Harris, North Dakota Partners Awarded Research Grant For UAS Testing

BISMARCK, N.D. — A major defense contractor has received a research grant from the state of North Dakota to develop capabilities for flying unmanned aircraft systems beyond the line of visual sight.

Harris Corp. was awarded a two-year grant as part of a partnership between itself, the University of North Dakota and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, according to a Tuesday news release.  

Together, the partners will create “ the first UAS network in the nation to provide a full range of aviation-grade services for safe and efficient” for beyond-line-of-sight operations, the release said.

“The use of UAS for business operations – such as remotely monitoring power lines, farms, and rail tracks – represents the future for many organizations,” George Kirov, vice president and general manager, Commercial UAS Solutions, Harris Electronic Systems, said in a statement. “Harris is applying the same innovation and expertise that made us a leader in manned aircraft air traffic management solutions to integrate commercial UAS operations into the National Airspace System.”

The work will be funded by a Research North Dakota grant approved by the by the North Dakota Centers of Excellence Commission. The amount awarded was not immediately available.

The grant includes funding for the development of aviation-grade network services specifically for UAS operations, the release said. It is a continuation of a previous grant awarded to Harris and the UND Regional Weather Information Center that included development and a risk and safety assessment of UAS detect-and-avoid technology. The previous grant of $500,000 was awarded in November 2016 and matched by Harris, according to N.D. Department of Commerce news archives.

The BVLOS network under development through the most recent partnership will be developed within a corridor spanning from Grand Forks to Fargo.

“North Dakota is committed to creating an environment where organizations like Harris Corporation, the University of North Dakota, and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site may pursue new and exciting opportunities with UAS,” Brian Opp, manager of aerospace business development for the state commerce department, said in a Feb. 28 statement.

Harris is working to create a regional infrastructure that is scalable to the state of North Dakota, and eventually to the entire U.S. Officials say developing this high-performance networked infrastructure will help accelerate regulatory approval of BVLOS operations for unmanned aircraft.

“By collaborating with the University of North Dakota and Harris, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site will have the opportunity to evaluate, develop, and implement a UAS network and airspace services,” Nicholas Flom, executive director for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, said in a statement. “This network will create a real-world environment for users to develop, test and certify new products and services.”

Harris is seeking partnerships with potential users of the UAS network, such as railroads and electric utility companies in the area, to create scenarios in which research could test UAS capabilities.

As the project continues, Harris expects to test scenarios including railway inspection, roadway inspection, transmission line inspection, precision agriculture, public safety and emergency services, expanded flight operations and more, the release said.