Preparing the nation for drones carrying cargo and people

Posted: June 17, 2021

In support of the Ohio Department of Transportation, The Ohio State University College of Engineering will play a key role in NASA’s recently announced Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign. The effort includes five government entities collaborating to determine how cargo-carrying drone and passenger-carrying air taxi services can be integrated into civic transportation plans.

The State of Ohio’s project will incorporate multiple use cases for personal travel and delivery of goods. Its winning proposal outlines test applications in health care delivery, air taxi or air metro, and regional air cargo transport. Led by the Ohio Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Center, the team is comprised of aircraft manufacturers, operators, and airspace service providers and suppliers, regional and city planning organizations, health care networks, and other academic institutions.

The regional campaign activities will take place through summer of 2022, each including a series of at least four workshops where experts from the localities and NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) mission will work on updating local plans and creating new plans that might be needed to enable AAM.

Image of two people on top of a water tower installing research hardware
Research Scientist Matt McCrink (right) installs a low-altitude surveillance radar on a water tower in Marysville, Ohio

“What’s the best way for a local government to implement an AAM system that is equitable, sustainable, and integrated with its other transportation systems? Answering that is a big part of what this is all about,” said Nancy Mendonca, NASA’s deputy AAM mission integration manager.

Ohio State’s involvement is spearheaded by the College of Engineering’s Aerospace Research Center (ARC), located adjacent to the university’s airport in northwest Columbus. ARC faculty and staff specialize in the design and deployment of advanced autonomous systems, including complex unmanned traffic management (UTM) systems key to enabling the AAM concepts sought by NASA. Since 2018, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Chair and Professor Jim Gregory and ARC Research Scientist Matt McCrink have studied the use of drones to monitor traffic and roadway conditions from the air along the U.S. 33 Smart Mobility Corridor in central Ohio. Funded by the Ohio Department of Transportation, the project includes a system of sensors and communication equipment enabling unmanned traffic management.

“The team and technologies we've developed in support of this work will allow us to pursue more complex operations with more capable vehicles to expand access to, and the availability of AAM,” said McCrink. “However, much work is still required to ensure that this new technology is safe and can reliably meet the needs of consumers and communities.”

Home to more than 550 aerospace companies and three of the nation’s premier aerospace centers— NASA Glenn Research Center, NASA Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility and Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base—Ohio is the nation’s largest aerospace industry supplier, with a workforce of more than 38,000 in the aviation and aerospace industry.

“In Ohio, we have a longstanding history with advancing aerospace technology, and we continue to pursue new opportunities to support the development of cutting-edge technology,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said. “We are eager to join with NASA in a new, broad coalition of institutions across the state who are investing in the advancement of this transformative aerospace technology.”

by College of Engineering Communications

Category: Research