In the latest move towards opening up skies in the US for commercial drones, NASA and aerospace company Exelis have teamed up to develop a prototype air traffic control system.
Last month, the FAA unveiled a proposed set of guidelines for commercial drone flight. While its intentions were a welcome sign for an industry in waiting, the proposal more or less struck out the concept of using drones for delivery by including rules that stipulated the vehicles would only be allowed to be flown within sight.
Reuters reports that over the last six months, Exelis has been developing a tracking system for drones that could make operation beyond line-of-sight feasible. Including two products dubbed Symphony UAS-Vue and RangeVue, the system is aimed at improving safety standards around drone flight.
Exelis has a leg up on other companies working on similar solutions because it already provides the FAA with a data feed that is used to track manned aircraft. The new system would essentially integrate this data with that of drones flying at lower altitudes, below 500 ft (152.4 m).
With the prototype expected to be officially unveiled later this month, NASA will then take the reigns and develop it into what is hoped will be a market-ready product. It anticipates that the system will be adopted by the FAA and find suitors in firms banking on drones to streamline their businesses. Amazon, Google, Alibaba and a hoard of startups like Flirtey and Bizzby have all expressed intentions to use drones for delivery.
The developmental phase will look to integrate factors such as weather, movement of other drones to avoid collisions and geofencing to protect certain airspace, such as that above airports or government buildings. The finished product will track drone locations and display things like terrain, the weather and geofencing in real time.
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