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Top NASA UAV Specialist Named Finalist for Sammies Award

Parimal Kopardekar | Service to America Medals
Parimal Kopardekar | Service to America Medals

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Top NASA UAV Specialist Named Finalist for Sammies Award

A top UAV specialist working for NASA has been named as one of 12 finalists for the People’s Choice Award for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals.

Parimal Kopardekar, who in his role as senior technologist for Air Transportation Systems, is also a principal investigator of the Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management at the Moffett Field at California’s NASA Ames Research Center.

With the FAA estimating the number of commercial drones in the skies of America alone to reach 700,000 by 2022, it is increasingly important that a sophisticated unmanned traffic management (UTM) system is implemented to prevent airborne accidents and ensure safe skies.

Kopardekar, fondly known as PK and named a finalist in the Promising Innovation category, has in his work at NASA designed such a system with his team of engineers and scientists, husbanding an $18 million annual budget.

“PK is the principal architect, researcher and engineer of the unmanned traffic management system. He has acted as a catalyst for government and industry, and has brought people together,” said Sean Cassidy, the director of safety and regulatory affairs at Amazon.

Head of Innovation at Skyward, Jonathan Evans, compared Kopardekar’s work with the futuristic outlook of TV’s The Jetson’s.”It’s an audacious federal program. It’s got science, tech and next-gen to it. PK is a deft connector,” he said.

Kopardekar has long been involved in aviation, becoming interested in the industry when a graduate student at university, after which he went to work for the FAA and then NASA.

He first began developing a UTM in 2012, and held a conference on drone traffic management issues in 2014. In 2015, a convention on drone traffic management attracted nearly 1,500 people, getting the notice of the FAA.

He has since been almost single-handedly instrumental in convincing the FAA and enterprise drone companies to focus on the development of a UTM, according to Steve Bradford, chief scientist at FAA.

His open-source system uses software, the internet and telecommunications networks, to keep the aircraft spaced safely from each other, according to his bio report.

By utilising the drones’ onboard sensors and connectivity to share data on their mission paths, it optimises their trajectories in relation to each other.

“PK’s reputation and the role he holds in this global community is eye-watering to me,” said John Cavolowsky, director of NASA’s Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program. “The progress he’s made in a short amount of time is incredible.”

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