Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are currently restricted to operate only within the unaided visual range of the external pilot on the ground, and this has been identified as a major barrier to the growth of the UAS industry. The inability to sense and avoid (SAA) collisions with other air traffic is a technology gap impeding beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) UAS operations. The aim is to develop a novel method capable of quantifying BVLOS collision risk via computing statistically the number of near-midair-collisions (NMAC) per flight hour. This is a paradigm shift from the current practice of using imprecise adjectives: “low”, “medium”, “high” and “extreme” in a risk matrix for a qualitative assessment of perceived collision risk. Another novelty is that it enables the back-calculation of performance requirements from a given level of acceptable NMAC risk, e.g. the required probability for the detection and tracking of an intruder aircraft at a certain range, elevation and azimuth.
The outcome will be a game changer for a broad community of regulators, manufacturers, end users and academia. Quantifiable performance standards will enable the regulators, e.g. Transport Canada, to publish UAS standards, and for their inspectors to evaluate the performance of SAA equipment. Manufacturers will have the needed standards for investment in their products. The end users will have a tool for selecting SAA equipment. Academia will have a measurable yardstick to compare their results.
The program builds upon creative combinations of my established research in controls, sensors, communications, flight dynamics and human factors. As a specialist in controls, I will advance knowledge in hybrid control systems to a new application: UAS risk assessment. The program will train 1 Master's and 4 PhD students, and they will interact with the early adopters, regulators and manufacturer through 3 planned cycles of industry and regulatory agencies engagement to ensure their research be relevant to industrial needs.
Transport Canada is supporting the proposed research by providing traffic statistics from their National Aerial Surveillance Program (NASP) in the Canadian High Arctic. The NASP data will be used to estimate the risk for operating UAS aerial surveillance over the North-West Passage. At present, there is only one DASH 7 aircraft operating out of Edmonton, AB to cover the entire Arctic region under NASP. The addition of UAS capabilities to the Canadian North is a needed boost for safeguarding our Arctic sovereignty.
In longer terms, the technology can pivot into counter-UAS measures: the prevention of malicious UAV intrusions, e.g. flying UAV's into a crowded airport. The counter-UAS market size could surpass the identified $127 billion BVLOS market and the new market will not have regulatory barriers that will inhibit its growth.