POPSCI—The exhibition floor at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s annual North American show—the largest expo for both civilian and military unmanned robotic hardware in the country—opened in Las Vegas (August 6-9), and for the rest of the week the unmanned robots took over.
When the age of austerity closes a door…
This year’s show is cast against a backdrop that is somewhat austere for the many, many robotics systems makers who exhibit here. Most of them do the majority of their businesses with governments around the world, many of which—like the United States—are facing huge cuts in military spending and a slowdown in the acquisition of new technologies.
But when the age of austerity closes a door, Congress every so often opens a window. The mandated integration of unmanned systems into the U.S. national airspace by 2015 has many makers of unmanned aerial systems looking to apply their technology to civilian skies, while unmanned ground vehicle makers are making inroads into spaces like telepresence, site security, ground-based infrastructure inspection, and cargo logistics.
FAA airspace Integration efforts focused on 2015
Shephard News—Michael Huerta, Acting Administrator for the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) outlined several recent milestones involving unmanned systems integration into the National Airspace.
‘This year we established the unmanned systems integration office within the FAA safety organisation,’ Huerta explained. ‘Our idea was to provide a centralized, one stop portal for all matters related to the civil and public use of unmanned aircraft systems in US airspace.’
‘This is a different model from the previous one, where UAS issues were handled in different parts of the agency,’ he continued. ‘This office will develop a comprehensive plan to integrate unmanned aircraft systems and to establish operational and certification requirements for UAS. It will also oversee and coordinate UAS research and development.’
Asserting that, ‘this new office has a lot of work under way already,’ Huerta noted: ‘They are working on a rule to integrate small UAS into our airspace. And they are working on a solicitation of proposals for six UAS test sites. They have already received the first application for a “type certificate” for a commercial unmanned aircraft.’
‘This office will think creatively because it will formulate new standards for new aircraft,’ he added. ‘Unmanned aircraft systems and inherently different from manned aircraft – and they run across a very wide range with a number of different physical characteristics.
Meanwhile the ICAO looks to finalize unmanned regulations by 2028
Leslie Cary, Secretary for the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Group within the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), outlined that organization’s regulation development timeline for integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the international airspace.
‘Unmanned aircraft have so much potential,’ she began. ‘And yet we cannot leverage that potential without having a regulatory framework in place.’
Citing myriad potential uses in civil, commercial, and military arenas, Cary added, ‘The bottom line is that the societal benefits to be obtained from unmanned aircraft are indisputable. The focus now has to be on facilitating the regulations, advancing the technologies, and implementing the procedures that will allow the industry to flourish and society to realize the benefits in a safe, efficient and sustainable manner.’
Acknowledging that the regulatory side of aviation ‘sounds, by itself, rather boring,’ Cary noted: ‘Regulations, generally, are not particularly fun to develop. But when it comes to unmanned aviation, it’s really fascinating.’
Turning toward the regulatory future, Cary offered three different target windows for ICAO’s development of Standards and Recommended Procedures (SARPs) and Procedures for Air Navigation Services (PANS).
In the 2016-2018 timeframe, for example, Cary projected SARPs and PANS on airworthiness, operations, licensing, detect and avoid, communications, and basic ATM [Air Traffic Management] provisions, ‘providing enough material to allow states to accommodate international operations to some extent.’
‘In the 2020-2023 timeframe, we expect to refine many of the SARPs and will add in aerodrome and ATM operational requirements,’ she said. ‘By about 2028 we are hoping that all the standards needed to support transparent operation in all classes of airspace and at aerodromes will be available.’