A national system to manage the air traffic of commercial drones is underway, led by NASA.
As more companies look to make deliveries via unmanned aerial vehicles, a system to regulate…and avoid catastrophe, is desperately needed.
The future of UAV deliveries, automated flying taxis, and more could hinge on just how well the trials pan out.
“This activity is the latest and most technical challenge we have done with unmanned aerial systems,” an official with NASA in California, David Korsmeyer, told the Associated Press.
“When we began this project four years ago, many of us wouldn’t have thought we’d be standing here today flying UAVs with advanced drone systems off high-rise buildings,” he added.
Cities Present the Biggest Challenges
Amazon and FedEx are among the companies that hope to send consumer products by drone by 2020. Drone delivery company Flirtey began testing delivery of defibrillators for cardiac arrest patients last year in Reno under FAA oversight.
“A drone pilot can pre-program landing spots that are known to be safer, such as a garage rooftop or a park. But they can’t know ahead of time if there will be people standing there or a parked car,” NASA officials wrote in a blog. “One solution being tested during TCL4 was developed by UTM team members at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. It allows the drone to use its camera to detect pedestrians or vehicles and, if necessary, move on to the next safe place.
This phase represents the most complicated demonstration of advanced UAS operating in a demanding urban environment that will have been tested to date,” said Ronald Johnson, NASA’s UTM project manager.
Similar tests have been conducted in remote and rural areas. The Federal Aviation Administration has authorized individual test flights in cities before but never for multiple drones or outside the sight of the operator.
The agency outlined proposed rules in January that would ease restrictions on flying drones over crowds but said it won’t take final action until it finishes another regulation on identifying drones as they’re flying — something industry analysts say could be years away.