In Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) operations, the Ground Control System (GCS) serves as the sole means of establishing communications between the Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) and the remote operator (or pilot). Furthermore; the ground control system allows for the full designed movement control of the unmanned aircraft in order to navigate to the desired path. It serves as a mean of communications with not just the remote operator, but also with others in order to avoid other aircraft, airspace people terrain or objects (Buker, Luxion, & Williams, 2012). In terms of importance, one can view a UAS ground station control as the 2nd most important part of the system besides its payload.
I’ve found that ground control stations are often designed to meet the mission requirement of that specific UAV. So they tend to vary in shape, sizes, mass, and functions. They can either be handheld units portable ground stations or stationary. However; A vast number of UAS related accidents have been found associated with the design, function, and human interaction of the UAS ground station (Tvaryanas, Thompson, & Constable, 2006). Is the issue lies within the design or within the human interaction itself? As an experimental project, I’ve decided to look into a specific UAS ground control station to see if there are any known human factors issues associated with its design. And if any issues are found, I will look to identify and offer solutions to mitigate the risks posed by their existence. The Ground Control System (GCS) platform chosen for this experiment is the AeroVironment’s RQ-11 Raven UAS GCS.
According to Army Technologies (2017), the Ground Control Unit (GCU) is a compact and lightweight system, which displays real-time videos and images captured by the vehicle’s payload cameras. Although the entire system weighs only 4.2 pounds (includes carrying case, air vehicle, GCS and Payload), the portable remote ground control unit only weighs 1.5 pounds. Furthermore, the RQ-11 Raven GCS also offers flexibility with the options of operating the data and air vehicle with the use of either its portable remote control or through a remote ground control station. It allows for complete autonomous missions using GPS waypoint navigation (Aerovironment Rq-11 Raven Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, 2017). For optimum reliability, the RQ-11 Raven GCS delivers real-time color or infra-red imagery to both the ground control and remote viewing stations via its three different cameras attached to the nose of the air vehicle. The GCS also does the functioning of processing, retrieving and storing all of the real-time data provided by the air vehicle. Once the data is acquired, the RQ-11 Raven’s GCS allows for live video playbacks for the use of target evaluation and\or to alleviate retransmission of videos and Metadata to the operations network (Army Technologies, 2017).
Identify at least two negative human factors issues associated with its design?
There are only five buttons in Raven’s user interface ground control unit. Of the five buttons, only two of them actually control the movement of the air vehicle. This issue affects the UAS’s ability to receive input from the operator in terms of aircraft control. The operator is left with only visual sight to determine the direction and or position of his or her air vehicle (Gourley, 2005).
The RQ-11 Raven GCS is designed to perform its task day or night during any type of environments whether it is day or night. Researched fount that the Ground Control Station or unit tends to over-compensate for altitudes when manually operating in urban areas where the temperature is higher than normal in daytime operations. This overcompensation tends to drain its battery and thereby limits operations and can even compromise the operation as well. (Krause, 2012). This phenomenon is a result of the uneven heating of the earth’s surface by solar radiation in which smaller unmanned air vehicles are susceptible to. When this happens the operator receives false signals in the ground control unit dictating him/her to over/under-correct altitude.
Are there any Solutions if any to mitigate the risks posed by these Human factor issues?
Yes. I believe that the handheld Ground Control Unit (GCU) could be designed with a larger screen that displays a miniature airplane that can show the relative positioning of the aircraft. Also, more aircraft control buttons or multi-functioning buttons could be added to the GCU to provide more control of the air vehicle’s movement. Furthermore; upgraded GCU sensors could be implemented to automatically correct altitude when operating in hotter than normal temperatures. Fixing these human factor issues could benefit the platform’s GCU to better serve its human operator and thereby reducing the chances of being involved in a UAS related accident.
Aerovironment Rq-11 Raven Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.avinc.com/uas/view/raven
Army Technologies (2017, April). RQ-11 Raven Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, United States of America. ArmyTechnologies.com, 25(7).Retrieved from: http://www.army-technology.com/projects/rq11-raven/
Buker, T. J., Luxion, S. P., & Williams, K. W. (2012, July). The Design of the UAS Ground Control Station: Challenges and Solutions for Ensuring Safe Flight in Civilian Skies. SAGE JOURNAL, 56(1).Retrieve
Gourley, S. R. (2005, January). Raven UAV. Army, 55(1), 55-56.
Krause, J. J. (2012, October-December). T-UAS operations within urban contingency operations.Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, 30(4), 21-24.
Tvaryanas, A. P., Thompson, W. T., & Constable, S. H. (2006). Human factors in remotely piloted aircraft operations: HFACS analysis of 221 mishaps over 10 years.
Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 77(7),724–732