A Canadian firm has reached a research collaboration agreement with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). The goal, according to a news release, is “to use artificial intelligence in Advanced Air Mobility.”

The company is called Aquarius Innovation, and it works on software solutions for Unmanned Traffic Management. Specifically, a new collaboration will integrate “the NRC’s cutting-edge work in artificial intelligence-based detect and classify systems into Aquarius Innovation’s fully autonomous drone traffic management systems, frequently referred to as RPAS Traffic Management (RTM).”

Let’s find out more.

RTM

Remotely Piloted Aircraft System, or RPAS, is the term used for aerial drones in Canada (and by the International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO). So don’t let the term “RTM” confuse you; it has the same meaning as Unmanned Traffic Management, or UTM.

Regardless of which acronym you use, the meaning is the same: an automated system that will ensure that manned and unmanned (or “crewed” and “uncrewed,” which is starting to be used regularly) aircraft can safely share the airspace. Many different companies and working groups around the globe are actively working on solutions for this issue.

Real-time

Of course, any system like this has to be working in real-time. Any operator running drone software – whether it’s an individual unit or a fleet – needs to have constant situational awareness of the airspace. There have to be safeguards built in so that any aircraft can be detected, identified – and avoided.

Aquarius Innovations already has an RTM solution that it’s been working on, a fleet-management tool for remotely operating drones. Now, it will be working with the NRC on the first phase of their collaborative project. That project (take a deep breath) is called: “Integration of the NRC’s Detect and Classify Module into Aquarius’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) Traffic Management System.”

Synergy

You could think of this project, then, as aiming for a synergic effect. Successfully integrating some of NRC’s tech into the existing software would provide much-needed capabilities in a world where automated Beyond Visual Line of Site drone missions become routine (an era that will be here before you know it).

Aquarius CEO Sam Moon says his company is excited about this next step and particularly pleased to be working with one of NRC’s experts:

The Aquarius team is excited to work with the NRC’s Dr. Iraj Mantegh, a leading UAS technology and RTM expert, and his team to develop systems that enable drones to impact both the environment and people’s lives positively. Dr. Mantegh has invaluable experience in technology developments and practical research for aerospace and robotics industry in Canada and brings significant experience to this collaboration effort.

Think of it as an automated aerial traffic system…

Aquarius Innovations does have some secret sauce: something it calls UTP, or Unified Transfer Protocol. You can read more about that and watch a company video (which we, unfortunately, can’t embed) right here.

Wait, there’s more

The release offers more on Dr. Mantegh’s background, and it’s impressive:

Dr. Mantegh is a Senior Research Officer and Technology Lead at the NRC- Aerospace Research Centre’s Integrated Aerial Mobility program, which works to overcome the technical and regulatory challenges of the next generation of unmanned aircraft systems. Dr. Mantegh holds a Ph.D. degree in Mechatronics and an MBA in General Management and has over 20 years of experience in technology developments and practical research for aerospace and robotics industry in Canada.

Aquarius, using patented technology, says it is “the first company to develop a system that integrates detect-and-avoid with traffic management. The collaboration between the NRC and Aquarius creates a scalable platform for RTM that allows a single operator to control multiple drones supported by artificial intelligence-based detect-and-avoid systems.”

DroneDJ’s Take

Any UTM/RTM system that’s going to stand a chance of widespread adoption will need to detect-and-avoid capabilities, and those capabilities will have to be tightly integrated into a fully automated system capable of resolving potential conflicts as quickly as possible. This appears to be a step in that direction.

There are, as noted, other companies and working groups working on similar solutions. Aquarius emphasizes in its release that it’s first priority if autonomous fleet management for First Responders and life-saving missions – something we applaud. We look forward to hearing more about the results of this collaboration between Aquarius and the NRC. Aquarius is placing an emphasis on getting its fleet management.

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