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Video Above: Army Research Lab Advances AI to Land Drones on Tanks

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

“Explosion” would be an accurate word to describe the global economic market when it comes to the use of small drones and unmanned systems for both commercial and military operations, technology soon to be delivering pizzas in neighborhoods or supporting a police manhunt for a dangerous criminal through uneven buildings and narrow streets.


The proliferation of unmanned systems is opening new markets and leading the FAA to explore emerging technologies capable of enabling large numbers of small drones to operate in close proximity without crashing into each other, houses, buildings or nearby piloted aircraft. The FAA’s air traffic safety management approach is evolving to keep pace with market demands, and the agency is working with industry to develop an enabling infrastructure.

“FAA will evolve from the current concepts, and you will have a lot fewer niche players. You have several, which is what we have today, and it will evolve into something that is a lot more integrated. We are developing what we call an end to end solution,” Kip Spurio, technology director for Air Traffic Systems at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, told Warrior in an interview. “We’re trying to figure out what the market for this is, and what it is going to be. Right now there is a lot of churn in the market.”

Raytheon Intelligence & Space, which currently engineers many Air Traffic Control technologies throughout the country, is working with the FAA and industry partners to architect a new technological apparatus sufficient to enable deconflicted, high-volume drone flights for commercial purposes.

“An end-to-end system to allow beyond visual line of sight for small drones is going to unlock the economic potential of the small drone market for the benefit of everyone from the policemen, firemen and firefighter, to you and me, who want our package delivered the next day There's just a huge market out there that's waiting to be unleashed,” Spurio said.

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RI&S’s end-to-end system involves the integration of automated aviation technologies, cloud-computing, network or transport-layer hardening and security, to enable breakthrough levels of autonomy, navigational computation, sensor-data integration and air-space deconfliction.

“There's a whole series of capabilities that go into the end-to-end system. At one end, drone vehicle operators need to understand the status of his vehicle and understand the status of his portfolio of vehicles. This is what we would call fleet and pre-flight management and result in something like today’s flight plan,” Spurio explained.

The need for coordination and integrated flight plans given the market growth in the area of small drones was identified several years ago in an MIT paper called “Air Traffic Control for Drones.” Published in the MIT Technology Review in 2018, the essay points out that the FAA did not have standards and rules with which to govern the use of commercial robotic aircraft, anticipating the growing sphere of areas and markets where low-flying drones are likely to be in demand.

“The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has yet to propose rules to govern the use of commercial robotic aircraft in U.S. skies. But it predicts that 7,500 unmanned craft weighing 55 pounds (25 kilograms) or less will be operating in the U.S. by 2018. There is strong interest from agriculture, mining, and infrastructure companies in using drones for tasks like inspecting crops or gathering geospatial data,” the paper states (Tom Simonite). 

Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Warrior Maven and the Center for Military Modernization support the US Military and the need for continued US Modernization. However, Warrior Maven and the Center for Military Modernization do not speak for the US military or any US government entity. The Center is an independent entity intended to be a useful and value added publication for thought leadership and important discussion about modernization. Warrior Maven discusses and explores technologies, strategies and concepts of operation related to modernization and the need for deterrence and continued US military readiness, training and preparation for future conflict in a fast-changing threat environment. Warrior Maven does receive some support from private industry but all thoughts are those of the authors.