Indian American Parimal Kopardekar, a NASA senior technologist for Air Transportation System, has been selected as a finalist, among 12, for the 2018 Sammies People’s Choice Award by the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals.
Kopardekar, who is also a principal investigator of the Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management at the Moffett Field, Calif.-based NASA Ames Research Center, was named a finalist in the Promising Innovation category.
According to a report put together by the Heyman Service to America Medals, the Federal Aviation Administration estimates that there could be more than 700,000 commercial drones flying at a low-altitude to deliver packages, monitor traffic, track storms, inspect power lines, aid search and rescue operations by 2022.
However, it will require a sophisticated air traffic management system for unmanned aircraft that will prevent accidents and airborne congestion, working efficiently to serve public and commercial interests.
Kopardekar and his team of engineers and scientists at NASA has designed a system that will safely manage multiple unmanned aerial vehicles flying in the same area at the same time and he has created a program with an $18 million annual budget, which has set the stage for an entire new era in unmanned aviation with the potential to unleash a multibillion dollar U.S. industry.
“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.
Kopardekar became interested in aviation when he was a graduate student and it was then that he went to work for the FAA and then NASA.
He then started developing a system for managing drones in 2012 and held a conference on drone traffic management issues in 2014.
By 2015, a convention on the topic drew nearly 1,500 people.
Kopardekar’s management system is an open-source system that uses software, the internet and cell service, instead of air traffic controllers, to keep the aircraft spaced apart, according to his bio report.
It allows the drones with onboard sensors and connectivity to share information on where they are going, and it helps them optimize their trajectories based on what else is in the space.
“The small drones are coming. If they are not supported and you send millions of drones into the sky, it will be unmanageable. This is a chance to study and put together an entirely new system that will have tremendous impact on society. The current way can’t accommodate large-scale operations. We have to change the paradigm,” Kopardekar said in a press release.
Kopardekar was recently named a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Voting on the people’s choice award is ongoing, the top four will be announced on June 21 and the winner will be declared on July 19.