American Robotics Optimus System: Redefining Commercial Drone Applications

infrastructure droneExploring the Potential Impact of Autonomous Drone-in-a-Box Solutions on Commercial Operations

DRONELIFE  attended a demonstration of the American Robotics Optimus system this morning, an innovative drone-in-a-box solution poised to transform commercial drone operations. Sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Aeronautics division and held at the Mass Maritime Academy, the event showcased the potential of this autonomous system. The Optimus system represents a shift in how drones are utilized, integrating them into existing infrastructure rather than viewing them as standalone tools. With installations across states and municipalities, these systems could offer stakeholders access to aerial data for a variety of purposes, from monitoring school roofs to responding to emergency calls.

The Concept of Infrastructure Drones

The concept of the Optimus system as “infrastructure drones” represents a significant departure from traditional approaches to commercial drone deployment. By installing these drones throughout a state or municipality, a wide array of public services could access timely and specialized data tailored to their specific requirements: potentially eliminating or reducing the need for separate fleets of drones for each public service department like transportation, public safety, environmental protection, and inspection services. Instead, the Optimus system centralizes drone operations, offering a streamlined solution that efficiently serves the diverse needs of each party. Whether it’s monitoring traffic patterns, conducting search and rescue missions, assessing environmental conditions, or inspecting infrastructure, the system could provide data to any stakeholder – eventually building a library of data available for current use and to measure change over time.

It’s a concept that has sparked the interest of a wide range of entities, present at the demonstration.  By leveraging data for a wide variety of stakeholders, the cost per flight could be dramatically reduced.  MassDOT Aeronautics have been thought leaders in the practical adoption of unmanned systems, working to identify cutting edge solutions for everyday challenges throughout the state.  Scott Uebelhart of MassDOT Aeronautics says that his department needs to see immediate value for new technology – something that Optimus test flights around Wachusett Reservoir have offered. With the capability to send alerts when a large tree is observed across the train tracks, or trespassers are seen in the vicinity of critical infrastructure, each flight offers the potential to provide value to the state or municipality as a whole.

The Drone-in-a-Box System

The Optimus system was originally conceived by Airobotics, purchased by Ondas Holdings’ company American Robotics in 2022. It’s a large, portable drone-in-a-box system that can be moved temporarily, or installed permanently; and an operations center that can be anywhere communications accessible.  The system is designed to operate without a human pilot on site: utilizing a robotic arm inside the temperature controlled box to change out batteries (10) and payloads (9 of them.) The 9 different payload options combined with a flight time of 40 minutes and a flight range of 10 miles make the available applications for the Optimus systems almost limitless.  The video below shows the inside of the box:

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A layered system of airspace awareness makes flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and without visual observers safe and feasible from a regulatory standpoint.  The Optimus system leverages technology from SenHive, Echodyne, and ANRA to provide that layered awareness.  SenHive provides passive airspace awareness: “listening” boxes that can pick up other aircraft from a significant distance: detecting ADS-B, AIS, Flarm (used for gliders in Europe), Remote ID, Mode-S.  SenHive can also monitor GPS and connectivity signals for BVLOS flight. Echodyne’s EchoGuard short-range, software-defined, micro-doppler FMCW radar detects all vehicles: aircraft, ships, ground vehicles, and more.  ANRA’s SIOP system takes that information and puts it into a common operational picture.  ANRA layers in even more data, including regulatory data like NOTAMs, Blue Force management (which can detect first responders) and weather.  The ANRA system handles operational processes including flight planning and deconfliction problems.    The combination of technologies has enabled American Robotics to successfully achieve FAA permission for BVLOS operations without visual observers or within the constraints of shielded operations.

Airobotics Optimus drone system Dubai for public safetyAirobotics Optimus drone system Dubai for public safety

The Optimus Drone and Airbase in Urban Environment (Credit: Airobotics)

The Applications

In Dubai, where the Optimus systems are installed primarily for public safety, response time to calls for service are now within moments – providing critical data about the appropriate resources required while a police car may still be battling traffic.  But the sheer range of potential applications given the option of 9 different payloads – thermal, LiDAR, delivery, visual and more – reveals major potential for the drones as infrastructure concept.

Susan Roberts, VP of Strategy and Business Development for American Robotics’ parent company Ondas Holdings, sees a future where drones are ubiquitous and perhaps boring – just a useful part of the electronic infrastructure, like traffic lights and emergency call boxes.  “We can cover applications from the rural to ultra-urban, from the banal to the sophisticated,” she says. “Infrastructure drones are few and far between – it’s an asset optimization model.  We can operate essentially 24/7: we can switch flight battery and payload within 2 minutes.”  

The Optimus system is deployed around the world for monitoring, security, inspection, public safety and more.  While widespread adoption of drones as shared use infrastructure is just getting started, the concept of infrastructure drones offers promising possibilities for industries from public safety to environmental monitoring.  The efficiency, versatility, and safety features of the system suggest that integrating drones into our everyday infrastructure may be the future of commercial operations.

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Miriam McNabbMiriam McNabb

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.


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