Welcome to GUTMA “Meet Our Members” interview series, where every month we will feature a different Member. 

This month we speak to Dr. Terrence Martin, Project Director UTM Consortium Singapore, & Applied Research Lead at Nova Systems. Thank you, Terrence, for taking the time to share with us your activities and industry outlook!

Introducing: Terrence Martin, Project Director UTM Consortium Singapore, & Applied Research Lead at Nova Systems

Terrence has accrued considerable knowledge over 30 years in aviation, working on an array of government, academic and commercial projects. He has served as the Industry Chair of the Australian CASA Standards committee and is also part of JARUS. Currently, Terrence is the Project Director for the Nova led UTM Consortium in Singapore, in conjunction with being the Applied Research Lead at Nova Systems. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Queensland University of Technology. 

We asked Terry about his motivations and inspiration for the field of UTM. His initial attraction to be involved in UTM was sparked when he was invited by Parimal Kopardekar (PK) to join NASA as a visiting Researcher in UTM in 2015. He then philosophised, observing that if you asked engineers why they undertook an engineering degree you would struggle to find many saying that they wanted to do compliance checking or become project managers. Its generally because they had aspirations to build stuff. Terry highlighted that the nice thing about the 

UTM arena is that people who want to build stuff are over-represented in comparison to other fields: they literally come out of the woodwork, and working with enthused people is fun. He went on to say that you can actually see the spark of enthusiasm in their eyes.And its not just engineers, other professions are fulfilling their latent creative desires so that cross pollination is nice as well.

For the project in Singapore, Nova led by Terry has developed its own USS over the last 18 months and are collaborating with companies like OneSky, Amazon, Scout, and Telcos like M1. The project is focused on operationalising a UTM capability for Singaporean conditions, taking into consideration the unique challenges of operating in a densely populated metropolitan area, where GNSS and communications performance can be compromised. 

To achieve this end-state the project has 3 key R&D threads. 

The first was to explore the variability of the LTE network and GNSS in the Singaporean metropolitan environment. This is important because the LTE Network is critical for both commanding the UAV and for conducting conformance modelling (surveillance) once the operation moves beyond RF Line of Sight. Navigation accuracy is also pretty important part of conformance monitoring. Our efforts have focused on data capture across a number of clutter and conditions which obscure line of sight, with the intent to developed repeatable models so that you don’t have to conduct expensive flight trials to isolate areas with poor comms or navigation performance every time you want to roll out UTM in a city environment.

Nova’s second focus on R&D is the development of its Multi-Agent Routing and Scheduling System (MARS). In describing MARS, Terry said: “Our initial instantiation of MARS was more akin to a centrally controlled fleet management tool, where MARS could holistically optimise the path-planning and scheduling of a fleet of UAVs across Singapore, supporting traffic up to about 2.5K movements per hour. The system supports the submission of requested flights, de-conflicted scheduling incorporating safe separation from buildings, geofences and other platforms, and draws on the principles of safe separation acknowledging the impact of CNS, aircraft performance and things like Total Systems Error, so that chosen routes are safely separated from other UAVs, UAMs and buildings, but in tandem seeking to optimise capacity for our fleet of customers (throughput and efficiency). 

“In moving beyond VLOS operations strategic deconfliction is presented in dirty big operational volumes, which will work for a while, but if you truly want package and people movement at scale, this approach will quickly run out of space,” said Terrence. He went on to say that “Understanding the Total System Error of the platform and the ecosystem it operates within will become important, but you can’t effectively strategically deconflict platforms if you neglect the time horizon for tactical deconfliction”. Terry said they have been working on this hard stuff behind the scenes to make sure we are in a good position when this eventually emerges as an expectation from regulatory and standards bodies.  

The third and final thread of R&D was focused on operationalising the UTM offering for the Singaporean environment. On this front, they are demonstrating interoperability with several other USS’s, including OneSky and soon, Amazon. 

Terry emphasised that “the rapid progress of the ASTM federated approach meant we had to adapt our centralised approach, so MARS 2.0 includes the expected key services in an operational UTM, such as RID, DSS, USS interoperability, constraint management, strategic deconfliction and so on. But we leveraged the aforementioned R&D around CNS and safe separation to ensure we strategically and tactical deconflict our customers, abut also so we are in a good position to rapidly negotiate with other USS’s in a way that optimises the route aspirations of our customers, in the event another USS’s require use of the same 4D volume. Terry emphasised that there is not yet consensus on what equitable access really means, but he has hedged his bets and incorporated a system where the negotiating algorithmic elements can be easily updated. Finally, we have crafted a test regime that draws on our military experience for T&E, with a series of story boards, backed up by a suite of subordinate test objectives, test requirements and collected evidence, accumulated in offline and live testing.”

We asked Terrence whether any exciting future projects and developments were planned. He told us about some exciting relationships with Singaporean players around contrasting UAV based package delivery with traditional methods. He highlighted that they have done a considerable amount of work looking at the design of a distribution network for package delivery. Terry said, 

We also acknowledge that in the early stages, some companies exploring the utility of UAVs for package delivery, may not want to invest in significant infrastructure, so supply hubs will probably be existing sites. So we have created supply hub placement models assuming transition conditions, but also identified where they could place supply hubs if they really want to optimise the ultility of UAVs”. When considering consumers, Terry said, “Singapore is unique in that in the limit we could deliver to each highrise in Singapore, and the people in those buildings would have a short commute to pick up their laksa: its unlikely that burritos will be the dominant order. But we have also examined how we could reduce the number of delivery sites without imposing too much inconvenienceAnd of course, we wouldn’t be engineers if we hadn’t examined a plethora of metrics for optimising network capacity, safety and profit.

We asked Terrence about other attributes of his project effort, and he emphasised that a lot of effort has been dedicated to the application of sound project management and system integration. He commented that all too often start-ups and governmental bodies develop partially finished, Minimum Viable Products (MVP) in quick time, but then burn a considerable amount of time in getting their trials approved, and then translating how the product can be meaningfully deployed. Terrence highlighted this could be better mitigated if principals of systems engineering, requirements derivation, T&E, and safety risk management were more astutely applied. 

We asked Terrence what he is currently looking for – information, talent, partnerships, funding, etc. Terry commented that “I am always on the lookout for smart, adaptable people. And, on partnerships and funding, my team is always looking for strategic opportunities, particularly those which have natural complementary fits”

Terry is keen to team up with larger organisations, such as supermarket chains, shipping organisations and food outlets, who may already have procured UAV delivery platforms but are looking for a hybrid UTM and fleet management tool.  Finally, Terry emphasised that “data access on so many fronts is critical, spanning accurate building data for obstacle avoidance and GNSS modelling, telco tower characteristics for better signal modelling, and more accurate population data for both risk and delivery models.”

Find out more about Terrence Martin and his work on his LinkedIn profile here.

Feel free to contact us at GUTMA if you have any questions for any of our interviewed members. Please do visit our blog again soon for more upcoming interviews! 

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