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Augmented displays of airspace conditions demonstrated enhanced situational awareness during UAS flights. Kevin Gallagher, president and CEO of Simulyze Inc., believes utilities considering the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to inspect energy infrastructure could achieve their goal more quickly if they can show they have maximum situational awareness during flight operations.

The company focuses on using its operational intelligence technology and applications to do for the UAS industry what it’s done for the U.S. military—improve situational awareness for air operations.

Situational awareness—the knowledge of all that’s happening in relation to an aircraft’s position—is often the difference between success and failure in military aerial missions. Those with aviation backgrounds understand its importance, but Gallagher said it can be difficult to convey when flying a UAS from the ground.

“We think our operational intelligence platform really is critical for some of the more challenging operations,” Gallagher told UASmagazine.com. “When you get to things like beyond visual line of sight, you really need that complete situational awareness picture. You need a lot more information put together for safe and effective operations. We think our tool really shines in that environment and to support those kinds of activities.”

Simply being able to see the location of a UAS in flight on map is not enough, according to Gallagher. He believes that when applying to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for Part 107 commercial exemptions or waivers, the ability to demonstrate situational awareness during UAS operations could be key.

“Our hope is that some operations will be enabled by submitting waivers and exceptions to the FAA and using an operational intelligence platform like ours to help build a case,” he said. “Having a complete picture is critical for those operations and will be for the future, but it really has to be established in these waivers and exceptions that are going to be the way forward for the near- and medium-term until the regulatory environment comes out.”

Simulyze demonstrated the value of its platform last year, using a Flirtey UAS to make a ship-to-shore delivery. A ground control station was used for the aircraft, but Simulyze also provided augmented displays showing information such as the locations of other aircraft; the type of airspace in which the flight’s occurring; weather conditions and forecasts; the aircraft’s heading in relation to its orientation; its location in relation to ships in the water and objects on the ground; and even a heat map to show how the quadcopter’s rotors were performing.

The UAS pilot, an FAA tech center and the air safety officer—who decided if the mission was a go or no go—had access to the Simulyze displays, which can be customized to meet the information needs of those involved in the operation.

Gallagher said Simulyze has a Space Act agreement with NASA and is working with the agency on UAS traffic management (UTM).

“We’re the only vendor who has worked with all of the builds of NASA’s UTM software and we supported two of the operators flying TCL (Technology Capability Level) 2 flights last October,” he said.

“We’re taking the situational awareness capability and the UAS traffic management capability and putting them together,” he said. “We’re putting it all together and hopefully getting good, easy information to UAS operators to help them plan and fly their operations.”