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Soaring to Unmanned Aerial Transportation

NASA Deputy Branch Chief Karen Tung Cate begins her panel at the Wildwoods Convention Center for the Fifth Annual Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Conference Sept. 23

By Christina Urban

WILDWOOD – NASA Deputy Branch Chief Karen Tung Cate spoke at Cape May County’s Fifth Annual Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Conference Sept. 23, providing an overview of NASA’s United Air Mobility (UAM) vision and the Grand Challenge that will be offered to the industry in 2020. 
Cate explained that NASA is working on the UAM vision, which is to provide a safe and efficient air transportation system for passengers and cargo that operates above metropolitan areas. 
The UAM barriers include vehicle development and production, individual vehicle management and operations, airspace system design and implementation, airspace and fleet operations management, and community integration.  
“We always have a problem with, ‘Not in my backyard. It’s cool, it’s great, I love it, but not in my backyard.’ How do we get around those issues?,” Cate asked about barriers for community integration.  
As a way to combat UAM barriers, NASA is kicking off the Grand Challenge in 2020, which will help improve safety and scalability. The challenge will allow the UAS industry to demonstrate the readiness of their developed technologies with different concepts and scenarios. 
Cate said it’s not a test for companies, but a way to understand what’s required to achieve a safe and efficient UAM environment. 
“Part of this is just for them to explain to us, how are they going to handle these types of conflicts? What is the equipage that they need to go with it? Does the rest of the ecosystem support that equipage?” Cate said. 
NASA will study these full-field simulations, including passenger transport and cargo delivery cases in different weather and traffic conditions, according to https://www.nasa.gov/uamgc.
Cate said the Grand Challenge’s main objectives are to accelerate technology certification and approval, develop flight procedure guidelines, evaluate communication, navigation and surveillance options, demonstrate Airspace Operations Management (AOM) architecture, and to characterize community concerns such as noise and ride quality. 
Other panels throughout the day included discussions about exploring potential technology and policy challenges for air mobility from an industry perspective, the safety and economic challenges and opportunities from air mobility manufacturers’ perspective, artificial intelligence (AI) in air mobility, and more. 
In the panel for air mobility and AI, Patrick Szary, associate director for Rutgers CAIT Institute, mentioned that aviation is statistically safer than surface transportation, but the increase in UAS may change this. He said the idea of AI could help keep aircraft and aerial transportation a low risk.
“It makes me think by adopting the AI, removing the human element, removing the distracted side of things, it definitely assists with that safety culture that we’ve grown so accustomed to with aviation,” said Szary, “but it’s opened up the door to the cyber-security issues and the hacking issues and the reliance issues, and even the ‘we’re not there yet’ issues.”  
Outside the conference room, different UAS technology companies displayed their drones and different projects they have developed or completed, some including disaster relief.  
“We are here to promote the industry, promote doing business in Cape May County, and maybe consider establishing operations one day,” said Nathan Ernst, founder and president of Sky Scape Industries, who stood beside the company’s table of drones and information. 
Ernst said Sky Scape is a subsidiary of American Aerospace and both companies provide nationwide aerial tech services to the critical infrastructure industry. This ranges from inspection, mapping, emergency response, policy development, consulting and more.
To contact Christina Urban, email curban@cmcherald.com.

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