Taking Off

The folks here at UTARI hit the ground running in 2014. Just as the holidays were wrapping up, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that a Texas team – a team that includes UTA-affiliated faculty and researchers from UTARI – would be one of the nation’s six major FAA test sites for unmanned aircraft systems. The Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation team, led by Texas A&M Corpus Christi, includes UTARI, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, the Camber Corporation, Southwest Research Institute, and other research institutions and private-sector companies. The designation is a huge deal in terms of research efforts, not to mention financial implications for the state.

Credit: Federal Aviation Administration

Lone Star State of Mind

It was an exhaustive 10-month process, with 25 proposals submitted from 24 states across the nation. Part of the appeal of Texas is the geographic and climactic diversity it brings to the test sites – anyone who has experienced Texas weather knows the type of diversity the FAA can expect. Considering that the focus of the congressional mandated test sites is to conduct research into ensuring the safety of UAS into the national airspace over the next few years, I can’t think of a better place than Texas to conduct testing. Extreme temperatures, unique terrain, broad wind speed variations, drought conditions – it’s all right here.

Research Takes Flight

Clockwise from top left: Dogan, Lewis, Subbarao, Huff

So you might be wondering, “How does this fit under the umbrella of ‘Assistive Technologies’?” Remember when we talked about UTARI’s definition of “assistive technology” earlier – as advanced, affordable technology to help humanity perform dirty, dull, dangerous, or difficult tasks in the home, workplace, or community? UTARI’s work as part of the FAA UAS test site encompasses all of those descriptors – dirty, dull, dangerous and difficult. UTA-affiliated faculty – Dr. Attila Dogan, Dr. Frank Lewis, Dr. Kamesh Subbarao, and Dr. Brian Huff – and UTARI researchers working on the project will focus on areas including collision avoidance and obstacle detection, modeling and simulation for operations and control, conflict prediction, avoidance and prevention, and autonomous guidance simulation in adverse environments. Many of our research areas deal with the everyday, nitty-gritty parts of making sure unmanned aerial systems run safely in our communities. And as we gain progressively more mature technology, we’re likely to see UAS utilized more frequently in tasks that are difficult, dirty or dangerous for humans – border surveillance, law enforcement, agricultural and forestry monitoring, and a wide scope of research efforts.

The Way Ahead

In what areas do you see UAS expanding in the future? What applications do you envision, and what technology would you like to see developed as part of our UAS efforts?

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