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Taking the pressure off pilots: Return-to-Signal for the Elios 3

  Meet Flyability's newest feature that is designed to prevent drone loss in challenging environments. 
Pilots of the Elios 3 drone fly in some of the most challenging environments. Focusing on their remote inspection can be more difficult if pilots face signal loss issues with the drone. Now, Flyability has introduced the Return-to-Signal feature to help relieve this pressure and enable pilots to focus on what really matters: gathering high-quality data.  In an industry first, Flyability is launching Return-to-Signal (RTS) for the Elios 3. This new feature is an automated action where the drone flies back along its flight path in the case of signal loss. Read on to discover how Return-to-Signal works and how it benefits drone pilots.

What causes radio signal loss for a drone? 

Losing signal between the drone and the controller is incredibly stressful for pilots as there is a chance of losing the drone if the connection is not re-established. Unfortunately, the radio transmission between the controller and drone can be interrupted by environmental factors during a flight. This interruption usually happens either because of the signal being absorbed or reflected by the surroundings.  Absorption of the radio signal happens in environments where there may be particularly dense material that can present the signal from reaching the drone. This could be thick concrete, rock walls in a mine, or similar locations. When this happens, the constant communication between the drone and controller is broken. Signal loss due to absorption can happen if the drone turns a corner in a sewer, or simply when the drone is too far away from the controller.  Reflection, as it sounds, is when the signal is bounced too many times before it is received. This is a particular issue in environments with lots of metal. The controller or drone may still receive the signal but in an attenuated form, increasing the risk of signal loss. Reflection of the signal is a hazard inside metal tanks or some spherical environments.

How does RTS relieve pressure on pilots when signal loss occurs? 

Return-to-Signal is an automated feature - the first of its kind for Flyability. It works by reacting to signal loss and the drone automatically retraces its flight path up to 300 meters until it reconnects to the controller or reaches the take-off location.  During a flight, the Elios 3 monitors its live video feed and communicates with the controller as it transmits the footage. When the drone detects a problem with this transmission, RTS is initiated. 

See Return-to-Signal in action in this video showing what pilots will now see when they lose connection

On the pilot side, signal loss means the live video feed has been disconnected or is jumping. The Cockpit flight app will show a pop-up that the signal has been lost and the drone will begin RTS. There is a 5-second window where a pilot can choose not to activate RTS, but otherwise, the Elios 3 will automatically begin to retrace its flight trajectory. This may be visible in the LiveMap if a LiDAR payload is mounted on the drone. Once the drone has flown to a point where the video connection is re-established the pilot can take control of the flight again.  This feature is a game-changer for complex drone inspections and will allow pilots to feel more confident pushing the drone to the limit even in challenging environments and gather more data. The risks of drone loss due to signal failure will be greatly reduced and pilots can better adapt flight plans according to the environment.

Where will Return-to-Signal be most useful? 

Return-to-Signal will be key for inspections across industries and is universally applicable. Pilots working in new environments or areas they expect to be more challenging, such as prolonged inspections beyond visual line of sight, will find the RTS feature particularly helpful. Any Elios 3 pilot can take advantage of RTS by updating to the latest firmware.  The RTS feature also presents a step forward in safety. Signal loss can make pilots move closer to an asset or where the drone has flown in an attempt to reconnect to the device, however this can mean entering a confined-space or moving closer to a hazardous environment. With RTS the pilot can stay in place with confidence the drone will return to them.  RTS will also help in cases of accidental mishandling or problems. This could include the radio battery dying mid-flight, which results in a complete disconnection, or similarly if the controller tablet runs out of battery. Other incidences such as the USB cable for the tablet being disconnected, Cockpit crashing, or equipment malfunctions will all trigger RTS. This allows pilots to fly with confidence that even if the worst were to happen, the drone has safeguards to avoid losing the drone and its onboard data.

Bringing automation to confined-space drones

Return-to-Signal is a major development for confined-space inspections and provides pilots with greater peace of mind. By mitigating the risks associated with weak radio frequency conditions and providing a reliable mechanism to respond to these conditions, the Elios 3 is empowering pilots to operate with confidence in a variety of environments. 

Discover just how the Elios 3 is in action by reading some of our latest case studies.


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