NASA Floats Drone Challenge Concept

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NASA is considering the creation of an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) challenge with the goal of finding solutions to problems involved in integrating drones into the National Airspace System. The challenge would require competing UAS vehicles to maintain separation from traffic while operating in congested airspace and under a range of conditions and failure modes. Competitors would use and demonstrate sense-and-avoid technologies compatible with NextGen systems. Winners would receive a monetary prize up to 1.5 million dollars as the result of winning two parts of the challenge.  NASA says competing aircraft would need to display reliable and accurate four-dimensional trajectories. But the agency isn't prepared to move forward just yet.

NASA has issued draft rules and is seeking input prior to Nov. 16, 2012. It has not yet decided to commit to the challenge. As proposed, NASA is suggesting a two-part challenge separated by roughly one year.  The first part of the challenge would focus on safe airspace operations, system failure compensation and skills development that would prepare teams for the second part of the challenge. Unmanned aircraft would need to demonstrate positive control in space and time (four-dimensional trajectories) -- they would need to demonstrate the ability to be where they are suppose to be, when they are supposed to be there. And lastly, competitors would need to exhibit "the ability to interact with Air Traffic Management in a clear, concise, and timely manner" throughout operations. The second part of the challenge would test the ability of unmanned aerial vehicles to perform with both cooperative and non-cooperative air traffic, communicate with ATC under lost link conditions "and operate safely when GPS is unavailable." Find the rules online here (PDF). More details, here.