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Google joins NASA and others to work on drone traffic control system

researchers say faa overestimating small drone risk above city
Alik / Shutterstock
With an increasing number of companies showing an interest in not only building drones, but also constructing an traffic management system to ensure their safe operation, the idea that the skies above our cities may one day be buzzing with the sound of quadcopters may not be so fanciful after all

The move toward widespread commercial drone use appears to be gathering pace, with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expected to announce new rules in the next 12 months, while at the same time NASA and a host of big-name firms work together to build a nationwide drone monitoring and control system to ensure order in the skies.

Google is one of the latest companies to demonstrate a commitment to helping develop a solution, joining the likes of Amazon, Verizon, and around 10 other businesses that have signed an agreement with NASA to help create a system to ensure safe low-altitude drone flights, Bloomberg reported Friday.

A robust, effective system would give the FAA the confidence to move, over time, from a stringent, restrictive set of flying rules toward a more relaxed approach that would allow, for example, operators to fly drones out of line of sight using on-board cameras, or for autonomous drones with pre-programmed flight routes to take to the skies.

Amazon, for one, is pressing the FAA for permission to one day fly its drones far beyond the location of its operator, an absolute necessity if it’s to succeed in its future plan to use quadcopters to deliver small items to its customers.

Although it abandoned its first attempt at building an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), Google, too, is now working on another version that it says could one day be used to carry vital supplies to people in emergency situations, giving it plenty of incentive to help create a traffic control system.

NASA has invited interested companies and universities to a conference next week to discuss ideas for an effective solution for drone flight management.

A number of smaller companies have already developed various technologies designed to prevent drones colliding with obstacles such as buildings and trees, as well as with each other, and these could potentially be incorporated into a final system comprising computers on the ground that set and monitor safe routes for UAVs.

We may still be several years away from the rollout of a full-fledged fully implemented air traffic control system for drones, but when the day comes, an industry potentially worth billions of dollars will finally be able to truly flourish.

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