senseFly eBee graveyard Calgary Canada BVLOS drone

This graveyard-mapping drone marks a major step for North American drone progress

Happy Halloween, dronies!

While you’re no doubt tired of seeing the videos of the flying skeleton-ghost drone, here’s a spooky use-case for a drone that actually means big things for North American drone policy.

Just in time for Halloween, a drone just completed a major mapping project of a cemetery in Calgary, Canada — the city’s first new graveyard since year 1940.

And why is that such a big deal? It’s the first urban, beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone project done in a major city in North America. A senseFly eBee Plus fixed-wing drone flew more than 250 miles in total at an average distance of 1.46 miles from the pilot — essentially in efficiently mapping such a large area of space.

The flight was done by Canadian drone operator IN-FLIGHT data, in collaboration with fixed-wing drone maker senseFly. SenseFly was founded in 2009 to develop and produce aerial imaging drones primarily for surveying, agriculture, GIS, industrial inspection, mining and humanitarian aid. The company was acquired by Parrot, maker of the Bebop drone, in 2012 for an undisclosed amount.

The mapping of the area, completed last month using a senseFly eBee Plus fixed-wing drone, saw IN-FLIGHT Data’s team conduct a total of 414 km (257 mi) BVLOS operations at an average distance of 2.35 km (1.46 mi) from the pilot.

“The aim of the trial was to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of BVLOS UAS flights and the cost and efficiency benefits they can provide to citizens and governments alike,” said Chris Healy, owner of IN-FLIGHT Data.

Of course, there was another reason why this beyond-line-of-sight milestone and the fact that it was conducted over a graveyard go hand-in-hand.

“Flying beyond line of site ensured that all of our take-off and landing areas were respectfully located outside of the graveyard,” Healy said.

Flying beyond visual line of sight drone operations in urban areas is inherently more complicated than flying within line of sight in most cases — as well as more complicated than in rural areas where there are few objects in the way. It comes with more risks and obstacles, including having to communicate with local air traffic control, and monitor live air traffic within the drone’s flight software.

In the United States, flying drones anywhere beyond visual line of sight is not permitted, except if the operator obtains a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration. In the U.S., there have been about two dozen approved BVLOS flights, but most have been contained to empty yet highly controlled airspaces, including the 50-mile drone corridor in New York.

SenseFly is no stranger to BVLOS operations. The company has operated flights around the world, including in Switzerland, France, Spain, Denmark and China. In Canada, senseFly’s eBee Plus, eBee, eBee SQ and albris drones are officially designated ‘Compliant Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)’ by Transport Canada.



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