As the TSB Monitoring Officer for the ASTRAEA programme, Audrey reviews work carried out by the ASTRAEA research teams to ensure it conforms to the technical proposal upon which the UK government grant was made. With an engineering degree from Cambridge, her own consulting company, and 30 years’ experience in the development and assessment of advanced computer-based systems used in safety-critical applications, she is perfectly suited to this role.
In fact, during ASTRAEA 1, Audrey was lead monitor on a team of three and watched the programme grow and mature as the consortium members built mutual trust and began working together as a coordinated group. By the time ASTRAEA 2 began, the programme was well established and consortium members had evolved into an efficient, effective team, so the TSB decided only one monitor was required.
“I think they thought a lighter touch was more appropriate,” Audrey said with a smile, “and the ASTRAEA 2 programme is going very well indeed.”
She is particularly pleased with the level of collaboration between consortium members. More often competitors in the marketplace, these large companies have come together, embraced ASTRAEA’s open-airspace goal, and are now working hard and long, as a coordinated team, to achieve it.
As to the future of UAV operations after ASTRAEA, Audrey said the technology being produced now by the consortium is “very well advanced” although regulatory barriers will persist after 2013 (when the programme ends). She thought the first breakthroughs would come from UAV operations where difficult environmental conditions make the humanitarian benefits obvious, for example search & rescue and security-related applications. From that starting point, the skies would gradually open to a growing range of applications as the commercial and life enhancing benefits of UAVs become attractive and better understood.
“Many of these new innovations aimed at unmanned air vehicles would also apply to manned air vehicles,” she added. “They could improve system reliability and reduce pilot workload.”
In closing, Audrey pointed to the ASTRAEA National Conference 2011 held at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London. This was the first, open, ASTRAEA 2 conference where the public could learn what’s been happening over the past 18 months. The capacity audience confirmed growing interest in the programme and public support is an important part in the gradual process of opening civil airspace to UAVs.