The Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation’s (ARCAA) Smart Skies project, focusing on the development of technology to enable manned and unmanned aircraft to effectively share airspace, is approaching its final milestone.

The project, also involving Boeing Research and Technology-Australia, Insitu Pacific and the Queensland Government, is exploring development of three key enabling aviation technologies: an Automated Separation Management System capable of providing separation assurance in complex airspace environments; Sense and Act systems for manned and unmanned aircraft capable of collision avoidance of dynamic and static obstacles; and a Mobile Aircraft Tracking System (MATS) utilising a cost-effective radar and dependent surveillance systems.

The latest flight trials included all of the project elements, including a fixed-wing UAV and a modified Cessna flying in automatic mode, flying collision scenarios with simulated aircraft.

The final flight trial will take place in December this year, before project wrap-up and final reports in 2011, and, ultimately, the attempt to commercialise the Smart Skies intellectual property.

ARCAA acting director Dr Jonathon Roberts said a new research project was also on the cards. The collision-avoidance research is one of two key areas in which the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) requires proof that technology in unmanned aircraft can operate in a way equivalent to human pilots.

“In the future research we’re trying to hit the next problem: Smart Skies is all about collision avoidance and managing the avoidance of collisions; the next thing that CASA will require will be automatic landing systems,” Dr Roberts said. “So that if you have an engine failure or other catastrophic failure and you have to come down, you’ve got to be able to put it down in a safe place, so these will be vision systems that actually look at the ground and figure out where to land.

“That’s the next thing that has to be done before UAVs can fly over populous areas.”

The Smart Skies program was recently recognised at the Queensland Engineering Excellence Awards, where it won the ‘Control systems, networks, information processing and telecommunications’ category.

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