ADSC receives grant to develop UAS safety-security guidelines


Katie Carr, Advanced Digital Sciences Center

ADSC recently received a grant to develop an integrated safety-security engineering approach and best-practice guideline for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in Singapore. The 12-month project, which will begin on December 1, received S$99,500 from Singapore’s National Research Foundation’s Singapore Cybersecurity Consortium.

UAS usage is increasing at a rapid pace, as more companies are using drones for last-mile delivery, infrastructure inspection, land surveys, surveillance, and search and rescue. Drone usage in Singapore poses unique challenges as Singapore is a dense city with a large airport taking up a large amount of land space and often has unpredictable tropical weather. Monitoring dynamic factors, such as flight plans, weather, civil events and building model updates, are essential to ensuring UAS operation safety. Furthermore, with the increasing risk of cyberattacks, it is important to design an UAS traffic management system that ensures both safety and security.

“This topic is something we have a lot of interest in and we have done research in similar areas such as power grids and trains, so unmanned aerial vehicles are a natural extension of our results in a new domain,” said ADSC Senior Research Scientist Binbin Chen.

Currently, various users in Singapore are beginning to explore the creation of a central management system for UAS that will schedule and manage UAS traffic and monitor the status of the drones while in flight. ADSC researchers hope to make contributions to the establishment of best practices, as the system is being developed.

The ADSC researchers will be creating guidelines for these systems and addressing the safety and security issues regarding UASs. They will develop an integrated safety-security approach and study the effectiveness of their approach by applying it to the UAS traffic management engineering process, in the future.

“When you look at safety, you don’t worry about the attacker, but you worry about the human errors that might occur, for example,” Chen said. “When looking at security, you are concerned with attackers that might want to do harm via your system. Many measures and practices have been built to ensure safety, but because security is a much more recent concern. It leaves many systems safe, but not secure.”

The researchers are partnering with Nova Systems, who are able to help them put the researchers’ ideas into actual designs and apply their methods in real life. Nova is a technical consulting firm that provides a range of services, including systems engineering support, cyber security, and smart technology development. They are currently involved with the research and development of systems to support multiple drone operations in Australia and Singapore.

“In manpower and land scarce Singapore, UAS will potentially be a key part of the Smart Nation initiative to transform how people work, play, and live,” Nova Systems Managing Director Ryan Lee said.

 Chen added that working with Nova will allow the researchers to participate in the design, development, and testing of the traffic management system.

“We’ll bring our safety and security engineering methods and apply them in the process, observe how well they work and learn how we can improve our methods,” he said.

In addition to Nova, Chen is collaborating with Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Zbigniew Kalbarczyk at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, ADSC researchers Daisuke Mashima and Yue Wu, who developed security and safety guidelines for Singapore metro systems, and researchers with Critical Systems Labs Inc., Canada, and NSHC Pte. Ptd.

There are a lot of interesting engineering challenges because there are many types of information that needs to be analyzed, such as dynamic geofencing, UAS locations, or the weather, that can greatly affect an UAS,” Chen said. “Once you collect all that information from the sources, you have to determine if the information is correct or if an attacker might be affecting the data.”