Drones

NASA puts nationwide traffic control system for drones to the test

NASA puts nationwide traffic c...
NASA has been chipping away at its Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) for some time and is now putting the system to the test
NASA has been chipping away at its Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) for some time and is now putting the system to the test
View 2 Images
A few proposals have popped up over the last year aimed at safely integrating drones into US airspace
1/2
A few proposals have popped up over the last year aimed at safely integrating drones into US airspace
NASA has been chipping away at its Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) for some time and is now putting the system to the test
2/2
NASA has been chipping away at its Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) for some time and is now putting the system to the test

If even half of the businesses hankering to get drones into US airspace are successful, the skies will soon be a whole lot busier than they are today. Looking to avert gridlock at altitude, NASA has been working on an air traffic management system for drones and today is carrying out its first coordinated testing, looking to see just how well it accommodates flights at different locations across the country.

The sheer volume of companies looking to drones to deliver packages has led many to consider how the airspace might manage all that incoming traffic. Amazon, Google and Walmart are a few of the more notable parties looking to get in on the action, but the concept of flying robotic couriers has inspired a range of drone delivery startups, too.

A few proposals have popped up over the last year aimed at safely integrating drones into US airspace, including one from Amazon itself. The basic idea is that airspace below 500 ft (152 m), which is where general aviation begins, would be set aside for drones. Within that, you could have a low-speed slice of airspace for hobbyist video drones, for example, while another channel could be dedicated to high-speed delivery drones.

A few proposals have popped up over the last year aimed at safely integrating drones into US airspace
A few proposals have popped up over the last year aimed at safely integrating drones into US airspace

NASA has been chipping away at its Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) for some time. It says a finalized solution might leverage elements of the approach to traffic management on the ground, which includes a system of roads, rules, lights and lanes. In practice, this could translate to airspace corridors, dynamic geofencing to prevent drones wandering off course, and accounting for things like severe weather, congestion and route planning on the fly.

Today for the first time, the agency is putting this system to the test in multiple locations across the US. Up to 24 drones will be set in flight simultaneously, weather permitting, at various test sites approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and will be monitored from the UTM observation room at NASA's Ames Research Center in California.

This will allow drone pilots external to NASA to engage with the UTM from different locations across the country, each flying different types of aircraft with different software clients. Purpose-made UTM displays and apps will be tested at each test site, as the pilots enter flight plans and the UTM checks for conflicts before either accepting or rejecting them.

As far as actual deployment of a drone traffic control system goes, it seems that it is still very much early days. NASA will use the results of these latest tests to continue refining the technology in collaboration with the FAA. Further stages of testing are scheduled over the coming years, which will include investigating how the system performs in densely populated areas and how it can make dynamic adjustments to maintain safe spacing between the drones, both responsive and unresponsive.

Source: NASA

3 comments
Bob Flint
Just as the road systems are difficult or impossible to maintain order, imagine adding the third dimension, and time critical battery life into the equation, not to mention wind and other climatic conditions don't abide by any of the rules we claim to create...
christopher
So to stop things in the whole sky from colliding, you make them all fly in designated corridors? That's literally the exact opposite of the best way to handle this. Typical output from a government really.
habakak
Early days still....but there's plenty of space up there to make this work. And it will. People commenting here think they are more knowledgeable and smart than NASA engineers who has experience with their subject matter.
But until autonomous skyways becomes a reality, the 'flying-car' will also just be fiction. Allowing humans to fly in great numbers in congested skies will NEVER work. And even then, flying-cars will never work in cities. Where will all these things land to drop their payload off in the big cities of the world. Laughable. It will never work, the physical space just does not exist to allow for this.