Urban airspace environments present exciting new opportunities for delivering drone services to an increasingly large global market, including: information gathering; package delivery; air-taxi services. A key challenge is how to model airspace environments over densely populated urban spaces, coupled with the design and development of scalable traffic management systems that may need to handle potentially hundreds to thousands of drone movements per hour. This paper explores the background to Urban unmanned traffic management (UTM), examining high-level initiatives, such as the USA’s Unmanned Air Traffic (UTM) systems and Europe’s U-Space services, as well as a number of contemporary research activities in this area. The main body of the paper describes the initial research outputs of the U-Flyte R&D group, based at Maynooth University in Ireland, who have focused on developing an integrated approach to airspace modelling and traffic management platforms for operating large drone fleets over urban environments. This work proposes pragmatic and innovative approaches to expedite the roll-out of these much-needed urban UTM solutions. These approaches include the certification of drones for urban operation, the adoption of a collaborative and democratic approach to designing urban airspace, the development of a scalable traffic management and the replacement of direct human involvement in operating drones and coordinating drone traffic with machines. The key fundamental elements of airspace architecture and traffic management for busy drone operations in urban environments are described together with initial UTM performance results from simulation studies.
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