The future of drones
Imagine the year 2022, when more than 700,000 commercial drones could potentially be flying millions of times a year in low-altitude airspace to deliver packages, monitor traffic, track storms, inspect power lines, and aid search and rescue operations, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Of course, this future would require a sophisticated air traffic management system for unmanned aircraft—one that would prevent accidents and airborne congestion, and work efficiently and safely to serve public and commercial interests.
Who is PK?
Meet Parimal Kopardekar, fondly known as PK, a senior technologist for Air Transportation System at NASA, who has worked with his team to create a drone traffic management system to solve these issues. In fact, he has been selected as one of the top 12 finalists for the 2018 Sammies, the prestigious People’s Choice Award by the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, the highest honor for public service in government. The only Indian American finalist, he has been nominated for a “Promising Innovations” medal because of his research as principal investigator of the Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) at the Moffett Field at California-based NASA’s Ames Research Center.
Simply put, UTM is a first-of-its-kind traffic management system for unmanned aerial vehicles, which will pave the way for large-scale use of commercial drones.
How was PK able to brainstorm and build a traffic system to manage drones?
Over the past 23 years, PK has dedicated his career to improving air transportation systems. He is a subject matter expert and renowned leader of research in this field, focused on airspace operations. He holds a doctorate and master’s in industrial engineering and bachelor’s degree in production engineering. As a graduate student, PK became interested in aviation and first went to work for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
In 2012 he started developing a system for managing drones and held a conference on drone traffic management issues in 2014. From a $5,000 workshop, he has blossomed a fledgling program into an $18 million annual budget and has set the stage for an entire new era in unmanned aviation and the potential to unleash a multibillion dollar U.S. industry. He has methodically worked to persuade all of the major stakeholders to focus on the traffic management system and the need for safety for our unmanned aerial system. The list of more than 200 industry partners includes government entities, such as the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority), the Department of Defense and Homeland Security, and foreign governments. In addition, his UTM team has worked with several private-sector companies, including Amazon, Google, AT&T, Verizon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Cisco, Skyward and GE.
Vote for PK and his team for the 2018 Sammies
PK’s transformative work to help establish the Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) project at NASA truly deserves public recognition and we can all help make this a reality by voting for PK and the UTM team for the 2018 Sammies by voting here: https://servicetoamericamedals.org/peoples-choice/index.php. The top 4 finalists will be announced on June 21, and the winner will be announced on July 19. Our support can really make a difference here.
PK’s Podcast on Drones
If you are interested in hearing PK talk about managing drones in the sky, listen to his podcast on NASA’s website here.
Also, you can read PK’s full profile for why he is a nominee for the Sammies at their official web page here.
Hemil Modi, a Senior Research Scientist/Engineer and an unmanned autonomous systems (UAS) lead on the NASA UAS Traffic Management project (UTM), is PK’s colleague at NASA’s Ames Research Center. He contributed to this blog.