Unmanned Traffic Management Project to pave the way for commercial drone use - COPTRZ
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Unmanned Traffic Management Project to pave the way for commercial drone use

Kevin Gillespie

7:46 am GMT •

September 11, 2020

The latest development from the Connected Places Catapult could pave the way for commercial drone use in the UK

We are always excited to see drone research innovation and development that could increase drone use, and help our customers develop their businesses. The most recent news from the Connected Places Catapult On their Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) Project is particularly exciting, as it could greatly open up a broad variety of sectors to commercial drone use, and pave the way for routine drone use for many purposes.

In this article, we take a look at the project, the challenges it aims to address, and the next steps for commercial drone innovation in the UK.

What is the Unmanned Traffic Management project?

A new drone-based project in the UK, described by many as ‘groundbreaking’ could pave the way to commercial drone operations. The project is looking to build and subsequently show how Open-Access UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) capabilities could allow drone operation below 400 feet to operate in the UK and all across the world.

The project is a Connected Places Catapult and is a collaboration between national and international players in the drone sector to help create an Open-Access Unmanned Traffic System framework for drones that would be world-leading and first of its kind.

Chief Executive Officer at Wing, James Ryan Burgess, said:

“Drones and the services they provide present significant benefits to the United Kingdom, supporting emergency response, reducing emissions and air pollution and increasing access to food, medicine and other goods. We’re pleased to be joining the Catapult project to advance the safe and open use of the airspace and look forward to bringing our global experience to enable a scalable and low-cost Unmanned Traffic System architecture that can support the volume and diversity of unmanned aviation.”

The project is exciting for many reasons, but particularly as it could be a huge step in opening up the commercial drones market and improving knowledge sharing between drone innovators in both government and industry.

UTM

What is Connected Places Catapult?

The Connected Places Catapult is a series of programmes designed to accelerate intelligent living and travel in cities across the world. The project works with start-ups and growing businesses that have a focus on innovation in mobility services, allowing for advancement in digital, social and physical connectedness.

Connected Places facilitates collaboration between both the public sector and the private sector, and includes transport authorities and local government. The Connected Spaces Catapult addresses one of the key difficulties with drone innovation in the UK – lack of collaboration.

The projects vision statement says:

“We convene the disparate parts of the market to help innovators navigate the complexity of doing business, creating new commercial opportunities and improving productivity, socio-economic and environmental benefits for places.”

The vision of the project is ambitions, but it continues to make admirable progress towards a more connected world. Over the course of the last five years, The Connect Spaces Catapult has worked on more than 25 projects in cities all over the world. The overarching vision for the Catapult is based on the idea that connection is the most important factor in innovation. Through connecting communities, citizens, both private and public stakeholders, as well as systems and infrastructures; languages; data and information, we can create a more innovative and advanced world of tomorrow.

Ted Lester, Chief Technologist, AiRXOS explained:

“After participating in the successful 2019-2020 effort with Connected Places Catapult to develop a framework for Unmanned Traffic System in the UK, AiRXOS looks forward to demonstrating with peer Unmanned Traffic System service providers safe, efficient, and economical UAS airspace integration to accelerate the beneficial use of UAS in the UK and around the world.”

The Connected Places Catapult to open pathways to commercial drone operations in the UK

One of the Connected Places Catapult’s most recent projects has been commissioned by the Department for Transport, and has the admirable aim of setting the foundations that could create a safe flying environment in the UK for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). A key part of this project will be allowing for effective sharing of airspace between UAS, manned aircraft and Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone operations.

Principal Technologist at the Connected Places Catapult, Dr. Ajay Modha, stated:

“This is an exciting opportunity to demonstrate a UK-specific Unmanned Traffic System ecosystem and represents a key step in lowering the technology and operational barriers for UAS operations. A key objective is to demonstrate how this capability can support near term and future markets needs and ambitions. As Phase 2 of the Future Flight Challenge kicks-off, a key aim of this project is to provide greater insight and actionable data to the UAS community who may be tackling Unmanned Traffic System for the first time”.

The new project is a collaboration between the Connected Places Catapult, AiRXOS (part of GE Aviation), Altitude Angel, ANRA Technologies, Collins Aerospace and Wing. The project will build Open-Access Unmanned Traffic System (Unmanned Traffic Management) capability that can support drone operations below 400ft, and demonstrate its abilities. The opportunity for countries across the world that are able to support commercial drone operations is immense. It is estimated that the commercial drone sector could be worth £127 billion worldwide. However, Unmanned Traffic System is one of the most fundamental factors to ensure safe integration and operation of drones.

UTM

Principal strategic development manager at Collins Aerospace, Sean Camilleri, said:

“This ground-breaking program gives us the opportunity to test out the most prominent emerging standards and theories of UAS traffic management and put them to the test in collaboration with our peers. Successful trials will enable us to move another step closer to unlocking the full social and economic benefits of beyond visual line of sight drone operations in the UK”.

As you can see, the project couples building on existing research and carrying out extensive research into best practice, along with practical field trials.

