As drones become increasingly popular, especially non-commercial ones, the world has identified two needs: the need to regulate who can fly a drone, when, where and under what circumstances. The second one is the need for air traffic control.
The first need is already being addressed, as the Federal Aviation Administration is currently in the process of creating a regulation plan which should be implemented around 2017.
The second one is still only theoretical, however NASA wants to be the one to change it.
"NASA wants to create a system that would keep track of and deliver important information to operators of UAS, such as which areas they should avoid, whether any other vehicles are trying to operate in the same airspace, and what the weather will be like in a given area," Phys.org quotes Parimal Kopardekar, manager of NASA's Safe Autonomous Systems Operations project.
The NASA team is researching and testing ways to communicate this data to UAS while they're in flight, such as dynamic geo-fences, or virtual barriers, giving UAS operators the most updated information in real-time.
However, NASA is not alone in this endeavour. It will work with partners who will provide their own vehicles, low altitude radar, radio frequencies, or cellphone towers.
A number of companies are already addressing some of these issues, Phys.org writes in a report.
One collaborator has developed systems that automatically check a UAS's battery life and surrounding terrain, while another is building a database to keep UAS away from private residences. Other companies have launched prototypes for low altitude tracking and avoidance systems and are using tools that manage fleet operations related to commercial UAS operations.