MicroPilot has successfully integrated FLARM’s Sense and Avoid system with its autopilot, granting clients a reliable autonomous collision avoidance option for fully autonomous UAV operations.
With any form of autonomous vehicle, a key concern is the ability to safely avoid collisions without human intervention. A sense and avoid system allows a UAV to do exactly that, dramatically reducing operational risks and the need for human monitoring. FLARM is a traffic awareness and collision avoidance technology used by manned aircraft and UAVs. When integrated with MicroPilot’s autopilot, the system alerts the autopilot of nearby aircraft, along with their velocity, altitude and future trajectory. Using this information, the autopilot decides how to avoid the other aircraft, autonomously preventing a collision without a single input from a human operator.
With airspace becoming increasingly crowded and UAVs becoming more popular, a reliable sense and avoid system isn’t going to be merely convenient, but a necessity, especially for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and other autonomous operations. This new system should give operators the confidence to use their UAVs to the full extent of their abilities.
“FLARM has been in use for over a decade helping manned aircraft avoid midair collisions,” says FLARM “We are very happy to see that UAVs are the next type of vehicle that benefit from FLARM, and that UAVs are becoming visible to manned aircraft.” With the MicroPilot autopilot combined with FLARM’s advanced sense and avoid system, UAV designers will be better able to market their larger and longer-range UAVs with a reliable autonomous system of collision avoidance, and operators will likewise feel more comfortable conducting long range BVLOS operations where human intervention is more difficult. Combined, this will further the utility and viability of UAVs and bring them much closer to their full potential.
Swiss Post, the EOC hospital group and drone manufacturer Matternet tested a drone service between two hospitals in Lugano for the first time in March 2017. Now the project is moving into the next test phase. As the drone transport tests in the spring proved successful in terms of safety, practicality and reliability, actual laboratory samples or urgently needed medication will now be transported by drone between the two hospitals for the first time. The partners are aiming to operate regular drone transport for both hospitals from the summer of 2018. On the basis of the experience gained from the test operation in March, the FLARM system was added to the drone, among other changes. The drone emits a signal using this traffic information and collision avoidance system to make the drone visible to other aircraft. But the drone also receives signals from other aircraft or drones and can react to these.
Mercedes-Benz, drone systems developer Matternet and online marketplace siroop have started a pilot project in Zurich to test a drone-based system for on-demand delivery of e-commerce goods. The pilot project, which started with first trials on September 25, represents a significant milestone for autonomous aerial systems: it is the first time that extensive beyond-line-of sight drone operations are taking place in a major urban area to test a fully-automated e-commerce drone network. The development of the overall system uses an iterative approach and is based on early testing and continuous optimization.
During the course of the pilot project, customers will be able to order selected products from online marketplace siroop that are suitable for transport by a Matternet drone, such as consumer electronics and other e-commerce items weighing up to two kilograms.
The operation has been authorized by the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) following the JARUS-SORA methodology. Safety is the guiding principle during the pilot, which will run for seven hours per day, five days a week in favorable weather conditions only. Matternet drones are integrated in the Swiss airspace system using the same FLARM sense and avoid system used by helicopter operators and other users of the lower part of the airspace.
The Matternet M2 quadcopters used in the pilot can carry packages of up to two kilograms over distances of up to 20 kilometers. In recent months, the integrated system has been continuously refined and tested extensively in preparation for operation in an urban environment.
Firmware version 6.40 has been released for all FLARM devices. It introduces intuitive obstacle warning behavior, full antenna diversity, a redesigned range analyzer, and a supplementary privacy option. These features have been requested by pilots and improve both the user experience and flight safety. The firmware is available for all PowerFLARM, Classic FLARM, and FLARM-interoperable devices, and can be downloaded for free from the website of the device manufacturer. For end-user devices built by FLARM Technology, it’s available here.
Fixed obstacles like power lines and cable cars receive a lateral buffer, adding width to the object similar to antennas. Flying parallel to such objects now yields more consistent warning behavior. Alarms are now suppressed better when circling or turning in proximity of an obstacle. The data port now transmits a unique obstacle ID for improved future processing by smart displays, e.g. to suppress repetitive alarms. These features are available on PowerFLARM products only, and operate with any valid obstacle database. The latest database including an interactive visualization is available here.
