small drone circled above the Virginia Smart Road, flying over a high-tech vehicle driving southeast along the asphalt.
The drone flight isn’t unique – the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, the group coordinating the research, has done thousands. The car isn’t, either – the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has logged millions of vehicle research miles in their own test environments and on the open road.
What’s important about this research is the way the vehicles are interacting, communicating with each other, with the central software platform, and with the infrastructure on the Smart Road itself.
The tests were part of the latest iteration of NASA’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) research program, which is developing and testing technology designed to allow unmanned aircraft to share airspace safety and efficiently, with each other as well as with manned air traffic – and ground transportation.