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A New Era Takes Flight

By Ken Stewart, General Manager, AiRXOS

A New Era Takes FlightKen Stewart, General Manager, AiRXOS

Trusted autonomy and the unmanned traffic management infrastructure that supports the advanced Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) applications are poised to have a significant and lasting impact on industries, organizations, state and federal agencies, and on individuals. From reducing inspection costs in the utilities sector, lessening urban gridlock, disrupting ecommerce supply chains, to creating new products, services, and markets – autonomy and advanced UAV operations are gearing up to be a game changer in the way we work, live, and play.

The speed at which a pizza or plasma can be delivered via autonomous mobility, depends on the safe integration of manned and unmanned airspace. In short, UAVs need to get along with manned aircraft and manned ground vehicles, safely and efficiently. That ground work is only just being laid— regulations, infrastructure, networks, and technology are being rapidly developed to support the many ways in which drones and urban mobility will operate. 

The Unmanned Traffic Management system (UTM) is the framework that will enable the future of autonomy

It’s one thing to have planes in the sky; it’s another to have thousands of drones performing dozens of different operations in that same airspace. According to the FAA, about 7,000 planes fly in the U.S. skies at any time during the day. There are more than 325,000 registered drones in the U.S.

The Unmanned Traffic Management system (UTM) is the framework that will enable the future of autonomy. It’s designed to enable safe and efficient low-altitude UAV operations, it’s a system of systems unifying stakeholder data from regulatory agencies like the FAA, from communication networks, data service providers, drone operators, radar surveillance, navigation & weather applications, advanced operations providers, iOT, and more, creating a new, advanced air space management network. The global UTM market, already valued at about US $538 million in 2018, is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 20 percent during the period 2019–2025. Aerospace and Aviation organizations have taken notice and are already investing millions in, or developing in-house these networks and advanced applications.

Today, drones cannot fly Beyond the Line of Visual Site (BVLOS), over people, or at night, without specific exemptions and waivers from the FAA. To enable ‘last mile delivery’, meaning a package or plasma delivered to the doorstep, a drone must fly in most cases over people, beyond the visual line of site and in some cases at night. It may also be flying in a city with structural obstacles, or around terrain that can’t be identified. While the potential of autonomous mobility certainly lies in the infrastructure, the economic impact will be felt in its applications. Ecommerce, first responders, oil & gas, solar, and wind sectors will all realize opportunities and cost savings from these kind of advanced applications. A last mile delivery is enabled once it can fly beyond the line of sight, or over people. According to McKinsey & Company, autonomous vehicles including drones will deliver close to 100 percent of X2C and 80 percent of all items.

The autonomous mobility industry today is moving rapidly and is expected to see strong growth over the next few decades. The increase in adoption of advanced applications and new regulations will further boost the market. The industry is poised quite literally to take off.

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