Virginia Tech tests NASA traffic management system for unmanned aircraft

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This week Virginia Tech tested a traffic management system designed to help multiple unmanned aircraft navigate the air space safely.

The research was part of a national campaign to study the system, which was developed by NASA.

A traffic management system could be key in helping grow the commercialization of unmanned vehicles. The system evaluates flight plans, monitors aircraft in flight and alerts users to changes or potentially hazardous situations.

“Being able to handle that kind of volume safely and efficiently will determine whether a lot of the UAS applications in development will be commercially viable over the long term,” Mark Blanks, the director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, which operates the university’s Federal Aviation Administration-designated UAS test site, said in a statement.

The test flights in Blacksburg were designed to mimic what operators might encounter if widespread commercial UAS flights beyond line of sight become commonplace.

Multiple aircraft carried out a variety of simulated missions simultaneously, using different software interfaces to communicate with NASA’s central cloud-based platform and respond to changes in the airspace.

The testing builds on research conducted last year. This year added more logistical and operational challenges to more closely mimic a real-world scenario.
This year also saw increased participation from commercial partners. Virginia Tech worked with ANRA Technologies, Aviation Systems Engineering Co. Inc., Fortem Technologies, Intel Corp., and Project Wing.

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