PowerFLARM devices contain two radio antenna ports: “FLARM A” and “FLARM B”, with the latter being activated by applying a license (RFB). This update adds full symmetric diversity (transmit and receive) to “FLARM B” when the RFB license is active (does not apply to North America). This increases the protection around the aircraft in all directions. The RFB license for PowerFLARM Core devices can be purchased in the webshop. Existing RFB licenses automatically enable the new behavior. PowerFLARM Portable devices do not require a license.
The online Range Analyzer tool has been completely redesigned. It now features a side view for 3D assessment of installation performance. Simultaneous upload of multiple files now allows for a more comprehensive and reliable analysis. Full independent receiver diagnostics of both radio channels is now possible for dual antenna setups, helping to verify and optimize installations. Also refer to Section “Safety Equipment Requires Care and Maintenance”.
To accommodate increased privacy needs, the random radio ID option is introduced on all devices (except first-generation F4). It can be selected by setting the ICAO 24-bit address to “0” (zero) in the online configuration tool. With this option set, the characteristic ID used for message broadcasting is randomly generated at each power-up, i.e. typically once per day. Enabling this setting is however discouraged, as it renders Search and Rescue (SAR) and other functionality impractical. It is not possible to activate random ID if the aircraft has a Mode-S transponder (which already transmits the ICAO address of the aircraft).
Downloading or using firmware 6.40 is subject to the updated End-User License Agreement. Additional information can be found in the Release Notes on the firmware download page.
For years, there has been a big debate about UAV safety. We have delivered the solution: TBS FLARM. Drones are now visible to aircraft, and drones are enabled to see and avoid aircraft. The system is designed in a way to handle also these new participants in an efficient and safe manner.
We are proud of the first broadly used global traffic information, collision avoidance, and remote identification system for UAV, fully interoperable with 35k+ manned aircraft globally. Different to ADS-B or any other solution, FLARM is truly cooperative, widely used in light aircraft, and dominates the lower airspace outside major airports.
With TBS’s FLARM software update, tens of thousands of UAV’s will in the next weeks join the already large FLARM ecosystem. Hongkong-based company TBS has its largest market stake in the USA, but is also widely present in Asia and Europe.
FLARM Product Selector
A new firmware update has been released for all FLARM devices. The new firmware improves the Alert Zone (AZN) alarm behavior, adds a new test for audio out (for installers), and increases the maximum allowed supply voltage to 32 V in PowerFLARM Core, to support additional aircraft types.
Make sure that your FLARM device is updated at least every 365 days as part of the aircraft continuing airworthiness. Failure to do so might render the device inoperable (until it’s updated).
The new firmware, together with the release notes, can be downloaded here.
The aviation magazine AeroRevue has published an overview on the many cockpit display instruments available (PFD, MFD, EFIS), including the comment: “The widely used FLARM has become a must-have in cockpit displays (EFIS). Several EFIS manufacturers now offer an RS-232-interface to overlay FLARM-data on displays. FLARM can also be used as a passive kind of TCAS (known as PCAS) indicating traffic equipped with transponders only, as well as ADS-B.” The article can be read here (in German).
Following a mid-air collision between two Canadian light aircraft that were not FLARM equipped, Transport Canada recommends PowerFLARM in its latest Aviation Safety Letter.
Both Transport Canada (TC) and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) point out that “if the see-and-avoid principle is relied upon as the sole means of collision avoidance when operating in visual flight rules [VFR] conditions, then there is a continued risk of collision”. They recommend all aircraft to install a collision avoidance system and their article examines the functions and benefits of PowerFLARM.
Recently, a person claiming to be a “Herbert Khum” or “Herbert Khun” has been sending unsolicited email messages to several recipients. The email messages have been sent from different email addresses, assumed to be fake. The messages have also been posted in forums. Mr. Khum claims to be an employee of ABB Germany. Some messages have also listed a phone number pointing to ABB Switzerland, contradicting above statement. The phone extension listed does however not exist and ABB does not have any person working for them with that name.
The message contains unsubstantiated, dubious, and false claims about the FLARM system. Mr. Khum has unfortunately not contacted us directly in any form to discuss the alleged issues to work towards a quick resolution. Each firmware version of FLARM is thoroughly tested to ensure the effectiveness and reliability of the system. This is the case with the current firmware version, just as with previous versions.
FLARM Technology has also published a white paper which explains the compatibility considerations for a safe and effective system. The white paper can be found here.
We remain committed to improving safety in aviation and are thus very much interested in learning about defects in any of our products. We therefore invite Mr. Khum to provide a means to reproduce his findings unambiguously.