Future-drone airspace management system tested at Nevada airport

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The Reno fire department simulated an emergency blood transfusion

Multiple drones have been flown over the Reno-Stead Airport in Nevada during a week-long testing period of airspace management technologies that will enable the safe integration of drones into the USA’s national airspace system.

The Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS), which manages the Nevada UAS test sites and its NASA Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) partners, flew several drones under NASA’s Flight Information Management System (FIMS) research platform. FIMS will serve as a future prototype system for the FAA to coordinate drone companies operating throughout the USA.

Research areas of emphasis during the NASA TCL (Technical Capability Level) 3 test campaign included drone-ground control interfacing to locally manage operations, communication, navigation, surveillance, human factors, data exchange, network solutions and BVLOS (beyond visual line-of-sight) architecture.

As well as the flight capability of different drones, traffic mapping, sensor and radar technology were tested by connecting them through a NASA Unmanned Service Supplier (USS) network to the NASA Ames research center.

For example, during a media day, a team from the Reno Fire Department simulated an incident with a victim experiencing severe blood loss and who needed an immediate transfusion. A multi-rotor drone from Drone America was equipped with a container holding a packet of blood to be transported via drone. Despite high winds and frigid temperatures, the drone successfully landed in the designated landing area so that firefighters could retrieve the blood packet and begin the faux transfusion.

Chris Walach, the senior director of NIAS and the FAA-designated Nevada UAS test site, said, “Advanced flight and highly technical scenarios like drone detection, surveillance of critical infrastructure, and aerial package delivery of critical first responder medical supplies, to the important NASA data interoperability protocols that will eventually form the backbone of the UTM system, were tested. We focused heavily on communications, navigation and surveillance to produce critical data for the NASA TCL 3 campaign.

Arwa Aweiss, NASA’s UTM TCL3 flight test director, said, “NASA, the FAA, and its partners including NIAS, are working diligently to extend many of the beneficial applications of small UAS beyond the current limitations in an environment that embraces innovation and industry growth while respecting aviation safety traditions.”

Amit Ganjoo, CEO of drone operations and traffic management company Anra Technologies, said, “We’re so happy to have been a part of this event with NASA, the FAA and NIAS as it took us closer to a real UTM solution for safe integration of drones into the National Airspace System.

“This was the first real world attempt where multiple USS platforms were integrated to manage and de-conflict UAS operations simultaneously in the same region. Achieving this is a significant accomplishment and we are excited to have played a central role in this exercise along with the other participants.”

April 5, 2018

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 16 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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