NASA Completes New Level of Unmanned Traffic Management Testing

NASA just completed the 'Technical Capabilities Level 3' phase of its Unmanned Traffic Management project for drone systems.

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The integration of unmanned aircraft systems into national airspace is a long, continues to be a complicated process. Countless safety precautions and scenarios have to be translated and implemented through countless algorithms using software specifically designed for this new advent of drone-traffic in our skies. Companies like Boeing and Google have been hard at work in developing cohesive unmanned traffic management systems for quite some time now, and fortunately, we hear of significant steps toward drone integration seemingly every other week. NASA’s UAS UTM project, which collaborates with the Federal Aviation Administration at UAS test sites across the country to develop safe and efficient air traffic management, just successfully completed a significant, week-long testing period in Nevada.

According to the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, NASA provided its Flight Information Management System, a software platform the FAA will reportedly use as a prototype in the near future, to UAS partners across the United States to assist in the project. The areas of focus covered throughout NASA's various research and testing phases include communication, navigation, surveillance, data exchange, network solutions, beyond visual line-of-sight cases, and more. The recent testing period in Nevada, labeled as ‘Technical Capability Level 3,’ simulated scenarios that tasked the UTM to operate drones safely and efficiently, simultaneously, above populated airspace.

One of these testing scenarios reportedly simulated an emergency situation in which a victim was undergoing severe blood loss, and needed a highly time-sensitive transfusion. A Drone America UAV was fitted with a container of blood, and deployed to the area in question all while successfully navigating the harsh weather conditions to meet firefighters at the scene, at which first responders would then retrieve the vital payload from the drone to save the victim’s life. While this scenario was simulated, the tech capabilities and successes of the UTM were not. Added to that, these simulated scenarios implemented the live air traffic mapping, radar, and sensor use managed by NASA's software.

“This pioneering work with NASA and the FAA offers further proof that if it is happening in the UAS industry, it is happening here in Nevada,” said Paul Anderson, Executive Director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “With the entire state designated by the FAA as one of only seven UAS test sites in the United States, the role Nevada plays in advancing this life-changing and life-saving technology is truly unique and the experience and expertise located here is unmatched.”

We previously reported on the state of Nevada containing the highest number of registered drones in the country. In regards to the state being FAA-designated as a UAS test site, it’s presumably the vast amount of desert which makes it such prime territory to research and test these aerial vehicles and systems. The TCL 3 phase focused on how cohesively the system processed critical data related to navigation and communication between drones throughout flight missions, with physical space as the primary concern. The goal here, as described by NASA itself, was to maintain safe spacing between drones above fairly populated areas, and to ensure the system responsible for this was sophisticated enough to do so. 

“Our Nevada Teammates did an amazing job working together to successfully complete the first series of major testing for NASA’s TCL 3 Campaign,” said Dr. Chris Walach, Senior Director of Nevada's FAA-designated test site. 

CEO of ANRA Technologies, Amit Ganjoo, said that the testing achieved here was of historical proportions. 

“This was the first real-world attempt whee multiple USS platforms were integrated to manage and de-conflict UAS operations simultaneously in the same region,” said Ganjoo. “Achieving this is a significant accomplishment.” While this may seem like a highly-technical, unimpressive series of software tests, be aware that NASA is at the forefront of preparing our skies for safely managed, efficient drone operations. With collaborations like NASA’s UAS UTM project, we’ll most certainly arrive at that stage much sooner rather than later.