Airservices and QUT join forces to develop automatic drone management technology


QUT researcher Dr Aaron Mcfadyen has mapped air traffic around airports. 

Image: QUT/Anthony Weate

Airservices and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have inked a partnership to develop an automated and near real-time flight approval system to speed up how quickly drones can operate in the air, particularly during emergencies and pandemics.

The technology will be used to replace the current manual process that typically requires drone operators to fill out paper-based forms to be considered for approval to operate their drones. This process can often take weeks and lack consistency due to the manual assessments that are undertaken.

However, by introducing an automated approval system, which will involve developing risk maps to understand where it’s safe to allow drones to operate, drone operators will be able to receive approvals much faster.

“We have already seen astonishing growth and innovation in drones across so many industry sectors such as mining, emergency services, and farming, and no doubt there will be many more applications to come,” Airservices executive general manager of customer service enhancement Michelle Bennetts said.
“To facilitate RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft systems) use and innovation for the benefit of Australia, we must ensure they are safely, securely and efficiently integrated into our national airspace system.” 

The collaboration, due to be in full swing from November, aims to initially introduce the technology to Australia’s major airports where air traffic is the most complex and busiest. There are also plans to be able to expand the use of the management system during emergencies and disasters.

“Emergencies, natural disasters, and pandemics can cut people off from essential goods and services such as vital medication. Drones can carry these critical supplies, reach more people, up to 50% faster, and with less human interaction,” QUT researcher Dr Aaron McFadyen said. 
“During a pandemic, disasters or non-pandemic environments, drone services could be scaled up to reach over 80% of our population.”

See also: Demand for drone deliveries reaches new heights during COVID-19 (TechRepublic)

Last week, Airservices announced it wanted to ensure that new technologies, such as drones, are safely integrated into Australia’s overall air traffic management ecosystem.

As a result, it issued a request for information (RFI) to understand the industry’s capability to form an integrated drone surveillance system.

According to Airservices, the RFI will help it better understand market capability and interest; the range of drone surveillance technologies and system integrations that are available; market experience in delivering a drone surveillance integrated service; and the possible delivery models and contracting options available to Airservices.

“Through this RFI, Airservices seeks to understand industry’s ability to provide a drone surveillance system that can be remotely managed and integrated with a number of different surveillance systems (active, passive or other) to form an ‘integrated drone surveillance system’, in order to provide comprehensive coverage across controlled aerodromes,” it said.

Airservices added a key part of the process will be to develop an aerodrome boundary management for existing and new airspace users across Australia as more drones operate in controlled and uncontrolled airspaces.

The air navigation service provider touted the potential development of an integrated drone surveillance system as being part of its role in “ensuring safe, efficient, and secure aviation services in Australia”.

It outlined an integrated drone surveillance solution would be made up of a systems integration service, a drone surveillance sensor package that would be able to detect all drone activity near aerodromes, a sensor integration and correlation platform that brings all the sensors together, and a display platform with human-machine interface and real-time alerting.

Following the RFI, Airservices said it may use the information collected to implement a potential request for tender (RFT) to procure services related to provisioning an integrated drone surveillance system.

Under the RFT, a pilot of an integrated drone surveillance system, surveillance sensor package, and integrated drone surveillance system may be carried out, Airservices said.

Submissions for the RFI close 14 October 2020.

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