Verizon and NASA are working together on a cell tower system to track civilian and commercial drones in the US, according to documents obtained by The Guardian. Under the agreement, signed last year, NASA will develop an air traffic management system to track drones using radar, satellites, or cellular signals. The federal agency will begin testing the system this summer, while Verizon plans to develop a way to monitor drones on its cellular network by 2017, in the hopes of finalizing its technology by 2019. Google and Amazon have both signed on to help test NASA's system at the Ames Research Center in California, according to contracts obtained by The Guardian.
Clearing the air
The $500,000 project aims to facilitate safe flying for commercial and civilian drones, while implementing technology that would keep them away from sensitive areas (such as the White House). The system would also allow operators to ground drones in the event of bad weather, and to manage air traffic so as to avoid collisions. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has yet to implement regulations for drones, but draft rules published earlier this year would require small drones to fly below an altitude of 500 feet and only during daylight hours. They proposals would also limit their speed to 100 miles per hour.
NASA's agreement reveals that "cellphone companies such as AT&T and Verizon" attended a workshop on the agency's exploratory system, but Verizon was the only carrier to propose using its network of cell towers. Google and Amazon, which both have their own drone programs in the works, are also onboard, albeit in slightly different capacities. Google has committed $450,000 to share data from its Project Wing tests and to test its self-driving cars at Ames. Amazon has spent $1.8 million to test its Prime Air delivery drones at Ames and help develop the system.