Updated: Oct 9
Disaster response and emergency management are crucial areas where cutting-edge technology can make a life-saving difference. In Canada, the Transport Canada Innovation Center took a pioneering step in advancing emergency response capabilities through the exploration of drone technology. Transport Canada’s goal was to harness the potential of these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to provide real-time situational awareness and aid decision-making during natural disasters and emergencies.
Floods in Canada
Nevertheless, during emergencies, the conventional approach of sending a pilot on-site with the drone to collect and process data can be impractical or impossible, especially during high-risk or access-restricted scenarios. In this context, Transport Canada formed a partnership with ARA Robotics, the Halifax Port Authority, and PIER, the innovation incubator center, to start a proof of concept project at the Port of Halifax that would showcase the efficiency and effectiveness of remotely operated drone infrastructure. To face this challenge, ARA Robotics proposed to Transport Canada to test a new feature of its technology: the use of remotely operated drones connected to a remote Command and Control Center (CCC) via an LTE network infrastructure, removing the need to have a pilot on-site. This setup would allow ARA Robotics’ qualified pilots to operate the UAV from their CCC in Montréal, delivering real-time data, including live video feed, to key personnel. Such a model is designed to boost response speed, minimize physical danger, and streamline costs. Additionally, the solution would make possible to survey disaster-stricken areas for faster decision-making during emergencies.
Left image: ARA Robotics' drone at Halifax port Right image: Aeronautical chart of the Port of Halifax
Bandwidth: 5.4 Mbps
Latency: less than 2 seconds
Number of connection loss: none
Time to access the digitized information (digital twins) after the flight: less than a day
Proof of concept location: controlled airspace with the Shearwater military base nearby
FPV video stream (first-person view): This stream provides situational awareness and navigation information, allowing the pilot to detect objects along the trajectory or in proximity to the UAV.
RGB video stream (digital photographic camera): This stream facilitates damage assessment and offers zoom capacity to closely inspect various objects and areas.
IR video stream (infrared camera): This stream enables temperature monitoring, identifying hot surfaces or potential fire hazards.
1230 km between drone and pilot
At the Port of Halifax, the pilot project was successfully deployed. The UAV was successfully connected to the Command and Control Center in Montréal, enabling seamless data transmission via the LTE network. The qualified pilot remotely operated the drone using the SkyControl software, ARA Robotics’ proprietary mission manager software, and had access to live weather forecasts and aerial traffic data.
Left image: camera Views (FPV, RGB and IR) and Skycontrol screen before take off for the fender mission. Right image: ARA-408 with Payloads
For the first mission, ARA Robotics did a remote inspection of Halifax port’s infrastructure using drones. The purpose of this first mission was to film the fenders with drone cameras so that Transport Canada officers could assess their state. The employees were very surprised at the efficiency of this configuration and the fluidity with which they were able to give instructions to ARA Robotics’ pilotes to, for example, direct the zoom of the camera to specific places.
Left image: the pilot using SkyControl, the ground control station software of ARA Robotics, to design a fender inspection mission ; Right image: RGB camera filming the fender
The next test scenario simulated a fire detection task. Before the flight, ARA Robotics’ team had hidden an electric heater mimicking fire. The abnormal heat emanating from a container was remotely identified with precision by the security experts of Transport Canada, who were very impressed with the potential of this solution. Drones can cover large areas quickly, meaning they can locate and report fires to response teams much faster than traditional methods.
Left image: heater detected with thermal camera ; Right image: containers at the Port of Halifax
Additionally, ARA Robotics conducted an aerial photogrammetry mission that produced detailed 3D maps and aerial images of the Halifax port. Such digital models, crafted from drone-collected data, are invaluable post-disasters. They offer an accurate digital representation of affected regions, helping authorities prioritize recovery actions.
3D digital model of the Halifax Port
Towards a Safer Tomorrow
The project demonstrated the feasibility of pre-deployed UAVs located strategically across the country, quickly put to use and connected to operational centers during environmental crises. With the successful use of Canadian 4G cellular infrastructure, operating drones remotely in distant regions becomes possible, allowing the government of Canada to inspect and oversee public infrastructure like ports, roads and dams on all its territory.
The collaboration between Transport Canada, ARA Robotics, and the Port of Halifax showcased the immense potential of remote drone control systems in crisis management and infrastructure monitoring. The successful implementation at the Port of Halifax sets the stage for wider remote UAV operations in Canada. As climate perturbations continue to pose challenges, remotely operated UAV technology promises to be an invaluable tool in safeguarding people, wildlife, and essential infrastructure.
We are glad that ARA Robotics, through this project, enabled the capacity to leverage the Canadian cellular network to support remote drone deployment. ARA did a great job developing and testing the technology as well as successfully completing all set operational used cases. We are pleased with the results of this project and the quality and punctuality of the work performed.
Anthony Beaupré-Jacques, Project Officer at Transport Canada
ARA-408 drone features and benefits
ARA Robotics selected the drone ARA-408 RECON RPAS to conduct the trial’s mission for the proof of concept.
The ARA-408 RECON RPAS MTOW is 8 kg with a total payload of 1.7 kg and has a 25 minutes flight capability. Its maximum communication range of operation is 4 km with LOS from the operator equipped with the remote control device.
The drone is equipped with a Dual RTK-GNSS System enabling real time RTK over cellular networks as well as heading estimation using GNSS signal. Mounted underneath was the companion computer with a cellular modem bringing communication redundancy over a mobile network and over a direct RF link to the ground station unit.
The payload was a gimbal stabilized 24.5 MPs Global Shutter RGB Camera with 4.5x digital zoom capability combined with a longwave infrared 32° (HFOV) 13.6 mm 654 × 521 Thermal Camera.
Transport Canada Innovation Center
Halifax Port Authority and their innovation hub, PIER21
Koptr Image and their UAV pilots
ARA Robotics diligently planned the operations at the Port of Halifax several weeks in advance. Prior to and during the operations, they effectively coordinated with Shearwater airspace and NavCanada, ensuring a smooth and efficient process.
The operation was conducted in full compliance with the CAR Part 9 regulation and adhered to the 922.04 safety assurance standard, prioritizing the safety and security of the undertaking.
Pascal Chiva-Bernard - Author
Pascal is CEO and co-founder of ARA Robotics, a leading Canadian firm in automated drone technology. With a solid engineering background from ÉTS university and a passion for innovation, he continue to be instrumental in the company's growth and success.
Véronique is the Communications and Marketing Advisor at ARA Robotics. Having graduated from the University of UQAM with a degree in graphic design, she plays a pivotal role in shaping the brand's visual narrative and ensuring effective communication strategies.