Tests of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for use by public safety agencies will move ahead this year, based on a small number of more than 70 vehicles proposed in white papers submitted for market research, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said recently.
Last year, DHS set a deadline of Oct. 31, 2012, for receiving white papers in response to a request for information (RFI) pertaining to its Robotic Aircraft for Public Safety (RAPS) project, run by the DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate. RAPS involves tests of small UAS systems to facilitate transfer of those platforms to S&T customers.
Apparently, DHS continued to receive questions about the project, prompting it to clarify Tuesday that it would not conduct any debriefings or provide any feedback to white papers that it does not select for review. Under the RFI, DHS said it would research some small UAS options and it would not necessarily issue any solicitations to buy any systems.
“Since this RFI was conducted for market research, we are not providing details as to why some systems were selected for testing and others were not since the determination was based on broad programmatic scope and not a formal source selection process, as is the procedures when conducting market research,” DHS said in a notice.
DHS will move forward with RAPS testing with select small UASs in fiscal year 2013, the department said.
DHS may issue another RFI late in 2013 in support of RAPS test plans for 2014. Interested vendors should watch for any announcements, DHS advised.
The S&T Borders and Maritime Security Division (BMD) seeks to develop technical capabilities that it could transfer to public safety agencies interested in using them. With the RAPS project, BMD has been looking to address capability gaps in the first responder community at the state and local levels as well as within DHS and other federal agencies.
But as DHS S&T selected small UAS (SUAS) platforms to evaluate this year, it sought to match platforms to the missions of its customers while also keeping an eye on the cost of those systems.
“Many federal organizations have high interest, for example, in the potential of SUASs to strengthen US border security. Thus, vendors selected for the FY2013 test cycle reflect this broad programmatic scope in which some of our results are relevant to certain potential users but not to others. Total ownership costs associated with SUASs vary widely and are a good example: Some are prohibitively high for certain user organizations but not for others,” DHS said.
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According to RT, FAA Chief Michael Huerta, said in a statement obtained by the Associated Press: “We expect to learn how unmanned aircraft systems operate in different environments and how they will impact air traffic operations. The test sites will inform the agency as we develop standards for certifying unmanned aircraft and determine necessary air traffic requirements.