Monday, April 19, 2021

Nova Systems Undertakes R&D of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) Technologies

Nova Systems, in close collaboration with OneSky, a business unit of Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI), currently leads a consortium that is undertaking research and development of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) technologies.

This is one of the projects awarded under the Call-for-Proposal by the Ministry of Transport (MOT) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), to develop systems and technologies to enable the innovative
and wide-ranging use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in Singapore’s densely populated urban environment.

The consortium recently completed the first of its planned suite of trials to be conducted over 2 years. The initial trial focused on assessing the suitability of Long-Term Evolution (LTE) telecommunications networks in
Singapore, which is critical before commercial Urban UAS operations and Urban Air Mobility (UAM) can scale in a commercially viable manner. Nova Systems partners, Analytical Graphics Inc (AGI), Scout Aerial Media, M1 Limited, and Rohde and Schwarz all contributed to the planning and successful conduct of the trial activity.

Command and Non-Payload Communication (CNPC) is a critical function for UAS operations. To date, most UAS operations in civil airspace have been limited to Visual Line of Sight (VLOS), with Beyond VLOS generally only through exception. For most of these operations, direct Radio Frequency (RF) CNPC has been enough for the relatively simple operating environment. However, to truly scale the commercial potential of UAS technology, ubiquitous BVLOS operations must become a reality.

The most likely medium for supporting wide-scale BVLOS CNPC in Urban and Metropolitan areas is 4G and 5G telecommunication. Moreover, it is likely that the communication network may also underpin UT surveillance services, and in the instances where networked Real-time kinematic (RTK), Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) is employed, also support navigation services. Accordingly, it is critical that the suitability of the 4G and 5G networks for supporting UAS operations, UTM and Urban Air Mobility is determined.

Several challenges exist that the Nova Systems consortium aim to resolve. First, extant telecommunication networks were not designed to optimise connectivity for vehicle traffic at altitude. Moreover, the prospect of
co-channel interference from base-stations at greater distances expands significantly, disrupting design assumptions for handover algorithms which have been optimised over signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) assumptions at ground level. The degree of interference that airborne users will pose to the existing network client base also needs to be better understood.

Importantly, there is very little empirical evidence demonstrating performance for key aerospace communication metrics including latency, availability, continuity and integrity. Knowledge of these effects, in
tandem with vehicle performance dynamics will be critical in establishing standards that will underpin separation requirements from buildings and other airborne platforms, and in turn, key UTM services such as route design, conformance monitoring, conflict detection and alerting, strategic deconfliction, alongside dynamic geofencing and rerouting.  

Nova Systems and their partners have started to address these challenges, recently conducting a successful suite of trials in Singapore from 14th to 19th April. The trials were designed to examine these effects for the M1
network, with a short-term intent to map coverage in strategically selected regions that typically erode signal propagation in different ways. The long-term intent is to produce a comprehensive LTE coverage map for Singapore, but also produce predictive models that can be deployed in other cities.

In the next suite of trials, the consortium will explore the capabilities of a customised UTM prototype being developed by the AGI OneSky team and Nova Systems, with operations to include BVLOS flight and further expand our CNPC coverage and modelling efforts.

For further information on this project, or to discuss partnerships, please contact Dr Terry Martin [email protected], or on +61 423 256 214.