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OARnet Partnership Supplies Network to Boost Ohio Drone Research

For more than 30 years, OARnet has provided statewide connectivity for a wide variety of innovative projects across Ohio. These projects include a booming esports industry, a growing number of next-generation 911 systems, an ever-widening network of telehealth services, K-12 distance learning and online testing efforts, and a national presidential debate held on a small college campus.

“Since its inception, OARnet has been at the center of hundreds of complex partnerships where disparate communities accomplish amazing things together,” said Denis Walsh, interim executive director of OARnet. “The Ohio UAS Center project is a wonderful example of the power of such collaboration.”

Recently, OARnet engineers connected the Ohio Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Center in Springfield, Ohio, to the network’s 5,000-plus-mile, 100-gigabit-per-second fiber-optic backbone. Achieved through a local, state and federal governmental partnership, this “big-pipe” connectivity boosts the ability of UAS Center engineers to develop a ground-based “sense-and-avoid system” for unmanned aircraft, also known as drones.

The OARnet connection supports SkyVision, which enables drones to be flown in the beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) mode. Developed as a cooperative effort between the U.S. Air Force Research Lab and the State of Ohio, the system monitors radar data from several locations via OARnet, allowing experimental drones to see and avoid other aircraft while they are in flight.

“New technology connectivity is a crucial piece to deploy unmanned aircraft across the state, and OARnet facilitates that vision,” said Richard C. Fox, airspace manager at the Ohio UAS Center. “Bandwidth is a crucial driver in the continued growth of autonomous vehicles -both in the air and on the ground – and Ohio had the vision to develop a network that supports current and future advancements.”

The OARnet connection links the center at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport to Ohio UAS offices at a tactical training site, as well as to FAA radar feeds from airports in Dayton and Columbus and long-range radar in London, Ohio. Network links were added between the center and nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, another test site for drone technologies.

This project additionally included robust network connections to the city of Springfield, along with added resiliency, better redundancy and greatly increased bandwidth to nearby OARnet member schools Wright State and Miami universities. Clark State Community College leverages drones for its precision agriculture program, and Sinclair Community College developed a UAS training and certification center to teach students to fly drones.

“The OARnet connection further strengthens the UAS flight activities,” said Tom Franzen, assistant city manager for Springfield. “Building on the assets of the 1,800-acre airport complex and the SkyVison UAS range, the high-speed OARnet network enables the research and development of state-of-the-art autonomous technologies advancing Ohio’s leadership role in aerospace.”

The work of the UAS Center, carried out through the Ohio Department of Transportation’s DriveOhio initiative, gives Ohio a major advantage in economic development as drones become the basis for new industries such as precision agriculture, infrastructure inspection, environmental survey and first-responder support.