Developers Charged With Making UAS a More Trusted and Autonomous System Written 15 June 2016

DJI Phantom 2. Credit: Associated Press–©

Panelists: Moderator I.J. Hudson, former technology reporter, NBC4 Washington (WRC-TV); Brian Argrow, professor of aerospace engineering sciences, University of Colorado; Michael S. Francis, chief advanced programs and senior fellow, United Technologies Research Center; Parimal H. Kopardekar, manager, Safe Autonomous Systems Operations Project, and principal investigator, Unmanned Aerial Systems Traffic Management, NASA’s Ames Research Center; John Langford, chairman and CEO, Aurora Flight Sciences Corp.; Richard Wlezien, professor and Vance and Arlene Coffman endowed department chair in aerospace engineering and director, Iowa Space Grant Consortium, Iowa State University

by David HodesAerospace America contributing writer

Getting a more autonomous unmanned aerial system to understand what it needs to do with less human direction and finding ways to control it in the airspace are crucial issues for developers, according to a June 15 panel of experts at the 2016 AIAA Demand for Unmanned Symposium in Washington, D.C.

Sandy Magnus, executive director of AIAA, introduced the panel, “The Changing Face of Aerospace: The Impact of UAS on Aviation,” by pointing out users are helping developers understand what needs to happen in design, presenting a shift in the usual method of product development. Now, she said, it’s up to policymakers and lawmakers to make decisions regarding the limitations of technology and its advantages.

Jay Gundlach, founder and president of Flighthouse Engineering LLC, said that UASs are so early in development that we don’t even know what to call them yet.

Parimal Kopardekar, manager of the Safe Autonomous System Operations Project and principal investigator for NASA’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Traffic Management, said that one of the main principles in drone operations is understanding the value of constraints.

“We are talking about managing traffic that has to be as flexible as possible,” he said. “We will be setting up the rules of the road.”

In terms of education for next-generation UAS developers, Richard Wlezien, the department chair in aerospace engineering and director of the Iowa Space Grant Consortium at Iowa State University, said it has been frustrating because drone flights are too restrictive.

“Imagine training to be a physician and not being allowed in the operating room,” he said. “We have long way to go to open up airspace to students.”

Brian Argrow, professor of aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado, said he sees three growing applications of drones: rescue missions, national security, and climate and weather prediction.

“Agriculture has not been a top application,” he said. “But there is a project underway now about soil moisture management using a small UAS.”

One of the biggest issues panel members discussed was trust.

“As they become more autonomous, software for drones has to have some level of trust that they will make the correct decisions,”Argrow said.

That issue is being worked on now, according to Michael Francis, chief advanced programs and senior fellow at the United Technologies Research Center.

“We want the UAS system to be able to learn,” he said. “That’s the part of the industry that is going to grow, because we need to be able to operate safely under expected contingencies.”

Panelists all agreed standards are needed but cautioned that when they are made, they are hard to change or adjust.

“We need to be careful what we put in place and be careful about the nature of standards and what the intent is,” Kopardekar said. “We need to ask ‘What could it stop in the future?’”


All 2016 AIAA AVIATION Forum Videos