The natural sciences overlap — hence such fields as geophysics, astrobiology and biochemistry. So do the social sciences and humanities — hence such fields as political economy, political philosophy and social economics. Our very individual identities consist of multiple, intersecting factors — including gender, race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality.
Analogously, this magazine covers overlapping technologies. While we focus on global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) and other positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) technologies such as inertial systems, these technologies are often embedded in larger systems that also include sensors (such as lidar, radar and cameras) and, increasingly, artificial intelligence (AI).
That is why we so often cover unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) — which use GNSS for positioning navigation, geofencing and stabilization; use sensors to collect data; and will soon use AI for mission planning and execution — and autonomous vehicles — which use GNSS and sensors for positioning and navigation and already use AI to make driving decisions in complex environments.
Of course, UAVs are also much in the news these days:
- Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both sides have been using several hundred UAVs every day. According to the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank, the Ukrainians are losing some 10,000 UAVs a month on the battlefield. (By way of comparison, the French army currently has a little more than 3,000 UAVs in its arsenal.)
- In the United States, the number of companies granted waivers by the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations keeps growing, enabling them to conduct much more efficient monitoring, inspections and mapping of infrastructure.
- Following a recent increase in encounters between swimmers and sharks along beaches on Long Island, New York, in July UAVs began sweeping the ocean three times a day to detect danger. On July 14, the state’s governor, Kathy Hochul, announced the allocation of $1 million to purchase 60 new shark-monitoring UAVs.
- Also in July, 350 UAVs were lost during a practice light display show in Melbourne, Australia, ahead of a scheduled performance for the opening of the women’s World Cup. The UAVs appeared to stop mid-show and plummet into the Yarra River, most likely due to interference with GPS signals.
- On August 30, researchers in Switzerland unveiled a small AI-powered quadcopter UAV that can outfly some of the best human competitors in the world. It whipped its way around an indoor racecourse in a matter of seconds and was able to beat its human rival in 15 out of 25 races, according to the journal Nature.
From mapping coastal areas with airborne lidar bathymetry to delivering medicines, from locating lost hikers to mapping fires, from enhancing the situational awareness of first responders to monitoring invasive plant species, UAVs are quickly becoming ubiquitous and essential.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, where autonomous vehicles are already ubiquitous, but not everyone considers them essential, an anonymous group of protesters is surreptitiously placing orange traffic cones on some of them, confusing their sensors and rendering them inoperable.
Matteo Luccio | Editor-in-Chief