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Contestants invited to join NASA UAV safety competition

by Michael Willoughby

NASA has announced a competition for UAV developers with entry between September 1 and November 1.

During the SAND Challenge, contestants will compete with autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles. The proposed challenge is in direct alignment with ARMD/AOSP, System-Wide Safety (SWS) Project’s Technical Challenge (TC)-2 that states “In-Flight Safety Predictions for Emerging Operations.”

The challenge will address some of the safety critical risks associated with flying UAVs in the national airspace system:

  1.  flight outside of approved airspace;
  2.  unsafe proximity to people or property; and
  3.  critical system failure.

The challenge will follow the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 107 Regulation Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations provided in Appendix A.

NASA Langley’s patented Safeguard technology is designed to assuredly address the aforementioned safety critical risks and will fly onboard the competitor’s vehicle while navigating the course. Safeguard is NASA’s patented aviation quality fencing technology. Safeguard is a Verified and Validated independent system designed to supersede UAV manufacturer guidance, navigation and control systems, and when necessary, physically prevent the vehicle from accessing restricted air space assuring the UAV complies with regulatory property protection and safety requirements. The SAND challenge will demonstrate the successful surveillance of a post-natural disaster scenario amidst critical infrastructure. The SAND Challenge will be held in May of 2020 in Hampton, Virginia.

The primary objectives of the SAND Challenge are:

  1. To demonstrate safe operations of autonomous UAVs amidst critical infrastructure using NASA’s Safeguard Technology to stakeholders, the emerging UAV industry and the public.
  2.  To collect post competition data from Safeguard for further analysis that could inform new regulatory policies that support expanded use of commercial UAV systems.
  3. Inform regulatory stakeholders including federal, state and local governments on the potential operational benefits of integrating NASA’s Safeguard technology to UAVs to aid first responders in natural disasters events.
  4. To engage the emerging UAV operator market to the value proposition of NASA’s Safeguard Technology and its potential use cases for commercialization and licensing.
    The small business competitors will develop their own autonomous logic implemented on their drones to provide surveillance and identification of key targets in a simulated post-natural disaster scene.

A preliminary description of the SAND Competition Course will be provided on the SAND Demonstration website by September 30, 2019. The Langley patented Safeguard technology will be flown as a stand-alone payload mounted on the drone. The Safeguard technology will transmit a signal as well as document breaches in the geo-fenced boundaries of the competition course.

Competitors will be given the boundary conditions of the geo-spatial area in which the competition will be held in Hampton, Virginia. The Safeguard technology will transmit to the drone’s flight control system a discrete signal upon the breaching of the geo-fenced warning zone as well as transmit a signal upon breaching the geo-fenced do not enter zone. The competitor’s drone’s Autoland command must be engaged upon receiving Safeguard’s do not enter zone signal. Failure to fly out of the geo-fenced do not enter zone will result in termination from the competition. Final details addressing Safeguard integration and concept of operation will be provided by September 30, 2019.

NASA will evaluate the performance of the drones to autonomously perform their surveillance service function of identifying the post-natural disaster objects in an efficient manner as well as against the Safeguard data that highlights where the drone would have been prevented from violating of airspace restrictions by the Safeguard system.

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