Since 2015, NASA has been busy collaborating with over 100 partners to develop a safe airspace system that opens up a brand-new world for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). This planned infrastructure is known as NASA’s Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) Program. The program’s goal is to “create a system that can integrate drones safely and efficiently into air traffic that is already flying in low-altitude airspace” (nasa.gov).
UTM varies from traditional air traffic control in several important ways: “UTM is based on digital sharing of each user’s planned flight details. Each user will have the same situational awareness of airspace, unlike what happens in today’s air traffic control” (nasa.gov). Despite their differences, however, both air traffic control and UTM share one common vision: establishing safe airspace for everyone and everything – including drones.
NASA’s UTM Research Phases
Of course, developing a successful UTM program is no small feat. It has taken years of dedicated research and development to investigateand propose solutions that would allow for Unmanned Aircraft Systems to take flight and operate in safe airspace. And how would that airspace be utilized? The options and applications are endless.Drones can be used to deliver packages, take part in surveillance missions, gather data, and capture high-resolution pictures –just to name a few of the relevant applications in which drone technology helps us live our lives better.
In developing a UTM system, then, researchers progressed through four stages known as Technical Capability Levels (TCLs). During TCL1, researchers examined drone applications for agriculture, firefighting, and infrastructure monitoring. They also researched different ways to fly Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles (UAVs) safely, via geofencing and with proper scheduling.
During TCL2, researchers focused on “sparsely populated areas where an operator can’t actually see the drones they’re flying” (nasa.gov), while TCL3 researchers focused on more heavily populated areas – and how to keep drones flying without interfering with other vehicles’ flight paths.
Finally, TCL4 took on one of the most challenging airspaces: urban areas. By incorporating cell phone networks, drone-to-drone communications, weather data, cameras, radar, and more, researchers in the TCL4 phase worked through the unique challenges of airspace above densely populated cities.
What is most promising about all of this research is that when TCL4 wrapped up in August of 2019, NASA researchers shared their information with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in an effort to collaborate and seek ways to merge traditional air traffic control systems with UAS, through a highly coordinated UTM program.
The Potential Benefits of UTM
Many people invested in the UAV space understand the potentially remarkable benefits of a successfully managed UTM program, including:
- Saving money. Some deliveries aren’t large enough to support expensive air transport to get a package from point A to point B. However, using UAVs, itsuddenly becomes possible to make these deliveries without exorbitant expenses.
- Saving time. Instead of trying to get a news van and reporters on the scene of a breaking news story that is unfolding in the middle of a city, UTM could help facilitate coverage via drone. Not only can the drone get to the scene more quickly, but using a UAV also means that the news agency is now capable of capturing high-resolution shots to keep the public informed of important information in real time that might otherwise be impossible to do without drones.
- Ability to fly closer to the ground. Depending upon the application, it’s important to fly close to the ground – something that is not possible with traditional airplanes and helicopters. For example, imagine that a hospital wants to pick up and deliver medical packages quickly and easily. With UTM, a drone could drop off and pick up packages at the hospital, a doctor’s office, or even a patient’s home. In situations where road delivery is difficult, too expensive, or impossible, drones could be a viable solution for efficient deliveries.
- Maintaining safe airspace. Of course, a plan is only as good as its ability to keep everyone in the airspace safe – including traditional air traffic that moves people and cargo from place to place. By adding UAVs to the airspace, the potential for congestion and accidents increases. However, with a well-articulated system like UTM, everyone benefits from this new technology while still operating in safe airspace.
Clearly, there are countless benefits to creating a safe infrastructure for drone technology. To learn more about NASA’s work in this area, visit https://www.faa.gov/uas/research_development/traffic_management/. In the meantime, if these innovations and this new frontier of technology excite you, you don’t need to wait for UTM operations to be completely finalized. Begin to explore what drone technology can do for you by visiting Aerial Response Solutions (ARS).
Aerial Response Solutions combines decades of experience in rotor-wing aviation, public service, and manufacturing excellence, to meet the unique needs of UAV operators, pilots, and regulatory authorities. Unmanned aerial response systems provide companies and organizations with what they need most in our modern world: quick, effective communication, surveillance, and data transmission.
When timely data is critical, our solutions enable your drone services to accomplish any of your goals easily – no matter the situation. Not only do we offer long-range drones/sensors and mobile command/control centers, but we also provide onsite consulting and training for anyone in your organization.
To learn more about our philosophy, drones, and mobile command centers, visit the ARS website at aerialresponsesolustions.com. Or, send us an email through our contact page, which can be found at: aerialresponsesolustions.com/contact.