COLUMBUS, Ohio (ADAMS) – As the number of drones grows, concerns about how to maintain airspace security for manned and unmanned aircraft are also growing. Ohio is pioneering technology to do just that.
At low altitude, the detection of manned air traffic with traditional radar is much more difficult due to the presence of obstacles on the ground such as trees, houses, cars and other low-flying objects such as birds and swarms of insects. Since 2018, the Ohio The Department of Transportation’s Office of Statewide Planning and Research works with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), DriveOhio/FlyOhio, the Ohio Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), Ohio State University and industry to develop and deploy a “seek and avoid” system to track drones, as a public service, and prevent them from colliding with aircraft that operate at lower altitudes such as medical helicopters or dust collectors. This is a first in an urban environment.
“The future is now, and this is only the final chapter of Ohiohistory of pioneering flight technology,” said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. “We have the capability, knowledge and resources to be the premier destination for this industry to thrive.”
“Efforts to develop the right kind of infrastructure for drone technology through this state-of-the-art system will foster safe practices and innovation in the sky, solidifying Ohio‘s place as a leader in the advanced air mobility space,” said Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted.
The unmanned traffic management system includes three ground radar sites in the center Ohio. A drone operator applies for clearance to fly, much like an airplane pilot would, and receives clearance to use FAA airspace. Drone pilots and manned aircraft pilots could see each other and share airspace safely.
“This allows drones to understand where they are in the airspace, who surrounds them, and what they can do to safely navigate from A to B while prioritizing manned traffic,” said Dr. Matt McCrink, Principal Scientist for Ohio State research team.
As of May 2022, over 854,000 drones were registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Currently, the FAA requires that all unmanned aircraft be operated within sight of the operator.
“The promise of drone deliveries has been around for a while, but that key infrastructure to support it doesn’t exist and so ODOT is at the forefront of basically establishing what that infrastructure looks like, how we can do it. evolve, expand and integrate it also with existing manned traffic control systems,” said McCrink.
The development of this system will provide the necessary affordable and reliable protections against aerial hazards so that operators can fly safely beyond visual line of sight without observers on the ground, allowing drone technology to grow in Ohio.
“Last mile package delivery is what the future holds. The FedEx, the UPS, the Amazon – that 2-hour delivery that they guarantee, this technology will back it up,” said Richard Fox, head of airspace for Ohio UAS Center.
Besides product deliveries, drones can also provide valuable information to emergency teams at the scene of an accident. The system was recently used in a multi-jurisdictional incident management training operation using drones, believed to be the first in the world. The exercise simulated an accident involving a tractor-trailer in Logan County. The drones provided airspace support by transmitting live video to emergency dispatchers, first responders and the ODOT Traffic Management Center in Columbus, giving them an “eye in the sky”. However, when a medical helicopter was called to the scene to transport a casualty to hospital, the system was able to alert the drone operators so they could clear the airspace.
“ODOT’s mission is to provide safe and easy movement of people and goods from place to place and it doesn’t stop at ground level,” said ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks. “From researchers to drone pilots to aviation experts, our people work hard every day to ensure that Ohio is the premier place to develop and grow this burgeoning industry.
Another major step forward in drone technology is advanced air mobility, which uses electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft to easily move people and cargo. An economic impact study found that over the next 25 years, advanced air mobility could benefit the Ohio economic growth of $13 billion, 15,000 additional jobs and $2.5 billion in tax revenue.
“I think as we learn to do smaller operations and manage low-altitude airspace safely and efficiently for UAS, you’re going to see the industry grow,” said Dr. Sean Calhoun of CAL Analytics. “We are moving into everything from disaster response to package delivery to freight and eventually air taxis, which will revolutionize the transportation and logistics industries.
Calhoun adds that Ohio has certainly positioned itself in the right place to remain a leader in this emerging technology.