FAA research grants drone study Kansas State

Kansas State, University of North Dakota, among big winners of FAA research grants

Which colleges and universities are on the cutting edge of drone research and education? Based on the latest Federal Aviation Administration’s latest round of ASSURE grants, they are University of North Dakota and Kansas State University. Both schools received $1 million or more in FAA research grants to study drones.

The FAA this week announced the first round of 2021 ASSURE grants. ASSURE, short for Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence, is a name for universities designated by the FAA as schools that are “advancing the Department’s efforts to integrate UAS safely and efficiently into our Nation’s airspace system.”

The grants total $5.8 million, and are spread out among researchers in eight different drone-related areas.

Here are the schools that received funding, and how much they received in total:

SchoolSum of money received in round one of ASSURE grants for FY 2021
University of North Dakota$1,338,693
Kansas State University$1,000,000
Wichita State University$684,000
The Ohio State University$614,741
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University$575,569
University of Alaska, Fairbanks$525,000
North Carolina State University$370,000
New Mexico State University$260,000
University of Kansas$160,000
University of Alabama, Huntsville$124,987
Oregon State University$100,000
Mississippi State University$70,000
Grand Total$5,822,990

“These universities are making great strides in advancing our efforts to safely and efficiently integrate UAS into our nation’s airspace system,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “Each grant is designed to explore the questions that will lead to greater UAS and unmanned air carrier integration, which will ultimately deliver new transportation solutions and economic benefits for the American people.”

Within those schools, the money is broken down into specific research areas within the drone industry. Those are:

Air Carrier Operations: This research is set to understand the differences between commercial air carrier operations and drones, to help understand potential requirements for certifying large UAS for air carrier operations. What’s intriguing about this field is that it’s specifically designed to focus on the passenger transportation environment.

  • Kansas State University – Lead University $220,000
  • University of Alaska, Fairbanks $150,000
  • North Carolina State University $150,000
  • University of North Dakota $130,000
  • The Ohio State University $149,745

UAS Cargo Operations: This research will evaluate the feasibility of commercial drone cargo operations and how greater autonomy may provide an improved level of safety.

  • University of Alaska, Fairbanks – Lead University $240,000
  • Kansas State University $125,000
  • University of Alabama, Huntsville $124,987
  • North Carolina State University $125,000
  • University of North Dakota $60,000
  • The Ohio State University $124,996

High-Bypass UAS Engine Ingestion Test: Given fears of drones being ingested into manned aircraft, this research is intended to study potential hazards, as well as the difference in threat that a drone poses vs. other things in the sky, such as birds, ice or volcanic ash.

  • The Ohio State University – Lead University $340,000
  • Wichita State University $100,000

Small UAS (sUAS) Mid-Air Collision (MAC) Likelihood: Along those lines, there’s also funding to study the impact of mid-air collisions (as opposed to simply drones being ingested by large engines).

  • Wichita State University – Lead University $464,000
  • Kansas State University $220,000
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University $215,000
  • University of Kansas $160,000

Mitigating GPS and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Risks for UAS: Detect and avoid is one of the hottest areas of drone research right now, and the FAA is funding part of it, which it calls “necessary to enable safe and secure automated sUAS navigation.” The research will study how unvalidated or unavailable GPS and “ADS-B In” data poses security and safety risks to automated drone navigation.

  • University of North Dakota – Lead University $325,000
  • Kansas State University $135,000
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University $135,000
  • Oregon State University $100,000
  • University of Alaska, Fairbanks $135,000

Shielded UAS Operations–Detect and Avoid (DAA): This effort will identify risks, determine whether shielded operations can be made safe, and to what degree drone Detect and Avoid requirements can be reduced. Researches might eventually recommend standoff distances from manned aircraft and ground obstacles, including buildings and air traffic control towers.

  • University of North Dakota – Lead University $430,000
  • Kansas State University $110,000
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University $150,000
  • New Mexico State University $140,000
  • North Carolina State University $95,000

Validation of Visual Operation Standards for Small UAS (sUAS): This research will measure how well humans do at avoiding other aircraft and hazards, identify and estimate potential failures, with the intent to create training standards for drone pilots. Research outcomes may also potentially inform recommendations for future regulatory updates to Part 107, the FAA’s Small UAS Rule, which currently requires that drones remain in the operator’s line of sight.

  • Kansas State University – Lead University $190,000
  • Wichita State University $120,000
  • Mississippi State University $70,000
  • New Mexico State University $120,000

UAS Flight Data Research in support of Aviation Safety Information and Sharing:

  • University of North Dakota – Lead University $393,693
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University $75,569

The FAA said it estimates that there are more than 1.7 million recreational and commercial drones are in the active UAS fleet — a figure it expects to grow to as high as 2.31 million by 2024.

With that, the FAA research grants are designated to schools to help test and come up with recommendations for drone airspace integration. The idea behind FAA doling out the money to schools: universities can research drone use and get government funding for it. But ultimately, their research is used by the FAA, freeing up the FAA to focus on other projects.

Many of the same schools named above also received ASSURE funding in 2020, though some of the past research areas have been different, including a grant to study drones for disaster preparedness and response, and to study Remote ID standards (since then, the FAA has formalized Remote ID rules).

What’s more, many of the same schools that received funding in this round of ASSURE FAA research grants also are participants in the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Collegiate Training Initiative (UAS-CTI)

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