NASA and Verizon are working on technology which will monitor commercial and civilian drones in the U.S., it was revealed Thursday.
The Guardian reports NASA will use Verizon’s network of cellphone towers to determine whether or not it is possible to monitor low-altitude drone flight with tests beginning later this summer. Verizon will also announce a technology which will allow them to use its cellular network “for data, navigation, surveillance and tracking of drones” in 2017, with a final product arriving in 2019.
As became clear when a government employee accidentally flew a drone into the White House grounds, drone usage in the U.S. is something of a wild west situation.NASA’s unmanned aircraft system (UAS) could create a sort of traffic control system within four years, the report said.
Its system would be able to geo-fence drones to prevent another White House incident, to stop them from crashing into things (including other drones), and to keep them out of congested airspace.
Right now, this work is strictly “exploratory,” as per documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filled by The Guardian. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) hasn’t set definitive regulations on drone operation in the U.S., just a proposal for regulations on only commercial drones in February.
NASA’s unmanned traffic management (UTM) system will be cloud based, meaning all drones would need to be Internet-linked in order to download required information as they fly.
Using cellular networks to track drones is ideal, since radar signals aren’t great at low altitude. It would be impossible to install tracking devices on every drone in the sky, and the U.S. air traffic control system is already heavily taxed.
NASA only has $500,000 in its budget for this project — part of the reason it’s reaching out for help to corporate partners like Verizon. Verizon’s network is particularly appealing; it’s the largest in the country and it has the most 4G LTE coverage.
Meanwhile, Amazon spent $1.8 million to test its delivery drones and help with development of the UTM project, according to contracts obtained by The Guardian.