NASA and Verizon are working together to create a traffic control system for drones that could be set in full motion by 2019.
In an exclusive report by The Guardian, Verizon signed an agreement last year with Nasa “to jointly explore whether cell towers … could support communications and surveillance of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) at low altitudes”.
The project, worth some $500,000 (more than £320,000), is currently underway at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, and the company is planning first tests of the new technology this summer.
According to the documents obtained by The Guardian, the agency would like technology that will automatically “geo-fence” drones to keep them away from sensitive areas like the White House, ground drones in bad weather, help them to avoid buildings and each other while flying and decide which drones have priority in congested airspaces.
Currently, there is little to stop operators flying wherever they want, and there have been many incidents involving drones, including a man getting beaten for recording a public beach, a full violence outbreak in Belgrade during a football match, as well as this angry ram who simply doesn't like these flying beasts.
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.
The Federal Aviation Administration is currently working on a set of regulations for the drones, including who can fly them, where and when.