Dr. Kamesh Namuduri


University of North Texas

Safe and Trusted Unmanned Air Transportation


The flying taxi business is projected to be a $5 Billion/year market. The industry is moving fast to realize this potential, with both established and startup companies competing as well as collaborating in this race. Airline companies including Boeing, Airbus, and Bell, are building the electrical Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) aircrafts. Uber is collaborating with NASA to plan flying taxi service in Dallas by 2023 with early demonstrations planned in 2020. The big question that we need to address is “Are we ready for the big challenges that come with unmanned air transportation?” Just to give a perspective, think about self-driving cars. When, where, and how did we begin this journey and where are we now in this journey? What are you likely see first – A fully autonomous self-driving car in an urban area or an unmanned air taxi?

In this presentation, we will discuss the critical aspects of unmanned air transportation: (1) Technology Readiness (2) Safety, Security, Regulations and Standardization Efforts and (3) Privacy, Ethics and Community Acceptance. This presentation is based on my active engagement in activities related to Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) research, including US Science and Technology Research Panel (SARP) discussions, NASA’s UAS Traffic Management (UTM) flight tests, IEEE ’s P1920 Standards Working Group on Aerial Networks and Communications as the chair, IEEE’s Vehicular Technology Society’s Ad Hoc Working Group on Drones as the chair, NSF’s Cyber Physical Systems programs as a Principal Investigator, and NIST’s Global City Team Challenge initiative as an executive committee member of Public Safety Super Cluster and many others.

We begin this discussion with a review of the technology capability levels as discussed in NASA’s UTM initiative, which gives an idea of where the industry is today from a technology perspective. The capabilities that the industry is expected to demonstrate in the UTM project, including Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) communications, navigation in GPS-denied areas, and Remote Identification of aircraft with applications to law enforcement and public safety, wild fire management, and package deliveries, give an idea of where we are today in terms of technology readiness. In another related activity, NASA has just began a grand challenge on Urban Air Mobility. This will also be discussed.

Second, safety should be an important goal of Unmanned Air Transportation. While the industry mastered safety of manned aviation, the path to mastery was slow and steady. Is Unmanned Air Transportation as safe as manned aviation? Are there regulations to guarantee the desired levels of human safety? What needs to be done now to make unmanned aviation as safe as it needs to be? How are regulatory and standards organizations working towards achieving this goal?

The third topic is community acceptance. Community engagement at local and regional levels is also critical for the success of unmanned air transportation. How do we engage communities in this fast-paced evolution of unmanned air transportation? Community engagement includes education and training geared towards future workforce as well as town-hall meetings to inform the communities about changes that are coming to their communities and help prepare them for these changes. Their participation and inputs are very critical to the success of new endeavors that cities and municipalities are going to engage in.

We wrap up this discussion with a summary of our expectations from the industry perspective. Safety and trust can only be achieved through the whole community approach. Government-public-private partnership is the key to the success of safe and trusted unmanned transportation.


Kamesh Namuduri is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and the director of Autonomous Systems Laboratory at the University of North Texas (UNT). He received his B.S. degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Osmania University, India, in 1984, M.S. degree in Computer Science from University of Hyderabad in 1986, and Ph.D. degree in Computer Science and Engineering from University of South Florida in 1992. Over the past eleven years, his research is focused on aerial networking and communications. He co-organized a series of workshops on “Airborne Networking and Communications” in conjunction with IEEE, AIAA, AUVSI, and ACM Conferences. He is serving as the chair for two Standards Working Groups (IEEE 1920.1: Aerial Communications and Networking and IEEE P1920.2: Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications for Unmanned Aircraft Systems). He is serving as the Chair for the IEEE Vehicular Technology Society’s Ad Hoc Committee on Drones. He is a co-editor for the book titled “UAV Networks and Communications” published by the Cambridge University Press in 2017. He is leading the Smart and Connected Community project on “Deployable Communication Systems” in collaboration with the government, public, and private organizations. This living laboratory project was demonstrated thrice during the Global City Teams Challenge hosted jointly by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and US Ignite in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. He contributed to the development of research agenda, requirements and blueprints highly deployable communications systems led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and National Public Safety Telecommunications Council. Currently, he is engaged in the Advance Air Mobility project led by NASA.