UND leads in UAS integration innovation

FAA awards University researchers nearly $800,000 to study safe and effective incorporation of drones into national airspace

UND has received grant awards for three of four UAS research projects recently funded by the Federal Aviation Administration and is the lead university on two of the projects. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

The University of North Dakota continues to be among the world’s top research drivers in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) quest to effectively and safely integrate drones into the national airspace.

Case in point, UND Aerospace – with support from the University’s Research Institute for Autonomous Systems (RIAS) – was recently awarded FAA funding for three unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research projects through ASSURE, the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence.

UND was among only eight universities to receive nearly $2.6 million in research grants under ASSURE. ASSURE members include 23 of the world’s top research institutions and 100 leading industry and government partners. UND’s combined share of the grant funding approaches nearly $800,0000, and is the lead institution two of the four projects funded by the agency.

UND will receive $545,000 as the lead university studying UAS safety case development, process improvement and data collection. This project is developing a system to capture or categorize UAS test objectives; analyze data captured to assist in the development of UAS regulations; and to consistently query and report data across UAS test sites, including North Dakota’s Northern Plains UAS Test Site.

The University also received nearly $75,000 as the lead university for Phase II of the UAS flight data collection and analysis project. The goal is to accelerate the evaluation of proposed UAS.

Setting the standards

UND will receive $150,000 as one of three universities examining the development of risk-based UAS training and standards for waiver review and issuance. The project will develop and evaluate the risk-based framework in the FAA’s waiver review process.

Paul Snyder

“This work is on the cutting edge,” said Paul Snyder, director of UND Aerospace’s UAS Program. “Expertise here at UND is being leveraged to solve real-world problems that will improve safety and accessibility to the National Airspace System, as well as lay the framework for more jobs for our students.”

UND’s RIAS program creates autonomous systems through multidisciplinary research and leads development of world-changing autonomous policies, with the goal of driving a vibrant, diverse and sustainable economy consistent with ethical and legal standards.

In announcing the grant awards, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said, “The research funded by these grants will provide valuable data as the department leads the way to chart a course for the safe integration of drones into our national airspace.”

The FAA estimates there are currently 1.7 million drones in the active UAS fleet. The agency expects this number to grow to 2.2 million by 2023. The grants are aimed at continuing and enhancing the safe and successful integration of drones into the nation’s airspace.

Expanding opportunities

“In addition to providing grants, we are also supporting activities that provide operational experience like the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, all of which move us more quickly toward full integration,” Chao said.

The FAA has 12 Centers of Excellence in critical topic areas focusing on: UAS, alternative jet fuels and environment, general aviation safety, commercial space transportation, airliner cabin environment, aircraft noise and aviation emissions mitigation, advanced materials, general aviation research, airworthiness assurance, operations research, airport pavement and technology, and computational modeling of aircraft structures.

“The centers program provides a unique opportunity for focusing education, research and technology transfer resources in an unprecedented manner, and to substantially promote, upgrade and expand transportation education and research opportunities in America,” Chao said.