Image: Google Project Wing
As commercial drone applications continue to grow and demand for airspace increases, there is ongoing concern over air traffic management for civilian low-altitude airspace. This is hindering the massive potential for commercial drone use.
NASA, together with the FAA, has been involved in research for some time now to find a workable solution for Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM). Thanks to a collaboration with Project Wing and AirMap, a groundbreaking development has just been made. They recently showcased their successful solution to the airspace deconfliction safety challenge. Deconfliction is necessary to arrange flightpaths in such a way that collisions are avoided and the more drones in the air, the more important this becomes.
This historic breakthrough was part of the NASA-UTM research project that has been running for a few years already. The collaboration between the parties employs a range of technologies to achieve their success. These include notice and authorization, contingency management, real-time telemetry, rule-based situational awareness, geofencing, airspace conflict resolution, remote airspace management and flight planning. As you can see, it is clearly a massive undertaking and relies on multiple disciplines and a wide range of technology. It is a monumental development that will create a wealth of new opportunities for the commercial drone industry. There is now a practical and workable UTM system in place that will ensure the safety of drone operations.
ANRA technologies together with Project Wing and AirMap successfully tested the UTM TCL3 (technology capability level 3) which included contingency planning, changing weather conditions, failover recovery and remote identification. Multiple drone operations were able to communicate USS-to-USS.
The trial consisted of Project Wing operating a DJI Inspire, Intel Aeros and their own delivery drone while AirMap also used an Intel Aero as well as a senseFly eBee. UTM services were provided by AirMap. Together with Project Wing, the AirMap service made use of distributed, open source peer-to-peer platform. A range of tests were done which included close proximity deliveries and surveys. The exercise was a complete success with the real-time telemetry providing inter-USS communication through the Project Wing and AirMap UTM platform. Safety and compliance were maintained throughout the trial.
The main challenge of TCL3 is getting multiple USS platforms to communicate with each other. Once fully operational, the system will see numerous drones all operating in close proximity while performing a range of commercial and humanitarian functions. These drones will be communicating with various USS platforms. In order to ensure safety and avoid collisions in a crowed low-altitude airspace, perfect real-time communication between USS platforms is essential. The TCL3 trial proves that this is possible and can function effectively with multiple drones operating safely and effectively within the same airspace.
The success of this technology was possible due to the collaboration between public and private sector role players and demonstrates that these partnerships are an important factor in addressing safety and drone control issues. Such developments create huge opportunities for a multitude of important commercial drone applications and will create further growth in the industry. By creating more airspace for commercial drone operations and ensuring it is safely managed, AirMap and their collaborators have achieved a great success for the commercial drone industry.