, obviously. And then, they also ultimately have to talk to other people that are bidding for the same technology. And, there was some of that in this case. And, ultimately, they have to publish that to the federal register. For example, so there’s a public notice that you’re going to license this. And, that’s all. There are rules set out for that regulation. So, we got to learn those rules. Our attorney knew those rules. So, that’s the process we went through.
Audience Member #1:
Just a follow-up: What is the bidding like? Is it I’m going to give you more money? Or, I have a better plan to bring this to market?
Hopefully some of all of the above. I think Janeya can speak…
Yeah. So, of course, with the government, you have to be fair and you have to complete everything that you do. And so, because this is tax payer funding, and we’re making money from it, essentially. Right? Because you get the royalties and then we take those royalties and put back into more R&D.
So, the mission that I talked about earlier: Disseminating to the widest extent possible, right? So, you have to provide some form of justification and rationales as to why we’re only going to give it to one company rather than just give it to everybody. Or, supply some sort of non-exclusive over an exclusive license.
And so, because of the exclusiveness, we have to look at what are the other commercial companies that are out there? Have they actually inquired about it? Is it something that they would be interested in? And so, in order to do that, because maybe they haven’t had the opportunity to see this, we put it out on the federal register for a certain amount of time. As long as 15 to 30 days and you give other companies opportunity to say: “Hey I didn’t know that this existed. I want some part of that exclusivity.” And so, if that does happen then you would have to actually step back look at both of the commercialization plans and say: “Okay. Who is going to be the most successful at bringing this to market?” And, then looking at the the overall company and what that looks like.
So, there’s kind of a comparability, right? And so, if there is actually an opportunity to carve out a space for each of them, then we will look into doing that. Because we want to disseminate it to the widest extent possible.
Now, from Kraettli’s perspective, it is considered a bidding process and so that’s probably where the confusion came in. Because it’s not really bidding. But, it feels like a bidding process. And so, those are the policies that we have on licensing technology. Did that answer your question?
Audience Member #1:
Audience Member #2:
In the example you just gave, of two competing against it. I haven’t heard of a co-exclusive license.
Yeah. So, there is an option for co-exclusivity. That’s something that both of the companies would actually have to agree on. Normally, you would give that if the market is actually big enough for multiple players. You know… maybe they have separate applications and it’s not direct… it may be indirect competition. And so, we kind of look at that to say: “Okay. Well, is this something that is going to be detrimental?” So, like I said, we want the company to be successful. And so, if now we’re licensing to two companies and they’re going to be fighting at each other’s throats for a piece of the market. Who’s actually going to win?
Like, if one of them is going to go down, then it doesn’t make sense to do that. So, might just do a non-exclusive and say that: “You guys can both take it.” And then, that would be at the risk of the company. But, we like to be definitely talk to them about that beforehand. But, they would have to agree in order to do that.
Well, you might have, you know, industry exclusivity. Right? So, if you had one application that’s exclusively for military one applications it’s exclusively for oil and gas exploration or like something that. You could do licenses.
Yeah. So, that’s where we get into partial exclusivity and that is for a specific field of view. So, even though it might be within the same industry, like I said, it might be for separate applications.
Audience Member #3:
You talk about open source and what’s the decision point where you might say: “Well, this IP, we’re just going to open it up to everyone,” versus a specific process like this where you go through vetting and..
Right. So, one thing that I didn’t cover was our software catalog. So, a lot of the software that is generated we kind of just give away unless it really has to have some form of justification for us actually put some testing and packaging into it.
Now, when you come up with some ideas that they essentially, you know, you want to be pushed out into the market, then, you know, we kind of look at that and kind of just decide. But, we have to look at all of the criteria that would enable us to actually make that decision.
Audience Member #4:
I have a question about the IP philosophy. You said that you evaluate the solutions that you develop to make to make a decision on whether you are going to patent. How does that put you in position if you’re NASA, because if, at the end of the day, you don’t patent and someone else then patents…
Audience Member #4:
You could actually [inaudible] become used in the future. How do you rationalize that?
