The Guardian had revealed documents containing information showing NASA is interested in working with cell phone companies to help track their drones. In addition to cell phone towers, NASA is looking to also use radar and satellites to track their drones for both civilian and commercial purposes.
Although they are just in talks at the moment, the fact that NASA’s Ames Research Center is spending $500,000 to investigating the possibilities proves they are pretty serious about their needs. The Guardian is quoted as saying:
NASA is planning the first tests of an air traffic control system for drones there this summer, with Verizon scheduled to introduce a concept for using cell coverage for data, navigation, surveillance and tracking of drones by 2017.
They then go on to explain that a more complete version of this technology would most likely be fully implemented by 2019.
In a recent article, The Guardian interviewed Missy Cummings, who explains the plan:
NASA is considering monitoring drones with a range of sensors including radar, orbiting satellites and cellphone signals. The UTM system is also likely to be cloud-based, meaning that drones will need an internet link to download information about weather, traffic and restricted zones. That combination makes using the existing phone networks very attractive. Cellphone technology will help to communicate information about other aircraft and we can already track phones like crazy. It’s a nice alternative to saturating an already broken air traffic control system.
The use of the towers would be to help ensure the safety of the drones as well as the privacy of off-limits areas like no-fly zones and military bases. The towers would help create a virtual net or “geo-fence” as well as ways to protect the drones during bad weather or times that air-space gets too busy to fly.
Amazon has already showed interest in using drones for faster delivery methods as well as Google, most likely for mapping purposes. It’s reported that Google feel so strongly about the benefits of these drones that they invested $450,000 in their driverless cars, which is leading into NASA on its Project Wing drone program. Not to be out done, Amazon has invested $1.8 million for its Prime Air drones testing and hopeful implementation.
This networked drone air traffic control system will most likely have its flaws in the beginning, but with NASA teaming up with the Google and Amazon powerhouse, this could have potential to be a great idea.