NASA has been working on a plan for months to create an air traffic control system for drones to make sure the flying machines don't crash into things like people and planes. Now that plan includes trying to develop a reliable system so people can fly drones remotely.
It's a response to the massive wet blanket the Federal Aviation Administration's rules threw on the budding aerial industry in the US: that drone operators need to have a line of sight to their aircraft. A working drone air traffic plan could potentially remove that restriction.
That's a is big deal for future aerial businesses — like Amazon's drone delivery — and also important to make sure other countries don't get a leg up on the US as the drone industry emerges.
But it's far from a sure thing. The FAA would still have to be convinced, and right now the agency's hard rule is absolutely no remote driving, ever.
Exelis, one aerospace company working with NASA, will release its solution this month on how remote drones can be worked into the FAA's existing radar surveillance system, using existing mobile towers and Exelis' own relay stations.
The system, called the Symphony RangeVue, would funnel FAA data and drone-tracking data into a mobile app that operators could use to see what planes or other aircraft were surrounding their drone.
Here's an infographic, created by Reuters, explaining the process.
Of course, this doesn't directly solve the "line of sight" problem that the FAA requires commercial drones to have. But the hope is that such a system is in place, if it can be proven reliable, might persuade the FAA to ease its restriction.
Exelis plans to have the Symphony RangeVue ready for federal testing by later this year.