NASA has launched 24 drones in a test of the UAS Traffic Management (UTM) platform. The largest test so far of the system involved 24 drones flying simultaneously at 6 FAA test sites across the country.
Media viewing the test from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California watched as drone operators at the six sites entered their planned flight operations; the UTM system checked plans for conflicts, accepted or rejected the flight plans and notified the drone operators.
The test represents a step forward for the drone industry. NASA has created the UTM in partnership with drone companies and the FAA; a robust system of traffic management for drones is a critical step in full integration of commercial drones into the NAS.
NASA says that this test represents several “firsts” for the UTM platform: for instance, it is the first multi-site test coordinated across all six FAA test sites, and it tests the most simultaneous, live drone flights under the platform.
“The purpose of this test is for operators outside NASA from all six FAA test sites to interact with the UTM research platform at geographically diverse locations, using various aircraft and different software clients to test rural, within line-of-sight UAS operations so that NASA, in collaboration with the FAA, can obtain information to further refine and develop the research,” says a NASA statement.
The UTM platform has been in development for some time. Working in collaboration with technology companies, research institutions, and other government agencies NASA has been developing and testing the system on a smaller scale for over a year.
In an effort to speed up the pace of regulation, Amazon and Google have proposed their own systems for managing drone traffic, but a system developed by NASA and the FAA with industry input may have the best chance for widespread adoption.
NASA says that it will pass the results of the UTM project to the FAA by 2019 for further testing and development. If today’s test proves successful, the drone industry may have made a step forward towards drone delivery and other widespread commercial drone applications.