A three-year long test of a proposed solution for an automated unmanned traffic management (UTM) system just finished its run. The Singapore UTM trial, run by private companies OneSky and Nova Systems was largely deemed a success in creating a system for what is essentially air traffic control for drones.
The Singapore UTM trial came about through a partnership between multinational engineering and tech firm Nova, as well as global UTM provider OneSky. But the Singaporean government has been closely involved; it was co-founded as part of a UAS Call-For-Proposal by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore.
“It marks a significant milestone in Singapore’s journey towards a future driven by UAS technology, as private and government sector stakeholders look deeper into the possibility of the large-scale, integrated deployment of such technology in Singapore’s unique urban environment,” according to a statement from OneSky.
What happened during the Singapore UTM trial?
UTM is not a simple task; it involves multiple moving parts, from integration between government and private companies, cross-platform technology capabilities, real-time information and more The trial tested multiple aspects of UTM — many of which are aspects that other drone trials elsewhere in the world have yet to touch. Those include:
- flight planning and authorization
- strategic deconfliction
- conformance monitoring
- real time alerts
- dynamic rerouting
- constraint management
- inter-USS communication
- Remote Identification capabilities
- Since the project began in October 2018, the consortium saw the successful completion of two suites of flight trials in April and December 2019, including a study of the operational suitability of 4G and 5G networks to safely support UAS operations in Singapore.
Since the project began in October 2018, two suites of flight trials occurred (in April and December 2019), including a study of the operational suitability of 4G and 5G networks to safely support UAS operations in Singapore.
The final demonstration of the trial occurred earlier this month, when a mix of live flights and simulations showed how to handle the mass deployment of drones flying Beyond Visual Line of Sight.
“The technology developed and lessons learnt present numerous opportunities for Singapore’s UAS industry as a whole with large-scale drone deployment capable of supporting a range of critical operations, including surveillance patrols and delivery of essential supplies,” according to a statement from OneSky. “Under pre-identified and monitored routes visualized through a UTM system, UAS operations are coordinated, regulated and safely integrated into our urban airways, ensuring the safety and security of all citizens.”
Prior to that, physical tests also occurred through a range of real-life use cases in the maritime environment including shore-to-ship deliveries, vessel inspections, search and rescue flight profiles and general surveillance for security.
Singapore’s unique position in shaping UTM
Singapore has long been a leader in the drone industry. The sovereign island city-state has long jumped on drone use. Back in 2014, Singaporean restaurants were flying around drones to serve as waiters. But use-cases go beyond the cheeky. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Singapore’s government deployed drones to monitor (and theoretically prompt officers) to break up groups of people in an effort to promote social distancing (though of course, that use case also prompted some surveillance concerns).
The Drone Regulations Report 2020 from German drone analytics firm Drone Industry Insights rated Singapore as the No. 1 government that is best prepared for drone operations.
Singapore is also extremely small — just about 170 times smaller than New York. Rollout of a UTM system in the U.S. would be huge (and inevitably complicated). But all of Singapore is the size of a small city, meaning rollout could be much more streamlined.
Singapore’s geography and economy also positions it well for being a UTM early-adopter.
“Growing demands for services such as last-mile delivery and mounting concerns over global issues like natural disasters and climate change have underscored the need to develop future-ready solutions to address the shortcomings of current urban infrastructures,” according to a statement from OneSky.
Throw in congested airspace, high population density, and tropical climate — and UTM is a necessity.
What’s next for UTM in Singapore (and worldwide)?
This specific Singapore UTM trial is over, but UTM testing is not done. Later this year, expect to see the upcoming official launch of the Maritime Drone Estate, where drones will be tested for maritime applications.
Nova and OneSky said they plan to work closely together with authorities and key industry players to develop the technologies, regulatory frameworks, operating rules and performance standards to build this system. This latest trial is set to serve as a roadmap for a larger-scale rollout of UTM in Singapore.