Advanced Drone Technology Spreads Its Wings in Ohio

A new high-tech radar system called SkyVision, developed by Ohio's Department of Transportation and the Air Force Research Laboratory, will allow drones to fly beyond the visual line of sight.

by / May 7, 2019
A mobile unit houses SkyVision, a radar system designed specifically for drones, at the Ohio Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport in Springfield, Ohio. Submitted Photo: DriveOhio

Ohio’s Department of Transportation wants to allow drones to fly beyond what the eye can see.

A partnership between DriveOhio — a division of the Ohio DOT — and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, located near Dayton, has developed SkyVision, a radar system designed specifically for drones. The technology allows unmanned planes to fly “beyond the visual line of sight,” known in aerospace parlance as BVLOS.

“When we look at the development of the technology, whether it’s unmanned traffic management systems or delivery of packages and goods, none of those capabilities are possible without beyond visual line of sight in flight,” said Luke Stedke, managing director of communications at DriveOhio. “What this does is allow that type of testing to occur for commercial, academic and other institutions in the state of Ohio.”

SkyVision allows drones to see and avoid other aircraft — whether they are fellow drones or conventional aircraft — while in flight. The system has also been called an “aircraft control system for drones.”

The Federal Aviation Administration recently granted a Certificate of Authorization to AFRL to operate drones beyond the visual line of sight for the Ohio Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport. Drones will be allowed to fly within a 200-square-mile section of unrestricted airspace near the Springfield airport.

“This also opens the door for commercial companies to work with Ohio, AFRL and the FAA to test their own UAS-related technology using our SkyVision detection system,” said Gov. Mike DeWine, in a statement. “This is a major step in revolutionizing the transportation industry, with Ohio leading the way in aerospace, defense and aviation innovation.”

The move by the FAA follows a similar authorization to allow the Chula Vista Police Department in Southern California to operate drones beyond the visual line of sight. The unmanned aircraft are used as first responders, replying to 911 calls.

Advancing the development of drone technology in Ohio is one piece of the state’s vision to serve as a destination for companies wanting to develop next generation transportation, whether it's connected autonomous autos or new forms of aviation, said Stedke.

“All of this technology — unmanned aircraft, autonomous vehicles — there are no models for this. These are new systems. These are new companies. These are new companies trying to operate in an old system of transportation. So it’s really going to take partnerships, not only with companies and the government, but intergovernmental partnerships,” said Stedke. “We want to be the one-stop-shop for connected and autonomous vehicles in the state of Ohio.”

VyrtX, a Dayton, Ohio, technology company exploring the use of using drones for medical transport involving human organs, will be one of the first companies to test at the Ohio UAS Center. Test flights are allowed at altitudes of 1,000 to 10,000 feet. The SkyVision system is operated in a large RV-like vehicle to ensure its close positioning near drone aircraft that are in flight.

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

Platforms & Programs