HomeAutonomous VehiclesUSDOT selects 10 US smart cities to figure out drone applications and regulations

USDOT selects 10 US smart cities to figure out drone applications and regulations

The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) has selected 10 smart city authorities and regional government agencies to explore the implications of integrating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, into US national airspace.

The initiative variously involves state, local and tribal governments, in partnership with private enterprises, including UAV operators and manufacturers. They will be supported by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which will use the findings of the 10 regional projects to tackle challenges of integrating drones into the national airspace, reduce risks to public safety and security, and thrash out new rules and regulations for UAVs.

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said: “Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace.”

The integration of drone systems into US airspace will see benefit the US economy to the tune of $82 billion in the period to 2015, creating 100,000 jobs along the way, reckons the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI); 70,000 jobs and $13.6 billion in economic value will be created within the first three years of legislative UAV integration alone, it says.

The UAS Integration Pilot Programme, announced by the White House last October, puts focus on opportunities in commerce, photography, emergency management, public safety, precision agriculture and infrastructure inspections, said the FAA. It will also seek to balance national and state UAV interests, improve communications with local jurisdictions, address security and privacy risks, and accelerate approval process for UAV-related initiatives.

The USDOT and FAA evaluated 149 proposals on their way to the final 10 drone projects. The finalists will now work with the FAA to refine their operational concepts. Over two and a half years, they will collect drone data involving night operations, flights over people and beyond the pilot’s line of sight, package delivery, detect-and-avoid technologies and the reliability and security of data links between pilot and aircraft.

Data-sharing requirements will be defined at the start of the project. The data collected will inform the USDOT’s approach to integrating drones into national airspace. The White House is not contributing any funds to the programme, it said.

The full list of FAA-approved drone projects is below.

Choctaw Nation, Durant, OK

The Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma wants to use drones for agricultural, public safety and infrastructure inspections. It plans to test Extended Visual Line of Sight (EVLOS), Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations and night-time operations. CNN and the Green Valley Farms Living Laboratory have signed as partners. Data from the tests will be extended to other operations and locations, it said.

City of San Diego, CA

The civic authority wants to test drones for border protection and food deliveries; it proposes a secondary focus on commerce, smart city, and autonomous vehicle surveillance applications. AT&T’s 5G test network, 4G LTE commercial network, and FirstNet first responder network will be used in the trials. Data from the experiments will be used to improve UAS specific ID and tracking systems, it said.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority, Herndon, VA

This proposal seeks to facilitate package delivery in rural and urban settings. It includes the use of enabling technologies such as detect and avoid, identification and tracking, radar systems, and mapping tools. Virginia Tech and NASA are involved.

Kansas Department of Transportation, Topeka, KS

The Kansas transport department wants to run visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations to help with precision agriculture. Technologies will include detect and avoid, ADS-B, satellite communications and geo-fencing, alongside state-owned fibre and the FAA’s UAS Traffic Management (UTM). The project details robust community involvement.

Lee County Mosquito Control District, Fort Myers, FL

This focuses on low-altitude aerial applications to control and survey the mosquito population using a 1,500-lb drone. It takes into account a broad range of technologies, including ground-based detect and avoid radar systems that would integrate ADS-B, infrared imaging and satellite technology. The proposal includes night operations, BVLOS and operations over people.

Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, Memphis, TN

The airport authority wants to use drones, in the vicinity of manned aircraft, to inspect cargo aircraft and airport perimeter security, as well as for on-site parcel deliveries. It has teamed up with FedEx and Agricenter International. The proposal outlines an integrated UAV system across urban, airport, private property that could yield $500 million per year.

North Carolina Department of Transportation, Raleigh, NC

The transport department in Raleigh wants to test package deliveries within a defined airspace by establishing drone delivery stations in local communities. The approach would enable small businesses to utilise the delivery platform for commercial purposes. The proposal seeks to operate over human beings, beyond visual line of sight and at night. Technologies include ADS-B, detect and avoid, UTM and radar.

North Dakota Department of Transportation, Bismarck, ND

Bismarck will test drone operations at night and Beyond Visual Line of Sight in multiple types of airspaces, from rural to urban areas. It wants scalable operations for infrastructure inspections, crop health monitoring, media reporting and emergency response.

The City of Reno, NV

Reno is focused on time-sensitive delivery of life-saving medical equipment, such as medical defibrillators in emergency situations in both urban and rural environments. It will integrate additional infrastructure such as radar and weather data in order to expand the UAS capability so it could save up to 28-34 lives per year using one drone in a three-mile city radius, it claims. Several medical partners have signed up.

University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK

This proposal will consider pipeline inspection and surveying in remote areas and harsh climatic conditions, and assess UAV technologies including collision avoidance, detect and avoid, ADS-B, differential GPS, satellite services, infrared imaging and UTM.

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