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Cape Cod Times Covers Drone “Geofence” and New UMass Aviation Center at Bradley Airport

John Collura

John Collura

What happens when unmanned drone aircraft accidently wander into the airspace around airports and create hazards for commercial and other manned airplanes? One answer is a so-called “geofence,” or virtual boundary around airports. At Bradley International Airport in Connecticut, a group of students and faculty from the UMass College of Engineering is working on developing just such a geofence. “It works the way virtual fences work to keep dogs in a yard,” said John Collura, emeritus professor of civil and environmental engineering. In this case, though, the technology is used to keep drones from causing mishaps with planes landing and taking off. This fascinating research project was recently featured in the Cape Cod Times. Watch Video: Companies test drones at Joint Base Cape Cod or More photos: Drone testing at Joint Base Cape Cod.

According to Collura, who is also the head of the new UMass Amherst Aviation Research and Training Center at the Westover Air Force Reserve Base in Chicopee, the drones would have sensors, like transponders used to pay tolls in E-ZPass lanes on highways. They would warn air traffic controllers that a drone is in restricted air space within a 5-mile radius.

The Cape Cod Times story focused on on the unmanned air systems technology test site set up inside the gates of Joint Base Cape Cod at Buzzards Bay by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research division for the U.S. Department of Defense. The drone technology being tested here could someday help investigate natural disasters and emergency situations without putting human life at risk. The Cape Cod base was selected with much fanfare in 2013 as one of six test sites across the country.

In the Cape Cod Times story Collura noted that UMass Amherst students and faculty are working on ways to keep drones from airspace near busy airports.

Professors Collura, Doug Looze of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), and Daiheng Ni of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) are working together with ECE and CEE students on a project to develop an electronic geofence around Bradley International Airport to keep unmanned aircraft out of that airspace. The technology would issue a warning to the drone operator and, if this warning went unheeded, actions would be taken to safely remove the drone from the restricted airport airspace.  

As Collura has said, “We’re working on this with the support of U.S. Department of Transportation research funds and currently have five students and three faculty engaged in preliminary concept development as part of a senior design capstone project.”

Collura has also said that the Aviation Research and Training Center will be doing collaborative inter-university research at the Cape Cod base. “The UMass aviation center is currently a member of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Northeast unmanned aircraft test site along with MIT, University of Syracuse, University of Rochester, and a few others. Our testing would take place at the Joint Base Cape Cod.”

Bolstered by a $5-million grant from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in December of 2014, the University of Massachusetts Amherst is launching the major Aviation Research and Training Center in partnership between UMass Amherst and M2C Aerospace, Inc., a woman-owned business based in Milford, Mass. The aviation center is scheduled to open at the Westover location during the spring semester of 2017. See related article.

Currently the center is located on the Amherst campus under the umbrella of the UMass Transportation Center in the College of Engineering, according to Collura.

M2C Aerospace President and CEO Ann Dancik and her staff of aviation professionals and technologists have been closely working with Dr. Collura to establish the UMass aviation center over the past two years and have made continuing progress in positioning the center for new research and training opportunities with government and industry. This effort includes planning for the establishment of UMass-affiliated test beds to promote aviation research in controlled airspace with restricted commercial and general aviation air traffic.

The aviation center at Westover will also feature a 360-degree, hi-fidelity, 3D simulator for airspace design, the modeling of a variety of air traffic scenarios, and the training of individuals interested in becoming aviation professionals, such as air-traffic controllers. (March 2016)