Developing a Drone Management Solution
A case study of developing a backend application for a US-based provider of Drone FlightManagement services.
At the time they approached Backendless as a US-based technology startup, DroneUp LLC was looking to develop a comprehensive Drone Management solution to be used for a wide range of commercial purposes. The company was in search for a no-code platform to help them build their mission-critical drone management solution faster and, therefore, more cost-efficiently. Presently, our Client is an unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry leader and one of the US’s premier complete providers of drone flight services. The company is dedicated to drone innovation, holding proprietary mobile UAS management technology.
DroneUp caters to a wide range of industries, including the Public Sector, Agriculture, Energy & Utilities, Construction, Facilities Management, Research & Development, Oil & Gas, Commercial Real Estate, and multiple other verticals. They offer each of these industries a complete industry-customized drone solution, consisting of an array of end-to-end data collection services. Among others, these services include Construction Site Aerial Photography, Plant Count & Concentration, Multispectral Crop Health Analysis, Property Management Inspection, Telecom Tower Inspection, and Solar Farm Mapping.The range of the solutions and services our Client extends to the Public Sector comprises Aerial Inspection & Mapping, Emergency Support Services, Law Enforcement Support, Agency Media Relations & Marketing, and more. In addition, DroneUp provides Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), consulting, and pilot training and licensing services.
The Client needed to develop a complex drone flight management solution that would help drone pilots carry out drone flights, obtain corresponding authorizations, and enable cooperation between drone pilots and companies that need their services. The solution consisted of a web application, a mobile application, and a backend. The solution needed to be highly scalable and fully compliant with FAA regulations. The development of the backend, web, and mobile functionality of the solution has been handled by three different development teams.
We have been working with the Client for more than 4 years, having taken over their backend development effort soon after their project’s commencement in 2017. The project has been managed by the Client’s technical and business stakeholders. We established a very good working relationship both with them and with the other two development teams involved in the project’s implementation. Agile (Scrum, Waterfall) was chosen as the main development approach for the project. Initially, the Client decided to use the Backendless Pro no-code platform to create their backend solution for their system on their own and then modify it as new business needs arose. However, after a while, due to the high degree of complexity of their system, the Client decided in favor of employing the services of our development team to expedite the development process.
Our involvement in the project started with assigning just 1 full-time developer to it. Later on, this engineer was joined by another Backendless developer. By 2019, our project team had delivered the bulk of the system’s backend functionality for corporate clients. Ever since, only 1 of our software engineers has continued working on the project. During this time, this engineer has largely been engaged in adding functionality for drone pilots and customizing the system for DroneUp’s new clients.
As a result, we have delivered a powerful and ultimately scalable backend solution that fully and flexibly supports the Client’s mobile and web applications in providing wide-ranging and diverse functionality. At present, the functionality we’ve delivered constitutes 90% of the Client system’s backend.The web application of the Client’s solution allows the System Administrator to create a drone flight mission, view all existing missions, and adjust these missions’ parameters. They can view all the tasks related to a mission, check the status of the mission, and see the budget allocated to it. The System Administrator can display a list of the pilots who have joined a mission. One can also see whether the mission has been rendered valid by the system, i.e. whether it has been joined by a sufficient number of pilots for it to be carried out. In addition, it is possible to insure a mission and provide both preflight training and pilot support during a mission. The user can scan the mission result and upload this result into the system from the solution’s mobile app. The application allows one to do flight planning up to 90 days in advance.
Another capability the application provides is the ability for the pilot to verify if any insurance is available for their FAA-authorized plans. The app also allows searching for drone flight jobs and managing flight certificates that are mandatory for commercial missions.
Developing the system’s LAANC functionality has become a major challenge for our engineers and a great opportunity for us to show our analytical skills, development speed, and software engineering expertise. This functionality focuses on providing pilots with access to controlled airspace (at or below 400 feet), gives air professionals visibility as to whether there are any drones currently operating in or close to the controlled airspace, and provides the latter with the platform to notify pilots about changes to their authorizations. Since in the United States the airspace realm is strictly regulated, LAANC-related software must be certified. Correspondingly, the Client’s system did not only need to be delivered against an extremely tight deadline, but also needed to be developed in compliance with a host of very stringent regulatory requirements. We have come on top of both these challenges. The mobile application of the Client’s drone management solution is intended for drone pilots. The user can create a flight plan using multiple parameters, and have this plan approved in real-time by submitting it into the system. The system validates the plan against the information on the prohibited areas it has at its disposal, and either suggests amendments to the user’s flight plan, or forwards the plan for further approval by the FAA.The client-facing functionality of DroneUp’s web application, intended for the company’s corporate clients, is currently under development.
Our technical solution for the project included the following technologies and tools:
- Frontend: Angular
- Testing: Mocha
- Integrations: Auth0, Algolia, Mandrill, Sendbird, MongoDB, Firebase.
- Platform: The Backendless Pro no-code platform
The project’s technical highlights, illustrative of the high level of our software development expertise, include implementing the solution’s multithreading functionality, developing the functionality for sending delayed notifications by email, and migrating a part of the Client’s data to the Mongo Database without causing any disruption to the company’s normal operation.
We delivered a significant part of the solution that has allowed our Client to dramatically scale up their operation and become one of the UAS industry’s leading companies in the United States.The Client has been able to have the solution certified by the FAA twice since the system went live. Currently, the solution is used by approximately 20,000 pilots, 10,000 of whom are FAA-certified to carry out commercial missions.
Furthermore, the Client’s corporate customer base is actively growing, and they’ve recently been able to attract a very major and well-known account from the Retail industry.