Video Published on May 3, 2016

Parimal “PK” Kopardekar is developing a system to safely enable low altitude unmanned aerial system (UAS) operations. The system is referred to as UAS Traffic Management (UTM). The UTM will safely enable a variety of business models and multiple operations in the same airspace.

The UTM will provide services such as airspace configuration and geo-fencing, weather and wind integration, demand/capacity imbalance management, and separation management, and contingency management. The UTM system will evolve through four builds, which will be collaboratively tested with partners. The final prototype will be available for persistent daily use of UAS operations beyond line of sight.

BIOGRAPHY: Parimal Kopardekar serves as the Manager of the NASA’s Safe Autonomous System Operations (SASO) Project. The goal of the project is to develop autonomy related concepts, technologies, and architectures that will increase efficiency, safety, and capacity of airspace operations.

Slide from presentation
Slide from presentation
This presentation was made January 4, 2016 as part of the ongoing ‘Talks at Google’ series designed for employee enrichment. It predates the recent Technical Capability Level One demonstration in late April, 2016 in which a total of 24 drones launched from the six FAA test sites flew multiple times throughout the three-hour test, with 22 flying simultaneously at one point.
For me and for many people in the business community, getting a handle on what UTM really is – what’s included and what’s not and how it all fits together is challenging. When you look at the multiple needs it must address and the multiple masters it will serve it is not surprising that it is a difficult topic to master without an excellent teacher like PK.
So I thought this talk worth sharing – for those of you so inclined I heartily recommend taking 45 minutes to watch the whole thing. For those of you looking for something more snackable, I’ve summarized a few key concepts.
Slide from presentation
Slide from presentation
The UTM concept is built on the idea that one size can’t fit all. It distinguishes between airspace that is regulated (all) versus that which is controlled (not all.) It is all about trying to provide context specific solutions that balance the intended use, the risk, the demand and the capabilities of the specific vehicle (UAS).
Slide from presentation
Slide from presentation
UTM is based on a 500′ ceiling which PK acknowledges is a handy number that currently seems to encompass most drone operations. The implication is that there could be a higher ceiling. There are a handful of rules including that drones shall not hit other drones, interfere with manned flights and so forth which are baked into the system. Finally the system will differentiate between static geofencing – e.g. The Whitehouse and dynamic geofencing that can be situational and aid in routing
the drone.
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Slide from presentation
As weather is the most significant cause of delays in commercial aviation, it is not surprising that particular attention is being paid to an even higher resolution of local conditions. As a sailor I can’t help but wonder if drones will be able to use this weather information to extend their range. Again as you see under Congestion, the idea is to only regulate if and when necessary.
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Frame from video animation
There is an excellent animation that starts at 30:15 and you can see that what the software is doing is deconflicting routes to get maximum utilization of the airspace.
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Slide from presentation
The final slide shows the higher order issues that the system will have to address. Again maintaining separation is a key function. The big concept here is that while separation is an obvious key to safety, separation is also the key to maximizing utilization of heavily used areas. V2V means vehicle-to-vehicle. Tracking comes into play only when required.
A question came up during the Q&A as to whether manned aircraft would have to add more electronics and the implication is that yes, it will be necessary for such aircraft to be aware of where drones are operating.
The idea of contingency management is that in the event of a wide-scale outage each individual craft would land autonomously using some undescribed criteria.

 

Slide from presentation
Slide from presentation
This slide shows the entire sequence from the point of view of a user filing what is in effect a flight or mission plan. Note how in Step 2, registration is confirmed and the individual characteristics of the craft (e.g. speed, endurance) are factored into the process. Anyone who thinks that the future will bring less regulation is delusional.
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Slide from presentation
As previously noted, the whole idea of the UTM approach is that it is flexible so that technology and services can scale to meet situational requirements.  This slide also takes us to the concept of UTM as a business which I found fascinating.
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Slide from presentation
I suppose it’s really not surprising when you consider that the House version of the 2016 FAA Reauthorization Act included the idea of creating a separate entity to manage the Air Traffic Control system.
As noted, the UTM has completed Build Level One. Ahead are Builds Two, Three and Four with an expected completion date of 2019. PK is quick to note that the NASA target data is not the same thing as a roll out date, given that they are already a year behind their internal schedule it is probably reasonable to expect the UTM to be fully operational by 2025. Despite the frustration this will cause in certain quarters, it is worth noting that the NASA UTM initiative is considered to be the world leader at
this time.