KDOT IPP team to conduct landmark BVLOS UAS flight leveraging only onboard detect-and-avoid systems

The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) team has been granted permission to conduct the first ever beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) UAS flight that utilizes only onboard detect-and-avoid systems.

According to the KDOT team, this is the first-ever FAA authorized Part 107 operation to fly without visual observers or ground-based radar in place, as the flight will leverage Iris Automation’s onboard collision avoidance system, Casia.

“Flying rural missions like these without a human pilot onboard or costly radar on the ground is exponentially safer and more cost effective,” says Iris Automation CEO and co-founder Alexander Harmsen.

“The FAA is trusting us to pave the way for a safer, scalable future together with this precedent-setting second approval of our system.”

The milestone flight will be a collaborative effort between KDOT, Iris Automation, Kansas State University (K-State) Polytechnic Campus, and Westar Energy, as the entities will perform a nine-mile mission to inspect power lines in rural Kansas. The KDOT team says that this approval is the first of its kind for long line linear infrastructure, and is the first step to enable routine commercial linear infrastructure inspection across the state.

“This approval has a significant impact on the scalability of infrastructure inspection in Kansas, allowing us to conduct flights longer, cheaper and faster than previously possible,” says Bob Brock, KDOT director of Aviation.

“Kansas continues to lead the nation in safe UAS integration.”

According to the KDOT team, this is first UAS flight in FAA history “to leverage onboard sense and avoid systems alone for collision avoidance support.” This will also be the first required automated avoidance action. Flights will be conducted over the next few months, and will provide the FAA with critical data on true BVLOS activity.

K-State Polytechnic’s Applied Aviation Research Center will be responsible for the training and flight operations with a cross-functional team from the KDOT IPP team. The research center played a pivotal role in developing the safety case that ultimately led to FAA approval.

“We look forward to leveraging this waiver to integrate UAS technology into the transmission line inspection process,” says Kurt Carraway, UAS executive director of the K-State Polytechnic Applied Aviation Research Center.

“We are certain that utilities will be able to quickly realize a return on investment while mitigating safety to their maintenance personnel and increasing the reliability of their infrastructure to the general public.”

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