South Africa has been a world leader in the implementation of regulations for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations and if the enthusiasm of a Johannesburg company is any pointer the country will carry this world leadership mantle further forward with affordable products to meet most taskings envisaged for unmanned aircraft.
The company is Aerial Monitoring Solutions (AMS) and its managing director Adam Rosman maintains an outlay of R100 000 is all that is necessary to become an owner, with full technical back-up, of one its Eagle Owl UAVs.
“With one exception we are all South Africans working in and for a South African company with experience in aeronautical and electrical engineering, algorithm design and software development. We know unmanned aircraft have a future not only in South Africa, but also in Africa and worldwide and our product is designed and built here to perform properly in African conditions,” he said.
Rosman and some of his team have hands-on experience in the anti-poaching field, having been involved with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the provincial conservation agency which oversees fauna and flora protection in KwaZulu-Natal.
He said the Eagle Owl was at an advanced stage of testing and would make it public debut at the UASA (Unmanned Autonomous Systems Africa) expo in October.
The locally designed and manufactured Eagle Owl has its origins in the fact that no similar platform is available locally, Aerial Monitoring Solutions said.
“You have what are called ‘toys’ but they are not robust enough for the applications we envisage such as anti-poaching, wildlife census and border and land protection among others. A decision was taken to design and build a UAV as a base model that can be upgraded. At the same time the UAV and its operating equipment are also strong enough to withstand a certain level of rough handling, After all, the UAV is going to be used in the bush,” he said.
This thinking produced an aerial platform with a wingspan of 2.5 m a length of 1.1m and a mass of 8.5kg. It is powered by a petrol engine giving it an endurance of five hours and a cruising speed of 100 km/h. It has a range of 10 km but this can be extended up to 100 km and data can be downloaded in real-time from high-definition camera.
“This is our basic package but it is not cast in stone and we will, wherever possible, accede to a client’s needs. In this regard there are any number of applications available. One will show heat signatures of either livestock or wildlife allowing a farmer to build up a comprehensive picture of the patterns his animals follow and also give him a population count.
“Knowing where livestock or game is concentrated at any time can assist in stopping rustling or poaching,” he said, adding the same application can be utilised for border protection.
Rosman is part of a Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Association of South Africa (CUAASA) team working with the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) on the creation and implementation of regulations to ensure safe utilisation of UAVs, which the authority prefers to call remotely piloted aircraft (RPA).
“We appreciate being part of making it happen and also the view taken by SACAA that the current regulations are not cast in stone. This sector of aviation is new and will grow as more and more applications are found for UAVs,” he said, adding AMS was confident it will be part of the growth with one exception.
Rosman is adamant AMS will not move into the UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle) market.
“That is best left to specialists who we don’t see ourselves competing with.”