Remote identification is an essential component of developing an unmanned aircraft traffic management system (UTM). A UTM implemented across the national air space (NAS) would allow drones to operate beyond visual line-of-sight safely, without posing risk to other unmanned and manned aircraft. In order to track the status of drones and provide that information to UTM managers, the FAA must find a way to remotely identify drones and the persons flying them.
Drone Pilot Image Source: Bit Boy via Flickr
The FAA, NASA, and industry partners have established a research team to map out the development of a UTM. To further their research, and to begin developing and testing actual systems, the FAA has also announced a Remote ID Request for Information (RFI).
FAA Issues a Remote ID Request for Information (RFI)
The FAA is actively pursuing solutions for a system that can gather and share data needed to remotely identify small unmanned aircraft (sUAS) flying in the NAS.
In this pursuit, the FAA is looking to industry partners for help. On December 20, 2018, the FAA issued a Remote Identification RFI.
The purpose of the RFI is twofold:
- Engage with industry partners interested in becoming Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Service Suppliers (USS) with the intent of furthering remote ID technology
- Develop and demonstrate data sharing techniques for remote ID in the NAS
The RFI will help the FAA select a small group of industry partners to develop a technical and legal framework for initial prototyping and testing of a remote ID system. While the FAA is only looking to recruit a small group of eight USS, they intend to open the program for broader participation in the future.
Remote ID Development and Testing Has Already Begun in the Private and Commercial Sector
Some companies have already come together to show what a functional remote ID system could look like. While there is competition among individual stakeholders in remote ID, they’ve also demonstrated a valuable willingness to collaborate.
Amazon, Boeing, GE, and Google
At the 2018 FAA Symposium, Amazon, Boeing, GE, and Google announced that they are working on a private UTM system. The proposed system will allow drones to fly a couple of hundred feet above the ground and function on a network of cellular and web applications.
Amazon, Boeing, GE, and Google have expressed their interest in using drones to deliver goods, and are therefore stakeholders in remote ID and UTM development. These systems will need to be developed and put into place before these companies can offer routine drone deliveries to their customers in the U.S.
KittyHawk, Wing, and AirMap Collaboration
Aside from the private UTM discussed above, Google has another UTM project in the works. Under the Google X initiative called Project Wing, the company has developed a remote ID program called InterUSS.
InterUSS is designed to connect multiple drone service suppliers operating in the same general area. With the platform, multiple service suppliers can share safety information without exposing their operators’ and consumers’ private information. The system is focused on facilitating communication amongst varied drone service suppliers without storing any details about specific UAS operations on the InterUSS platform.
In December 2018, Kittyhawk, Wing, and AirMap gathered together to showcase how this collaborative UTM program would work. Each of the three companies flew their own drones, and each company was able to remotely identify which drones were flying nearby—proving that Wing’s network-based remote ID system, InterUSS, could work.
While AirMap participated in the collaborative demonstration of InterUSS discussed above, they also have their own remote ID and UTM system in the works—AirMap UTM. The platform is enabled by (1) electronic registration and identification for drones and pilots; (2) geographic management of air space and rules; (3) a two-way communication system for notifications and authorizations between airspace managers and drone operators; (4) real-time manned and unmanned positioning information; and (5) an open source and sans-hardware program.
One priority AirMap had for their UTM was that it should be able to easily integrate with existing ATM. They designed their system to integrate seamlessly into existing ATM environments, with no hardware or software requirements. Airmap believes the right UTM system must be open, agnostic, and ubiquitous, allowing for any drone to access the necessary standards and protocol to operate in any airspace.
DJI and PrecisionHawk
In September 2017, DJI announced they had developed a working UTM system that uses a broadcast-based remote ID solution. This system differs significantly from the network-based solutions discussed above.
With DJI’s system, drones use their existing command-and-control radio or wifi link to transmit a registration number and other basic information such as its speed, direction, and location to UTM managers rather than transmitting that information over wireless networks to a centralized server. This remote ID system would rely on the radio signals transmitted by DJI drones and display them on a screen where authorities can view their registration numbers and monitor their activity.
Up until recently, DJI had been working with AirMap as their air space data provider. Then, in October 2018, DJI ended its partnership with AirMap and announced PrecisionHawk as their new data provider. PrecisionHawks’ LATAS platform, which was tested under the FAA Pathfinder Program to facilitate safe beyond visual line of sight operations, offers geospatial and software tools that could strengthen DJI’s UTM offering.
Looking Toward the Horizon for Remote ID
In next steps for the development of remote ID, we’ll likely see some of the aforementioned companies respond to the FAA’s Remote ID RFI. Interested candidates have until February 4, 2019 to submit a response.
Additionally, the FAA recently announced the UAS Traffic Management Pilot Program (UPP) and the three participating partners:
- Nevada UAS Test Site Smart Silver State
- Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site
- Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership
The program is intended to develop and demonstrate a traffic management system to safely integrate drone flights within the nation’s airspace system. Partners were chosen to work with the FAA and NASA based on the strength of industry partnership, the maturity of the technology offered, and overall cost.
These three partners have been tasked to develop the technology required to manage the air space for the drone pilot. Some of the technologies they are working on include flight planning, communications (i.e. remote ID), aircraft separation, and weather services for drones.
We’ve often seen the FAA implement a best practice of involving industry partners in research and development regarding UAS. It is the same approach they took when developing the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP), which they selected ten participants for in May 2018.
The three contracts awarded under the UPP complement the ten contracts issued under the UAS IPP. Those ten contracts were awarded to test drones in a variety of conditions prohibited under current regulations, such as operations over people and at night. These three newly awarded contracts will instead focus specifically on UTM.
Remote ID Grows in Importance as Number of Registered Drones in the U.S. Approaches 1.3 Million
Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao described the developing economy of drone technology as one that can not be easily siloed. Drones are on their way to mainstream deployment, with the number of drones registered in the U.S. already reaching nearly 1.3 million, Chao explained at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting earlier this month.
Drones, however, are well on their way to mainstream deployment. They are widely used by hobbyists, by first responders, in rescue and recovery efforts, and to inspect infrastructure. In fact, as of December 14, 2018 there were nearly 1.3 million registered drones in this country, and more than 116,000 registered drone operators.
—Elaine Chao, Department of Transportation Secretary
The FAA’s issue of an RFI and the announcement of the UPP tell us that the FAA has a high priority placed on remote ID and UTM. While it will likely take years for these technologies to be fully implemented, we can see the building blocks being laid in place.
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