NASA is testing real-time mapping systems which might someday soon help unmanned vehicles safely share crowded commercial airspace.
The potential commercial and private applications for UAVs is staggering. From aerial photography to law enforcement and even direct-to-the-front-door pizza delivery, there are big plans afoot for drones. Unfortunately, in nearly every situation, non-military, remote control aircraft are required to be within the operator’s line of sight at all times. This, of course, greatly hampers a drone’s usefulness as a workhorse. NASA, however, is spending a considerable investment testing new technology that might soon allow drones to realize their full utility.
The technology site Recode reports that NASA, working in conjunction with the FAA, is making strides in real-time mapping technology that will allow UAVs, commercial planes and private aircraft to all share the same evermore crowded airspace safely. The trial this week at Reno–Tahoe International Airport (RNO) put the new tracking system to the test. For the first time, the space agency tested drones that were flying out of the pilot’s field of vision. This second round of tests reportedly went off without a hitch.
Similar technology already is in place at most major airports in the U.S., but because the future commercial uses of UAVs include operations in low altitudes and airspace that is not yet closely monitored, there will be hurdles to overcome. As the market for commercial drones grows and the number of hobbyists increases, drones also will need to avoid other remote control aircraft as well as traditional air traffic.
NASA has scheduled live tests in which drones will be allowed progressively more autonomy over the next several years. Once the test runs have wrapped up in early 2019, the agency will make a formal recommendation on how the new real-time mapping system can best be incorporated into the next generation of air traffic control.