So, it depends on… We have to look at… Okay. If we were to release this and bad guys got it, or somebody got it that… You know, let’s just say this is saving lives, right? And so, we decided that we’re just going to release it to everybody. But, then a company comes in and they tweak it and then they patent it. And then, they charge an enormous amount of money, so that people who the people whose lives it needs to save, they can’t even have access to it because it’s so expensive. Right?
And so, we actually look at all of that and weigh those options to say: “Okay, is this something that we’re really wanting to do?”
We also look at if this is something that, you know, maybe turned a standard, right? And so, what is in the benefit of the nation in order for us to… Should we patent it to protect it? Because that is an option, right?
Sometimes we want protect things so a company doesn’t come in and then up-charge it and then sell it to us with something that we actually created. And, that has happened on several occasions.
And so, you have to be very knowledgeable in looking at that criteria to determine… and actually looking at, you know, if that’s a big enough risk. If we’re just going to release it or whether or not we’re going to actually license it to a company. So, that is something that we do look at and goes into helping us I decide whether to patent.
We have a question in the back.
Audience Member #5:
My name is John Smith. I spoke to your [inaudible] at different conferences and visited online and other things. Can you give an idea of which is more successful?
So, I would have to say that, I think that they complement each other. Right? And so, we have to have a little bit of both passive and active marketing in order to really try to reach a broader audience. Because, you don’t want to say: “Okay. Well, I’m just going to focus on active marketing.” And then, you’re losing all of the people that may be just coming to your website to see some of the technologies passively. Right?
And so, I think the active marketing we really use that when we’re focusing on the high-profile technologies within our portfolio – the ones that maybe we just patented and we’re saying: “Okay, we really want to get this out.” We see the commercial viability in this. Maybe worked on it a little bit more to increase what that TRL level is. And so, now we feel that it might be the best-case scenario, in terms of low-hanging fruit, for a company to come in and actually take it to commercialization.
And so, I think it’s a little bit of both. Going to the conferences is really more targeted because we can actually look at the attendees that are there and say: “Oh. We know that this company is doing this.” We could do a little bit of research beforehand. And then, you know where they’re going to be instead of cold calling and saying: “Hey, is this something that you think you would be interested in?” Rather than you’re in their face and you’re asking them, like: “This is… We know this is the problem that you might be having. This is a technology that can solve it.”
Giving them a demo, like, right on-hand, because we have been making small prototypes of whatever that we might bring with us. And so, they’re able to see it. And, we get a lot of interest that way. We say: “Oh my gosh. Yes.” So, you’ve already created and when you go home, you call and get on the phone and have an additional conversation about the next steps in-order-to license. Because, you already found out that they’re interested in the tech.
Audience Member #6:
I have a similar question.
Audience Member #6:
This has to do with protecting the credit itself. So, you want me to start a company. And this is a technology that probably has potential of being cracked by somebody. Who worries about it? NASA? The company? Or, both?
So, there are a bunch of different, I guess, avenues that you can take in terms of patentability and protection. So, if we realized ahead of time this has the potential to go into markets outside of the U.S., you know, we can actually look at doing an international patent. Because, we know for sure. We’ve done the market research. We know that there is a need. And, we know that there are companies that if they got their hands on it internationally would just sell it. Right?
And so, that might, even though they might not be able to sell in the U.S., if we had a U.S. patent, that would still be competing with our licensees. So, like I said, we want them to be successful. So we do look at that strategy ahead of time.
Now, if a company does, let’s just say, take a technology and now they are infringing on our patent it is up to the company to actually go and sue them. But, NASA would definitely be there to support in, you know, in what those claims that they’re making are. So, we also look at, okay, is this something that they are, you know, utilizing an infringing on? And, if so, then because the company has licensed it, they actually can go and sue the company.
So, with the government, it’s kind of difficult for us to sue another company unless it really has a big detrimental impact to the entire government. If it’s a small company or, you know, if it’s not something that is really detrimental the economy or anything like that. Then, we leave it up to be one for the companies to do that. For the licenses, that is.
Let’s thank Janeya and Kraettli.