NASA has finished a successful demonstrations of its unmanned aerial systems traffic management (UTM) system, GCN’s Mark Pomerleau reports.
An air traffic control system for drones, NASA’s UTM has been in development with PrecisionHawk and other industry partners. While tests of the system were reported earlier in the year, a first level implementation may be close for specific industry segments.
NASA reports that the UTM will offer four progressive levels of technology, and will include different capabilities and components depending upon the use case and environment.
Technical Capability Level One, which includes commercial drone applications in agriculture, firefighting and construction or infrastructure, are designed for rural applications. The Level One capabilities would allow drone operators to file flight plans, also allowing them access to other nearby flights. This first stage focuses on flight plan application and approval, but PrecisionHawk and other technology partners have also tested real-time obstacle avoidance and flight communications.
GCN’s article says that Tyler Collins, Managing Director of Airspace Safety at PrecisionHawk, indicates that the first level of the UTM is ready to be deployed. PrecisionHawk’s own Low Altitude Traffic and Airspace Safety (LATAS) system is already in use commercially.
NASA told attendees at a UTM convention earlier this year that each capability level is independent: the next level will involve flights outside of operator line of sight, and those tests are scheduled for 2016. The final stage of the system, for heavily populated or urban environments, is not expected to be tested until 2019.
NASA has developed implementation and integration guidelines for deploying UTM in rural environments, and the project now stands with the FAA for further testing. The FAA will ultimately decide when the system will be integrated. While drone safety technology for object avoidance, geofencing, and traffic management has developed rapidly the regulatory environment for commercial drone applications has not; and it remains to be seen if NASA’s recent tests will result in a usable system for the commercial drone industry.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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