University, businesses team with NASA on UAS traffic management

By Patrick C. Miller | August 13, 2015

The problem of traffic management for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) flying below 500 feet is being tackled by the University of Nevada at Reno, Flirtey and Drone America.

They are participating in the first phase of the NASA Ames UAS Traffic Management (UTM) project which is exploring ways to safely control the airspace where unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), helicopter, gliders and other aircraft operate.

“With all of the many uses being developed for unmanned aerial systems, air traffic nearer to the ground has the potential to become very crowded,” said Warren Rapp, business director for the university’s Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center (NAASIC).

Flirtey—an Australian UAS startup company that calls itself “the world’s first delivery drone delivery service”—and Drone America—a UAS manufacturer headquartered in Reno—will be flying their delivery platforms at NASA test sites in Nevada and California this month. The three organizations are collaborating with NASA to pioneer safe drone delivery and humanitarian applications nationwide.

NAASIC, which is coordinating the industry and university partnership, will work with Flirtey and Drone America on software testing. The tests will occur under NASA’s supervision at a location over which the agency has airspace management authority.

UN Reno is developing software to serve as the communications bridge between UAS and NASA’s traffic management system, enabling safe navigation in airspace that includes corridors, dynamic geofencing, severe weather and wind avoidance, congestion management, terrain avoidance, route planning and re-routing.

“We’ll need to devise a system to make vehicles autonomously aware of each other so they can avoid each other, as well as a system to create traffic ‘patterns’ or navigation protocols that would keep aircraft away from each other in the first place,” said Richard Kelley, an assistant professor, computer scientist and chief engineer for NAASIC.

Kelley is among the NASA partners working to integrate software with the agency’s UTM system to enable real-time development and testing of traffic control systems. The software will connect autonomous vehicles with the NASA servers to conduct simulations.

“Figuring out how to safely enable low-altitude UAS operations is essential for the future of unmanned flight in the United States,” Kelley said.


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