On being chosen to take part in the Connected Places Catapult project, Richard Ellis, Altitude Angel, Chief Business Officer commented:

“We are delighted to continue to work with CPC to continue validation of the Open Unmanned Traffic System framework we pioneered in 2019. The live trials will benefit significantly from Altitude Angel’s existing extensive API’s and experience of providing production services across the world. We believe this will form a solid foundation for the UK to establish repeatable and scalable drone operations.”

What is involved in the Unmanned Traffic management project?

The project is principally a research and development operation, which aims to build the following:

  • Principal architectural features
  • Key services
  • Communications interfaces

Each of these components will then be tested using simulations, before proceeding to field trials. There are already existing platforms and standards in place, but this project aims to accelerate innovation by building on these systems and platforms.

The project will build a developmental system allowing innovators to explore drone operations and Unmanned Traffic System and identify the next stages in research and development. An important principal of this project is knowledge transfer, to both government and industry. Knowledge transfer, collaboration and sharing has typically been a barrier to drone development and innovation, but this project aims to facilitate open communication.

CEO and Founder of ANRA Technologies UK Pvt Limited, Amit Ganjoo, said:

“The UK is rapidly becoming a global leader in advancing commercial drone technologies. We are honoured to have contributed to all Connected Places Catapult Open-Access Unmanned Traffic System Research and Development Programmes and are excited to commence live-flight testing in pursuit of a safe, interoperable, and efficient traffic management system,”

This project is putting the UK at the forefront of drone research, development, regulation and use. We are pleased to see such a project developing in the UK, and we hope that we will soon see movement towards field trial and successful test cases. Successful test cases and uses are essential in building public and commercial support for drone use, and will be an important part of this project and others.

UTM - Innovators Magazine

Image from Innovators Magazine.

The Challenges of Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM)

We are living in an increasingly automated world, and the potential for drones to play in a part in that world grows every day. We envision many possibilities for drones, from carrying out dangerous inspections in the rail, nuclear and oil & gas industries, to carrying out commercial deliveries.

The scope of drone use and drone projects so far has been immense. However, for routine, regular and widespread use to progress, there needs to be a safe operating environment. The environments in which drones operate are often complex, and airspaces can be congested. To ensure that drones can operate safely, a comprehensive Unmanned Traffic System (UTM) must be in place.

Principal Strategic Development Manager at Collins Aerospace, Sean Camilleri, said:

“This ground-breaking program gives us the opportunity to test out the most prominent emerging standards and theories of UAS traffic management and put them to the test in collaboration with our peers. Successful trials will enable us to move another step closer to unlocking the full social and economic benefits of beyond visual line of sight drone operations in the UK”.

In a recent white paper titled ‘Towards a UTM system for the UK’ , Connected Places Catapult set out a detailed concept framework for an Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) infrastructure that would operate nationwide. The white paper also set out in extensive detail, the reasons why a comprehensive Unmanned Traffic System framework is vital, and a number of fundamental principles that need to be observed to make the most of the Unmanned Traffic System framework.

Unmanned Traffic System development is integral to the widespread roll-out of drone use, and bridges the gaps in infrastructure that must be filled before the market can fully realise its potential for successful drone operation.

The challenges Unmanned Traffic System seeks to address includes:

  • Enabling strategic, collaborative deconfliction
  • Defining the airspace environment to allow for situation awareness
  • Tactical separation and deconfliction
  • Restricted zones and geofencing
  • Enabling flexibility in the use of very low-level airspace
  • Challenges with Ecosystem Complexity

One of the major challenges for UTM is that is as a safety-critical industry, it requires the collaboration and consensus of many different stakeholders. However, this makes design and in turn the development process more complex, particularly in relation to the automation of traffic functions. To address these specific issues, starting the Open-Access UTM architectural studies, concept design and technology identification has been vital in gathering consensus and in turn, minimising the risks involved in future research.

Economic Challenge

The stakes are high when it comes to drone industry development. UTM is an essential step in the process and could potentially unlock billions of pounds of revenue for the UK. However, at present, it is not entirely clear how the industry will be commercialised. There will need to be a plan going forward for integration between costs and revenue when it comes to UTM, including considering existing air users in unmanned or manned aircraft.

Challenges in Technology

The next phase in the development of Unmanned Traffic Management will generate service driven and data rich systems. The next generation of technology will be built with the expertise of large-scale IT infrastructure. It is anticipated that the scale will be similar to that used to run global IT businesses such as Facebook and Netflix. The key to running these IT powerhouses, is measuring performance based on daily active users and data usage. However, exceptional cybersecurity is necessary to protect the data of users and will become an essential part of UTM development.

Commercial Drone Use in the UK

If you are looking to utilise drones in your business or project, chat to our team about how we can help you. We have helped many businesses realise their full potential using drone technology, across a broad variety of sectors including defence, hospitals and medical supplies, events business, photography and the wedding sector, radio and television, sports, tourism, real estate and many many more.

When you contact us we will listen to the scope and requirements of your project, and then make recommendations on the best drone solution for you. We also offer drone training, making us a one-stop solution for starting to use drones in your business. Contact us today.

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