Commerce Awards AIRT Grant to Support Standardized Public-Safety Drone Testing
Monday, April 19, 2021 | Comments

Airborne International Response Team (AIRT), a 501(c)3 organization supporting drones for good for emergencies and disaster response, was awarded a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) to support drone operations within federal, state and local public-safety agencies and emergency services organizations.

The grant funding will be used by AIRT’s DRONERESPONDERS program to help implement standard test methods for small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as a way to objectively evaluate aircraft capabilities, focus training with measures of remote pilot proficiency and support pilot credentialing.

“The first step toward evaluating aircraft capabilities and credentialing remote pilot skills is to get everybody onto the same measuring stick,” said Adam Jacoff, project leader for NIST’s Emergency Response Robotics Project. “That’s where standard test methods can play a key role. Especially across public safety, industrial, commercial and even recreational pilots. All need to demonstrate essential maneuvers to maintain positive aircraft control while performing whatever payload functionality is necessary to successfully perform the intended tasks.

“Our collaborative research and development effort with DRONERESPONDERS will validate the tests with public-safety drone operators across the nation," added Jacoff. "It should also facilitate mutual aid between responder organizations deployed to large-scale disasters by enabling objective measurement and comparison of particular aircraft capabilities with the associated remote pilot proficiency. The results will help guide deployment decisions and align expectations while improving overall safety within the national airspace system.”

NIST has developed a variety of sUAS tests that can be constructed from supplies found at most “big box” home improvement stores and assembled on-site as needed. DRONERESPONDERS will help ensure that interested organizations are able to fabricate the test apparatuses and correctly conduct test trials, so the resulting performance scores can be used by any organization to select minimum thresholds of proficiency-based on their chosen aircraft, airspace and mission complexities, and the environmental conditions in which they intend to deploy.

"The standard test methods for sUAS developed by NIST are the most applicable and easy-to-use mechanism we have seen for evaluating basic skill levels of public-safety remote pilots in concert with the capabilities of their UAS systems,” said Chief Charles Werner, director of DRONERESPONDERS. “Our focus now will be on helping public-safety agencies across the nation both understand and adopt the NIST tests.”

DRONERESPONDERS selected Katie Thielmeyer, UAS program manager and firefighter/paramedic with the Woodlawn (Ohio) Fire Department, to spearhead this initiative. Thielmeyer will serve as the DRONERESPONDERS program manager and will oversee the integration of these tests nationwide and support various related outreach efforts across the responder community for AIRT.

“I am excited to expand my role with DRONERSPONDERS and work closely with the NIST team to make a positive impact within the public-safety UAS sector,” said Thielmeyer. “This new partnership will provide benefits to public safety agencies and emergency services organizations at every level who operate drones for good.”

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