5 Tips For Selecting Mobile Devices for Unmanned Aerial Systems

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) are becoming an important part of the fabric of both government and commercial enterprises.

For many people, the most recognizable part of a UAS is a drone, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). But that’s only one part of the larger UAS ecosystem, which includes the ground control station with the pilot, communications, and support equipment. Often, devices like Panasonic TOUGHBOOK are used as controllers to pilot the drone and collect and process captured information with sensors and cameras attached to the drone.

In the federal government, many agencies depend on UAS to do their jobs safely and with greater speed. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Geological Service depend on them to help fight wildfires, monitor wildlife, perform geological and geophysical surveys, and survey volcanic activity. FEMA uses them to assess the damage after a natural disaster and collect topographic data to detect changing conditions.

The United States Department of Defense (DoD) was an early adopter of drones and is now relying on advanced UASs for many tasks, including mission planning and execution, battlefield situational awareness, equipment inspection, and training exercise observation and analysis.

Most recently, the innovation arm of the DoD awarded several contracts for small UASs to aid with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. These contracts support investment and development of UAS solutions to help with situational awareness, improve human-machine teaming and provide engineering support to integrate drone capabilities more effectively into DoD’s programs. Drone use throughout the federal government isn’t going anywhere but up. One recent report found that the military drone market could reach nearly $22 billion by 2026.

While drones have proven to be critical, cost-effective tools, what really makes them so useful for so many organizations is the technology integrated with the drones to form a UAS.

Here are five things to consider when choosing the right technology for unmanned aerial systems.

Reliable Connectivity is Critical with Unmanned Aerial Systems

Without dependable connectivity between the mobile device controlling the drone and the drone itself, you can’t rely on the UAS to perform mission-critical tasks. “Connectivity is critical, because you’re feeding data from the drone to a device like the Panasonic TOUGHBOOK, and then it’s being transmitted by LTE or satellite, or some variation of those,” said Ryan English, CEO of drone manufacturer FLYMOTION at a recent webinar.

“Without reliable connectivity, you can’t harness the full potential of a UAV. FLYMOTION often partners with Panasonic, relying on the exceptional wireless connectivity of TOUGHBOOK tablets and laptops.”

Rugged Mobile Devices and Drones Complement Each Other

Drones and UAS are often used in extreme climates, high altitudes, and harsh environments, making rugged devices extremely important for maintaining control and operation of the drone.

“It’s important that the mobile devices (controllers) be able to work in the rain, in the snow, with different types of gloves,” explained my colleague Jeff Henderson, Panasonic Strategic Account Manager for Army Special Services.

The Panasonic TOUGHBOOK family of products is known for its durability, purpose-built to MIL-STD 810G specifications, with 810H certification on some.

“We do things like putting shielding around the wireless LAN adapters, the CPU, the RAM, and the machines themselves,” Jeff points out.

In addition, many Panasonic products comply with Ingress Protection (IP) standards that certify protection against water projected from a nozzle or powerful jets of water, and complete immersion, as well as heavy exposure to fine dust particles.

When evaluating IP standards, the first number measures protection from dust or solids, with one being the lowest and six the highest. The second number indicates protection from liquids, one being the lowest and eight being the highest. TOUGHBOOK 33, for example, has an IP65 evaluation, making it a strong leader in the rugged category.

Choose Rugged Mobile Devices with High-Performance Data Processing

Drones are essentially tools that collect data, such as videos, photos, and thermal data. That data is then transmitted and analyzed in real-time for decision-making by the controller and then saved to undergo post-processing as well. That means that the device that interfaces with the drone must be able to quickly and efficiently process and store data in addition to surviving outdoor elements.

The modular, customizable nature of the TOUGHBOOK 55 is ideal for a UAS, with expansion packs that can be swapped in and out at any time. Expansion pack options include upgraded memory, storage, or dedicated graphics. Another option is the rugged TOUGHBOOK A3 10-inch Android tablet, which has a powerful octa-core processor, 4G LTE support, and is certified to the latest MIL-STD-810H standards making it ready for field inspections or battlefield use with drones.

Partner with Future-Forward Vendors

While drone technology today has many capabilities, it is far from mature. In the near future, look for more accurate sensors, monitoring capabilities, and greater automation. That means that instead of focusing solely on data capture, drones may be able to also analyze information and act on it. Vendors that embrace and prepare for innovation will be best positioned to help their customers upgrade their processes.

In addition to changes in drones themselves, many organizations are undergoing their own changes, in terms of technology, mission, and regulations. For example, federal agencies are increasingly turning to Android-based applications, for which Panasonic offers several handheld and tablet devices.

Sometimes, existing technology that hasn’t been widely adopted will suddenly become important, and vendors must be up to the challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, caused many organizations to become more interested in FLYMOTION’s Drone Decontamination Kit, which outfits drones with the supplies they need to safely decontaminate after operating in hazardous environments.

Service and Support Solutions are Critical

The drones and accompanying mobile device technology you are considering may be reliable and responsive, but without good service and support backing it up, things can veer off course. Looking beyond the bells and whistles of the current device to the reputation and history of support, repairs, and service from the technology provider is recommended.

Panasonic, for example, considers itself a solution company at its core. “We own the whole process, from design to manufacturing to support,” Henderson said. “That allows us to make changes to our products in support of our customers so they can stay on track.”

Good service and support also mean working with companies that have reliable roadmaps and are willing to have strategic discussions with customers.

Working with a vendor that has a long history of listening to customer’s needs and designing and developing purpose-built solutions can make a big difference for mission-critical work in the field or a battlefield.

For more information on UAS solutions and TOUGHBOOK mobile devices, you can contact me, Sean Siler, Strategic Account Manager, Federal Government Accounts at Sean.Siler@us.panasonic.com.