Monitoring the Unmanned Skies

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Drone - unmanned aircraftAt the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Symposium in Florida, the first hosted by the Federal Aviation Administration, administrators Michael Huerta and Michael Whitaker explained where the agency is headed with regard to UAS. FAA decision-makers asserted their agency’s commitment to the safe, timely, and efficient integration of unmanned technology. Huerta and others also said that the FAA is taking the conversation of necessary and extraneous regulation very seriously.

As eager innovators conceive new uses for unmanned aircraft — including search and rescue, farm monitoring, surveying, infrastructure inspection, and more — the skies could become increasingly crowded with personal and commercial unmanned aircraft. This could pose more safety concerns as pilot reports of encounters with unmanned aircraft reported to the FAA have risen dramatically in just the past year.

Drones and other unmanned aircraft help as well as hinder. Highly publicized problems —such as firefighters forced to halt desperate firefighting operations due to a drone entering their airspace, for example — have the FAA pressing onward for clearly defined standards and regulations.

At the symposium, Huerta discussed the FAA’s UAS partnership with NASA to test various systems, including the administration’s UAS Traffic Management program focused on geofencing, altitude rules, and trajectory scheduling. These types of UAS integrations are critical developments and strong indicators of the engagement with and acceptance of UAS into the U.S. airspace system.

More than one autopilot solution is being developed. The University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering and Sentera LLC have developed an autopilot toolkit under a broad open-source license.

“We’ve also created a product that is valuable not just to our business but also to the broader community working to develop the next generation of capabilities for unmanned systems,” said Sentera CEO Eric Taipale in a statement for UAS Vision.

Unmanned aircraft systems represent the future for the industry and have energized an entirely new generation’s interest in aviation. It remains to be seen what effects legislative efforts will have on the rising interest and investment in public sector UAS projects.

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