NASA and Uber run unmanned air traffic management tests

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Researchers at NASA and Uber are working together to test an Unmanned Aircraft Traffic Management System.

Unmanned Aircraft Traffic Management Systems (UTMs) will be required to integrate multiple autonomous drones and passenger air vehicles, also known as air taxis, into airspaces.

The joint research project between NASA’s Ames Research Center and Uber, involves running tests using the latest in airspace management computer modeling and simulation to assess the impacts of small aircraft in crowded environments.

The research aims to identify the kinds of data and information necessary for UTMs, where multiple operators will need to fly safely together in the airspace. The teams at Ames and at Uber are connecting their computer systems and running through different scenarios that UAM operators might encounter.

One scenario being simulated focuses on coordinating scheduling of different flights prior to takeoff, for example; another on coordinating different elements of an emergency landing situation.

The computer simulations of air traffic around the Dallas-Fort Worth airport do no require pilots, aircraft or air traffic controllers. Instead the simulations use highly automated algorithms for managing city-going air vehicles in the airspace.

The evaluation will help the teams understand how to adapt small-drone architecture and UTM services and discover what additional data the new system will need to provide. For example, NASA and Uber researchers found it was necessary to communicate the specific times when their respective UAM flights were expected to cross route intersection points and how much buffer around those times was needed to allow for unexpected events during flight.

The system being tested is based on tests that involved human users that took place at Ames in September 2018.

NASA said that while this year’s evaluation test was with Uber, it intends to collaborate with many partners and ensure airspace operations will meet the needs of multiple use cases in the future.

NASA is developing unmanned airspace management systems under a  “Grand Challenge”, including physical tests such as the Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management Pilot Program at sites in Nevada, Dakota and Virginia.

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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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