Urban Skyways Project removing fear of UAVs, revealing sky routes

By Luke Geiver | November 13, 2014

Skyward, a Portland-based software developer for the unmanned aircraft systems industry (UAS), is demonstrating how unmanned aerial vehicles can interact with the highway of the sky. The company recently formed a partnership with several UAS manufacturers, along with 4 major urban cities to complete a series of UAV flight demonstrations that will highlight the safe operational capabilities of UAVs in conjunction with emergency responders, community vehicles and airspace professionals.

Starting in 2015, Skyward will help to coordinate the demonstrations in Portland, Vancouver, London and Las Vegas under the project name, Urban Skyways. “We want to demonstrate that there will be a set of virtual highways in the sky (using the Skyward systems). They will be geo-fenced corridors that designate the rules of the road to human beings and autopilots,” Jonathan Evans, CEO, said. “We are going to show how autopilot can interact with those and not go outside of those virtual lanes.”

Each city will showcase demonstrations that will include drone deliveries, emergency response capabilities, infrastructure inspection and network coordination. In Las Vegas, Evans and his team will work with the mayor and city officials on an emergency response scenario involving the fire department. In London, UAVs will be used to monitor and assess infrastructure and bridges. In Vancouver, pharmaceuticals will be delivered and in Portland, the project will showcase the networking options for UAVs in a sky highway system.

The list of partners involved in the project to date is impressive, and include: 3DRobotics, Accuas, City of Las Vegas, City of Portland, DJI Innovations, Drone Deploy, NASA, Pix4D, Sky-Futures and Skyward.

“The airspace is a great place to build a new highway,” said Evans. “Bringing together global partners solidifies the magnitude of this project, and is the first step in enabling the aerial robotics network and realizing its potential.”

All flights will be underwritten by Global Aerospace. The flights will also be compliant with jurisdictional regulations and operate under appropriate authorization, the company said, including: certificate of authorization issued by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration; special flight operation certificates from Transport Canada; and the permission to operate small unmanned aircraft from United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority.

Skyward provides software for flight operations, insurance compliance checklists, asset management and more to UAV pilots and companies. Accuas, a Canadian-based UAV commercial operator uses the Skyward platform for its “risk management and communications between everyone involved, from management to field personnel, to regional and federal regulators,” according to Scott McTavish, president of Accuas.

Michael Perry, DJI spokesman, said the Urban Skyways Project will offer a first step in creating a comprehensive system “to keep the skies both safe and innovative for every level of UAV pilot.”

Sky-Futures, a UAV inspection firm that specializes in oil and gas inspections, said the project represents the future of the airspace. “Sky-Futures looks forward to helping show the world how drone technology can be a force for good,” the company said.

“We are going to demonstrate that there are safety optimized routes that mitigate risks and that there are safe ways to do this with the same standards of aviation safety we have all come accustomed too,” Evans said. The project will to show “that these aren’t machines to be feared but that they are going to be empowering and can be tools just like smartphones in our hands.”