NASA plans to keep 2.6 million drones from crashing into each other, and they asked Botlink to help.
Acording to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), an estimated 2.6 million commercial Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) will be in service by 2020, which means the airspace is going to get crowded. NASA is leading a project to ensure those UAS, or drones, can safely share the airspace while still doing their jobs effectively. NASA enlisted the help of Botlink and other U.S. drone companies to test its drone traffic management system.
NASA’s UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system works by collecting flight plans and planned operations from several geographically diverse locations, using various aircraft and software. It then checks for conflicts, approves or rejects the flight plans and notifies users of constraints. NASA enlisted the help of Botlink and other U.S. drone companies to test the UTM according to 4 project levels.
Level 1: Botlink feeds NASA UTM live telemetry
Botlink began participating in regional NASA UTM testing at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks, N.D., in summer 2016. During the UTM Technology Capability Level 1 testing, Botlink flew a drone equipped with the Botlink XRD cellular-connected device to feed telemetry data directly into the UTM system. The test lasted three hours with participants flying 24 UAS at various intervals – 22 of the drones flying simultaneously at one point. Botlink successfully integrated its command, control, and safety features into the UTM with insights to help improve application workflows and increase the information for UTM reporting. Botlink also validated concepts of its extended-endurance platform with the Botlink ER-1 aircraft flying 1.5 hours, while achieving some secondary flight control and data analysis objectives as well.
Level 2: Botlink flies beyond visual line of sight
In summer 2017, the Botlink team performed beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) testing using the Botlink XRD cellular telemetry device. An Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) transponder on board the test aircraft transmitted position and telemetry data directly into the ADS-B system and the NASA UTM software. Botlink tested submitting its flight plans before each flight to the UTM software, verifying system operations, testing compliant and non-compliant flights, and emergency scenarios. The UTM research platform checked for conflicts, approved or rejected the flight plans and notified users of constraints. Engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California monitored operations and system load and gathered qualitative feedback to identify capability gaps to further refine the UTM research. The UTM Level 1 and Level 2 testing were proven successful.
More complex testing ahead
NASA says its UTM Level 3, scheduled for January 2018, will test technologies that maintain safe spacing between cooperative (responsive) and non-cooperative (non-responsive) UAS over moderately populated areas. UTM Level 4, with dates to be determined, will focus on UAS operations in higher-density urban areas for tasks like news gathering and package delivery. It will also test technologies that could be used to manage large-scale contingencies. NASA plans to transfer the results of its UTM research to the FAA in 2019 for further testing.
Botlink drone control software progressing with the future
Part of Botlink’s mission is accelerating commercial drone adoption by keeping drone control simple for everyone to use – a task that becomes increasingly difficult with 2.6 million commercial and 7 million total small UAS expected to be in operation by 2020. With that kind of traffic, drone pilots would need to be so focused on maneuvering to avoid collisions or restricted airspace that it would be nearly impossible to get any real work done.
As the UTM research unfolds, Botlink plans to integrate the system into its mission planning and drone control application, enabling drone pilots to easily request low-altitude airspace, submit flight plans and safely capture aerial imagery with a smartphone or tablet while sharing the skies with other UAS and manned aircraft. Commercial drone pilots will need to worry less about flying safely in congested airspace and focus more on integrating drones into their business workflows to improve their bottom lines.