Bay Area SDR Hackfest Day Three:
We Have Lift Off!

We’ve hit our stride this week at the DARPA Bay Area SDR Hackfest and are beginning to see concrete signs of progress from the Hackfest teams. The UAV hangar was buzzing with activity as teams became more comfortable testing out their solutions to the Hackfest Missions. While we still witnessed a few crashes and technical missteps, there were encouraging signs of teams starting to get a handle of their combined UAV/SDR solutions.

Similar to yesterday, the midday Brainstorming Session brought attendees, teams, and on-site experts together to discuss challenges, opportunities, and successes. A few of the team leaders shared what their teams have been working on over the past two days and asked the audience for additional suggestions or thoughts on how they could improve or advance their approach. Given that one of the central missions of the Hackfest is to engage a community and foster this type of collaboration, the discussions were beyond encouraging. We also heard about projects that are taking place outside of the Hackfest, like the work being done at Northeastern University to build a ceiling array of SDR that provides a test bed for GPS denied and jamming environments. This effort and others like it are a positive sign for the continued advancement of the SDR community and the growing importance of challenges facing UAV operations.

Our third night of Lightning Talks introduced us to a company that helps detect and prevent drones from entering into a protected space, and the thought provoking work happening at Northeastern University around the use of SDR for its application in providing communications for wearables and implants, including coupling weak electric current into tissues.

As the day came to a close, our focus shifted to UAV/UAS technology as our two keynotes took the stage. Parimal “PK” Kopardekar, a principal investigator of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) at NASA was our first speaker. He discussed the investigative work NASA is doing around the potential need for a UAS traffic management (UTM) system for low-altitude airspace based on the increased use of UAS for myriad of commercial and military use – from retail delivery to agriculture monitoring. PK walked us through some of the current findings from this effort, including the impact weather has on UAS and the harm of inconsistent altitude reporting. He discussed how these and other factors are impacting the development and structure of a possible UTM and what the future of airspace management might look like.

Chris Anderson, CEO of 3DR, founder and chairman of the Linux Foundation’s Dronecode Project, and founder of the DIY Drones and DIY Robocars communities, closed out the night. He discussed the rapid rise of his UAV company, which was essentially born from the idea that UAV componentry and devices could and should cost less. After getting off to a strong start, his company was disrupted by competitors who were able to create even cheaper parts and services. The situation was not unique – we’re increasingly seeing other players in the industry impacted by these very same economic pressures and competitive price cutting techniques. Through his experience however, Chris learned that a single focus on price isn’t the best business plan and that there are better ways of cost-effectively offering and advancing UAV technology. In his current role at Dronecode, his focus is now on the development of secure, open source UAV software that benefits from the collaboration and knowledge sharing of the UAV community. Chris shared interesting perspectives on the commercial side of the industry, pulling from the lessons he’s learned through his own experiences.

That’s a wrap on Day Three! Come back tomorrow for more news from the ground floor of the Hackfest.