January 2, 2022

SkyGRID In Detail

Introduction;

Welcome to this introduction of the latest innovation from PilotAware Ltd.

You have landed on the moderately technical explanation of what PilotAware SkyGRID does which should take about 10 minutes to read and understand. This version includes some information on how we achieve the improvements as well as what they are. If you just want to understand what it does, please go to the short version. The short version takes just about 3 minutes to read and is available by clicking here.    

At PilotAware we believe that the journey towards the ultimate in Electronic Conspicuity (EC) will only be completed through continuous innovation, using the power and the flexibility of all available technologies. This includes ground station technology, and all other innovations available. The ability to detect ‘Anything Anywhere’ is, without a doubt, the future for interoperable EC.  

What we have achieved together so far is good, but it is just the start. The PilotAware 20220101 software release includes PilotAware SkyGRID, which allows users to take a giant step along the EC  journey.  

How can PilotAware be so innovative?;

Apart from the obvious, the answer is that PilotAware equipment contains a powerful computer installed in all equipped aircraft. This gives the user access to intelligent EC solutions over and above the relatively unintelligent, point to point, operation of traditional EC devices.  

Examples of some intelligent solutions provided by PilotAware are;  

The following diagram shows how the PilotAware in-cockpit Rosetta EC device provides this intelligence using;  

  1. A powerful inbuilt 64bit single board computer,  
  2. A 1090MHz  aviation frequency receiver.
  3. Memory to permanently archive useful flight data,  
  4. A regulated but unlicensed ISM band transmitter and receiver.

Most importantly, the latter gives access to the powerful PilotAware servers via over 230 ATOM ground stations, the network of which is growing at over 2 new sites a week.

The ATOM stations themselves also include powerful computers that are themselves connected to the very powerful PilotAware servers, via an advanced Software Defined Network that provides encryption, redundancy and low latency.

The following, Fig1,  shows how all the PilotAware network nodes, (Rosetta, ATOM Stations and Servers) are connected together to produce the complete, highly intelligent, PilotAware infrastructure.    

 

Fig 1 PilotAware Network infrastructure  

The interaction between the nodes results in an intelligent network that is much more than just dumb Electronic Conspicuity that transmits and receives a beacon on a single frequency. It acts as a mediation device providing as much interoperability as possible between the different systems in use today. This is how PilotAware can see more EC types than any other EC device available and will continue to do so.

Why then do we need PilotAware SkyGRID to improve on what we have today?

In the UK, over 230 ATOM ground stations have been installed and a further 170 are planned to be installed by the end of 2022. As the network grows this is proving to be extremely efficient and resilient due to the redundancy inherent in the distributed and connected network. 400 stations would probably cover the majority of the UK if it was flat.  

 

Unfortunately, the UK is not like that. Topographical and meteorological features get in the way of the perfect model. This results in occasions when low flying aircraft become out of range of the ground station network. This is a known issue with the use of existing centralised systems such as the primary and secondary RADAR systems used by Air Traffic Control. Whilst the latter is excellent for use in controlled airspace this generally only comes to ground level at major airports so its inability to detect aircraft at very low levels is accepted.  

However, this is not the case for GA and unmanned aircraft, which are prolific between 0 and 1500ft above ground level, especially in uncontrolled airspace. So an efficient workable solution is required for low-level detection.  

It is possible to use satellites to look down and see both sides of a mountain or that space behind the gasworks but for General Aviation satellites are impracticable and expensive. So a more realistic and innovative way is needed. Our solution to this is PilotAware SkyGRID.

We don’t have satellites but we do have lots and lots of in-flight intelligent Rosetta units connected to the PilotAware servers via the ATOM Stations. In the period between September 1st and December 14th 2021 over 8000 unique aircraft were detected flying with PilotAware. This is not 8000+ flights but 8000+ unique aircraft the vast majority of which will have flown multiple times.  

During the hours of daylight, there are hundreds of PilotAware units flying at heights above 1500 ft. An aircraft with a correctly installed PilotAware Rosetta unit will transmit and receive 30+km. This provides a relatively interrupted, coverage of @2800 sq. km.

With the latest software installed, every PilotAware Rosetta is given Ground Station like intelligence to become a valuable airborne asset that will

  1. Collect data on all aircraft that it can see directly.
  2. Collect data that is rebroadcast from in-range ground stations.
  3. Communicate with all other PilotAware users.
  4. Detect those that are not communicating with an ATOM ground station. (Stranded)
  5. Relay the location of any Stranded PilotAware user to the ATOM GRID Network  

Relay useful ATOM station information to the stranded aircraft.

Put simply, if a PilotAware SkyGRID equipped aircraft receives a signal from another aircraft that it isn’t in range of a ground station, for any reason, it is regarded as a stranded aircraft.  When this happens the receiving aircraft will relay the position of the stranded aircraft to the ground station and relay information of all local aircraft to the stranded aircraft as well.  Brilliant!

The following diagrams illustrate how this works.

Step 1 Normal Operation.

Step 2 The lower aircraft flies out of base station range and becomes stranded.

Step 3 The higher flying aircraft detects this and relays the stranded aircraft's position to the ATOM station.

Step 4The higher flying aircraft relays all data relevant to the stranded aircraft so it is effectively now back in range.

Step 5 The process continues until the stranded aircraft becomes in range of an ATOM base Station.  

The Advantages;  

With PilotAware SkyGRID software installed, the probability of you not receiving information on Flarm Equipped or Mode-S aircraft is vastly reduced. In the UK, we understand that there are approximately 12,000 aircraft with Mode-S and up to 3000 aircraft installed with Flarm. Although many aircraft will have both, this is a significant amount of aircraft.

The effective range of all base stations will be increased as high flying aircraft will be able to increase the range by 20Kms or so. This range improvement will be noticed mostly on the fringe of the ATOM GRID Network.

Topographical obscuration will be reduced as shown above.

PilotAware SkyGRID relays more aircraft information to the ATOM stations than would normally be detected and this is also passed to the PilotAware servers.

PilotAware SkyGRID provides further system redundancy for ATOM stations temporarily offline for any reason.

PilotAware SkyGRID helps to remove airframe obscuration from badly designed EC installations.

PilotAware SkyGRID provides the basis for our next Innovation to be launched later in 2022.

Summary;

The introduction of PilotAware SkyGRID moves the art of Electronic Conspicuity to another level. This is only possible due to the power of the distributed computers throughout the PilotAware infrastructure providing intelligence at every stage. By installing the latest PilotAware software revision you will not only be automatically relaying data to those that need it, but you will also benefit by receiving data when you get stranded. All ATOM stations have been upgraded to provide the service.

When you have downloaded the latest software PilotAware SkyGRID will be an automatic feature that requires no configuration and no hardware change. However to get the maximum out of PilotAware SkyGRID please ensure that you have your Rosetta device positioned optimally especially if it is used as a carry on device. You can check this by using PilotAware VECTOR for free. Better still permanently install your Rosetta or Classic unit using an internal or external installation kit. This will hide all the wires, improve the performance and set you up for that next innovation coming soon.

Does your current EC device provide you with all the PilotAware innovation with the ability to provide more? If not come and join us at PilotAware and see all the other aircraft that you are missing.

Download the latest software using the PilotAware Installer app now.

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Team PilotAware  

January 2022

Continuously Improving Electronic Conspicuity Through Innovation.