Some in industry think the government must develop the algorithms—as it did for TCAS, the traffic-alert and collision-avoidance system, so industry could avoid the liability—and that it may take a decade to field certified sense-and-avoid systems. Others believe industry can take the lead and move much more quickly. The FAA plans to formulate a standard for sense-and-avoid by 2016.
The military, for its part, is funding research into making unmanned aircraft more autonomous to increase capability, safety and reliability, and reduce the manpower required to plan and execute today's unmanned missions.
As the industry matures, unmanned aircraft are looking more like manned ones in their layers of redundancy and software criticality. Sikorsky, for one, (see next article) sees autonomy as a path to the level of man-rated reliability and safety that ultimately should make it easier to obtain airworthiness certification and aircraft access for unmanned and optionally piloted aircraft.
Europe, meanwhile, is moving to catch up with the U.S., in research and development if not yet in procurement and production. This is highlighted by flights this year off the coast of Spain to demonstrate the suitability of satellite communications for operating UAS in civil airspace, and by Eurocopter of an optionally piloted capability in the EC145 commercial helicopter.
A road map for UAS “remotely piloted aircraft systems” integration into European airspace was presented to the European Commission in June, and lays out a plan for technology, regulatory and policy actions to enable a phased introduction of UAS beginning by the end of 2016. Plans for command-and-control and sense-and-avoid technologies to be validated by the end of 2018 would put Europe in a horse race with the U.S. for full UAS integration.