U.S. DOT Announces $5.8 Million in 33 UAS Research Grants to Universities

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced $5.8 million in research, education and training grants to universities that comprise FAA’s Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), also known as the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE).

“These universities are making great strides in advancing the Department’s efforts to integrate UAS safely and efficiently into our Nation’s airspace system, ultimately delivering new transportation solutions and economic benefits for the American people,” Acting U.S. Secretary of Transportation Steven G. Bradbury said.

The FAA’s Center of Excellence for UAS is advancing the administration’s transportation and economic goals that air travel provides to the nation. The Center of Excellence UAS universities received a total of $5,822,990 to advance specific goals and projects.

“These universities are making great strides in advancing our efforts to safely and efficiently integrate UAS into our nation’s airspace system,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “Each grant is designed to explore the questions that will lead to greater UAS and unmanned air carrier integration, which will ultimately deliver new transportation solutions and economic benefits for the American people.”

More than 1.7 million recreational and commercial drones are in the active UAS fleet. That number is expected to grow to as high as 2.31 million by 2024. The ASSURE grants are aimed at continuing and enhancing the safe and successful integration of drones into the nation’s airspace system (NAS).

The FAA has established 13 Centers of Excellence in critical topic areas focusing on: unmanned aircraft systems; alternative jet fuels and environment; general aviation safety; commercial space transportation; airliner cabin environment and intermodal transportation research; aircraft noise and aviation emissions mitigation; advanced materials; general aviation research; airworthiness assurance; operations research; airport pavement and technology; computational modeling of aircraft structures; and technical training and human performance.

The first round of ASSURE grants for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 were awarded for the following eight (8) research areas.

Air Carrier Operations–Investigate and Identify the Key Differences Between Commercial Air Carrier Operations and Unmanned Transport Operations

This research will provide findings, recommendations and lessons learned that will enhance the FAA’s understanding of the requirements for certifying large UAS for air carrier operations.

Specific focus of this evaluation will analyze projected demand by location (e.g. rural, exurb, suburb, or urban) and the feasibility of commercial UAS air carrier operations. It will also explore the role of autonomy in UAS vehicles beginning with operations in less risky areas such as rural locations to exurbs (areas beyond the suburbs), and then on to more populated areas of suburban and metro areas. This exploration will focus on the passenger transportation environment, and investigate the workforce impact of this new capability.

Kansas State University – Lead University$220,000
University of Alaska, Fairbanks$150,000
North Carolina State University$150,000
University of North Dakota$130,000
The Ohio State University$149,745

UAS Cargo Operations–From Manned Cargo to UAS Cargo Operations: Future Trends, Performance, Reliability, and Safety Characteristics Towards Integration into the NAS

This research will evaluate the feasibility of commercial UAS cargo operations together with the projected demand by location. Furthermore, the research will detail anticipated needs of the FAA to support further integration of UAS cargo operations, including how greater autonomy may provide an improved level of safety.

University of Alaska, Fairbanks – Lead University$240,000
Kansas State University$125,000
University of Alabama, Huntsville$124,987
North Carolina State University$125,000
University of North Dakota$60,000
The Ohio State University$124,996

High-Bypass UAS Engine Ingestion Test

Inclusion of large numbers of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) into the NAS may pose unique hazards to manned aircraft. It is necessary to determine the potential severity of sUAS mid-air collisions with manned aircraft to define an Equivalent Level of Safety for UAS operations. Since sUAS are not similar to any other foreign body (e.g. bird, ice, volcanic ash) that the FAA currently regulates, understanding the severity of an ingestion is critical to being able to estimate the extent of potential damage.

The Ohio State University – Lead University$340,000
Wichita State University$100,000

Small UAS (sUAS) Mid-Air Collision (MAC) Likelihood

This research focuses on sUAS MAC likelihood analysis with general aviation (GA) and commercial aircraft. Because severity research varies based on where a collision occurred on a manned aircraft, this likelihood research will not only look at the probability of a MAC, but also the likelihood of colliding with different parts of a manned aircraft.

Wichita State University – Lead University$464,000
Kansas State University$220,000
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University$215,000
University of Kansas$160,000

Mitigating GPS and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Risks for UAS

This research is necessary to enable safe and secure automated sUAS navigation and safe and secure automated sUAS Detect and Avoid operations. Unvalidated or unavailable GPS and “ADS-B In” data poses security and safety risks to automated UAS navigation and to Detect and Avoid operations. Erroneous, spoofed, jammed, or drop outs of GPS data may result in unmanned aircraft position and navigation being incorrect.

University of North Dakota – Lead University$325,000
Kansas State University$135,000
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University$135,000
Oregon State University$100,000
University of Alaska, Fairbanks$135,000

Shielded UAS Operations–Detect and Avoid (DAA)

This research is intended to identify risks and recommend solutions to the FAA that can enable shielded UAS operations such as a flight within close proximity to existing obstacles and not to exceed the height of the obstacle. This effort will identify risks, determine whether shielded operations can be made safe, to what degree UAS Detect and Avoid requirements can be reduced, and recommend UAS standoff distances from manned aircraft and ground obstacles, including buildings and air traffic control towers.

University of North Dakota – Lead University$430,000
Kansas State University$110,000
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University$150,000
New Mexico State University$140,000
North Carolina State University$95,000

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