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NASA demonstrates autonomous drone operations at Langley vertiplex

High Density Vertiplex Operations Center at NASA Langley uses Anra's UTM system
High Density Vertiplex Operations Center at NASA Langley (Image: NASA)
High Density Vertiplex Operations Center at NASA Langley (Image: NASA) -

NASA Langley Research Center’s Advanced Air Mobility High Density Vertiplex project has hosted demonstrated scalable autonomous drone operations during a live flight test event for guests.

NASA Langley researchers are using the High Density Vertiplex (HDV) to develop the beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) air traffic management technologies and processes needed to enable autonomous aircraft and drone operations.  

As a NASA Langley partner, Anra Technologies provided fusion capability for multiple surveillance sources integrated into Anra's Uncrewed Traffic Management (UTM) system, then visualized in the HDV Operations Center. 

Anra has been working with NASA Langley researchers since 2021 on technologies that enable BVLOS operations for uncrewed aircraft systems such as drones and vertical take-off and land (VTOL) aircraft. Anra was tasked to fuse cooperative and non-cooperative surveillance sensor data into a correlated common operating picture.

These systems include three NASA radars (LSTAR V2, (2) GA-9120) in addition to another Skyler-2 radar through a collaborative Space Act Agreement with Longbow Cooperative ADS-B and FLARM sensors. Additionally, ANRA’s fused track data includes a path prediction feature that anticipates an aircraft’s route for additional deconfliction measures.

The NASA-Anra team continues to refine fusion features and user interfaces to ensure accurate and selectable information is presented meaningfully.    

“We want to get to the point in the UAM ecosystem where people will be able to generate revenue while the average person can afford to use it,” said Lou Glaab, acting branch head for the Aeronautic Systems Engineering Branch at NASA Langley. “To achieve that, you are talking high density with lots of traffic and aircraft. I’m sure some companies could fly VTOLs instead of helicopters, but that will only serve a very small percentage of the population.”

Anra is also responsible for integrating its fused surveillance data stream into its UTM solution for reducing and mitigating air risk for BVLOS operations. Using the same system deployed for numerous FAA projects, ANRA’s UTM platform provides core services such as strategic deconfliction and conformance monitoring, geozone creation, and alerting for uncrewed aircraft.

By adding surveillance, the Anra solution routes uncrewed aircraft to avoid the risk of air collision with both crewed and uncrewed aircraft.

Anra's platform also integrates other supplemental data such as Remote ID, LAANC, weather and NOTAMs to provide a single common operating picture that helps manage and coordinate all uncrewed air traffic from the Langley HDV Operations Center.   

“I can’t think of another location with as many technologies for testing and developing safe operation and integration of AAM aircraft and their enabling systems,” said Amit Ganjoo, Founder and CEO of Anra. “I believe Langley offers a critical first node for expanding operations in the Hampton Roads region, and I’m thrilled that Anra is providing the engine to help power this innovation.”

The Anra capabilities installed in support of the HDV subproject are designed for scalability and have been developed using international standards that align with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) vision for integrating drones and VTOLs into the national airspace system.

The High Density Vertiplex project will work toward developing a prototype vertiport automation system – a vertical aircraft takeoff and landing pad plus terminal – to assess scalable and efficient aircraft operations, flight and airspace management procedures, and interoperability of capabilities needed to support AAM operations, especially in an urban environment. 

Glaab added, “We are performing rapid prototyping and assessment of a future UAM Ecosystem allowing a view of the future through integration of representative elements involved with onboard automation and automated airspace to develop a vertiport automation system. We have much more work ahead of us, but this simulation and flight test with subsequent demonstration proves that we took a big step forward for AAM.”