Mogensen and a few of his Scion UAS colleagues had used NovAtel technology in the past; so, it just seemed natural to turn to the GNSS manufacturer for the precision GNSS capabilities they needed for the Jackal.
Mogensen worked with NovAtel at his previous company to build a much smaller helicopter, he said. Back then he didn’t have the need for the advanced features like he does now, such as the differential GNSS and the heading system. Because Mogensen and his colleagues had been so impressed with NovAtel’s products and services previously, they were confident that the company could deliver when he needed a more complicated solution.
“We’ve been happy not only with the quality of the product but also the support,” Mogensen said. “When you’re relying on a product that comes from another country, it’s a little bit of a gamble, but in this case the relationship with NovAtel has been very good. The support is there when we need it, and it’s accurate and to the point.”
While there’s certainly a place for the Jackal in military operations, the UAS also has the potential to provide benefits in a variety of commercial areas, from search and rescue to precision agriculture, Mogensen said.
The technology is there, but like the rest of the unmanned industry, Scion UAS has to wait for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to approve rules and regulations for operating a UAS in national airspace. The FAA released proposed rules for small UASs earlier this year, but it will likely be a while before they are officially implemented. In any case, this first set of proposed rules doesn’t cover systems as large as the Jackal.
Even so, Scion UAS is focusing on developing commercial applications in order for the systems to be ready for such missions once the regulations are finally in place. One of the biggest areas Mogensen said the Jackal can help with is search and rescue. The helicopter not only has the ability to find missing persons but, with a seat installed inside the aircraft, it can also carry a person to safety. Once the Jackal lands at a rescue site, rescuers can speak through an onboard sound system and direct the person to climb onboard.
“All they have to do is sit still and tighten their seatbelts. The helicopter takes care of the rest,” Mogensen said. “There’s no other system on the market that can transport a person in the helicopter while flying completely autonomously. You can imagine the applications for something like that in public safety.”
Agriculture is another industry Mogensen sees embracing systems like the Jackal, making it possible to apply chemicals to crops without risking the pilot’s life. Many pilots are injured or even killed during spray applications, Mogensen said. Flying a fixed wing airplane or a helicopter close to the ground, trees and power lines can lead to accidents. If a UAS is performing the spraying, the worst thing that can happen is loss of the equipment.
Mining exploration, power line and pipeline inspections are other activities that Mogensen hopes will benefit from the Jackal in the future. With the help of NovAtel, the UAS is in a prime position to perform such commercial applications once the FAA allows it.
“There are a lot of applications in the civilian market, now we just need the permission and acceptance from the general public and the government to use these systems to perform these missions,” Mogensen said. “And everybody is basing their systems on GPS technology. NovAtel is one of the biggest precision navigation companies in the world and that’s who we’re choosing to work with.”