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NASA and Verizon are working on a drone-monitoring system

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NASA has been working with the FAA to develop a system for monitoring drone traffic in the United States for a few months now, but the two agencies are having issues with keeping things affordable. While building a dedicated network of cellular towers, radars, and satellites would be great, such an endeavor would cost billions of dollars and would take several years before it’s actually functional. In order to speed up the process, while also making it infinitely more affordable, NASA has turned to the private sector for assistance. Specifically, the agency has joined forces with Verizon.

According to documents which the Guardian managed to get its hand on,  NASA and Verizon signed an agreement last year with the goal of developing an air traffic management system which would make use of Verizon’s existing cellular towers. Using Verizon’s network and a series of radars and satellites from NASA, the two organizations believe they can have a fully functional drone monitoring system in the United States by the year 2019. The documents also claim that Amazon and Google have both agreed to help NASA test the system at the Ames Research Center in California.

Nasa’s new UAS (unmanned aircraft system) traffic management operation is intended to enable safe low-altitude drone flights within the next four years. At the moment, there is little to stop operators flying wherever they want. The agency would like technology that will automatically “geo-fence” drones to keep them away from sensitive areas like the White House, ground drones in bad weather, help them to avoid buildings and each other while flying and decide which drones have priority in congested airspaces.

While American companies have been at the forefront of drone-related innovation, the actual testing and implementation of those ideas has largely been achieved outside of the country thanks to the ultra-restrictive regulations the American government has put into place. As a fairly new and untested field, the FAA is worried about the potential dangers of widespread commercial drone usage, and has decided to take a “better safe than sorry approach” to the situation, much to the chagrin of companies like Amazon.

That’s why the implementation of this drone monitoring system is so exciting, as it would facilitate safe flying for both civilian and commercial drones, which would alleviate many of the FAA’s fears. Without having to endure the tedious task of overcoming regulatory hurdles, companies like Amazon and Google will be able to actually put their drone-related concepts into practice. It’s important to note, however, that this project is still in its early stages, with $500,000 being invested into seeing if it’s even a viable option, and there’s no guarantee that it won’t be scrapped for one reason or another. Even so, anything that brings us closer to a less-restrictive drone environment is good news.

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