AUVSI Speakers: Safety and Innovation Hand in Hand for Unmanned Systems' Future

Safety is number one to ensure integration

Regardless if an unmanned system flies in the skies or transports passengers on the ground, safety is number one to ensure integration.

That's the message Deputy Secretary of the Department of Transportation John Porcari expressed to the crowd on the second day of AUVSI's Unmanned Systems 2013.

"The fact is safety is at the heart of everything we do at the Department of Transportation," he said.

He discussed the six Federal Aviation Administration test sites, which are scheduled to be named at the end of the year. He also acknowledged the recent Arctic operations announcement. All of these moves are part of streaming the approval for authorized use of unmanned aircraft by the 2015 congressional deadline.

Porcari acknowledged the department is behind on the small UAS notice of proposed rulemaking deadline, saying it's a frustrating process and many factors have made it take longer than the agency would have liked. Another factor in unmanned integration setbacks has been sequester, which has pushed back the NextGen air traffic system, a key factor in unmanned airspace access.

He also discussed privacy, saying even though it's not typically within the scope of transportation, it's an important factor in discussing UAS.

"Our job is safety and to make sure that UAS are safely integrated into the National Airspace System," he said. "The privacy part of it is a legal matter at the local, state and federal level. But we recognized that If together we don't tackle that issue successfully, then the technological progress won't matter."

Technology taking regulations by surprise isn't limited to aircraft. Porcari also discussed automated vehicles, which have been popping up in test mode on U.S. roads.

He said this is an area where innovation has outpaced regulation, but he stressed DOT's role in integration is once again safety. He touted the vehicle-to-vehicle test bed currently active in Ann Arbor, Mich. He called the 3,000-car connected vehicle project a parallel effort to automated vehicles.

Rear Adm. Mathias Winter reviewed the Navy's recent accomplishments with unmanned aircraft and stressed how a systems-based tack is important to take when thinking of UAS financially.

He touched on the Navy's recent carrier launch of the X-47B and made clear that the aborted landing attempt on the system's third flight was still a valuable moment for the demonstrator.

"There was no physics-based reason we couldn't have continued with that air vehicle and did that third track," he said. There's no physics reason we did it, but we're in a test environment, and so we took it back to the beach."

He reminded the audience how technologically challenging the demonstration is, which will lead to the UCLASS program requirements.

"That is not a trivial engineering solution or problem to solve, which was solved."

He talked about how the Navy values competition not just for vehicles but for the entire system going forward. He said competition will drive innovation not just for unmanned platforms, but also for command and control components and launch and recovery.

"The fact is we do unmanned systems not because the technology's there and we can do it, but we do it because we've got a responsibility in the Department of the Navy to provide that domain awareness around the globe in a maritime environment. That's not trivial."

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