In this May 21, 2019 photo, two drones fly above Lake Street in downtown Reno, Nev., on, as part of a NASA simulation to test emerging technology that someday will be used to manage travel of hundreds of thousands of commercial, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) delivering packages. It marked the first time such tests have been conducted in an urban setting. (AP Photo/Scott Sonner)

NASA’s first-of-kind tests look to manage drones in cities

Similar tests have been conducted in remote and rural areas

NASA has launched the final stage of a four-year effort to develop a national traffic management system for drones, testing them in cities for the first time beyond the operator’s line of sight as businesses look in the future to unleash the unmanned devices in droves above busy streets and buildings.

Multiple drones took to the air at the same time above downtown Reno this week in a series of simulations testing emerging technology that someday will be used to manage hundreds of thousands of small unmanned commercial aircraft delivering packages, pizzas and medical supplies.

“This activity is the latest and most technical challenge we have done with unmanned aerial systems,” said David Korsmeyer, associate director of research and technology at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

An autonomous drone took off Tuesday from the rooftop of a five-story casino parking garage and landed on the roof of another out of view across the street. It hovered as onboard sensors adjusted for gusty winds before returning close to the centre of the launchpad.

Equipped with GPS, others flew at each other no higher than city streetlights but were able to avoid colliding through onboard tracking systems connected to NASA’s computers on the ground.

Similar tests have been conducted in remote and rural areas. The Federal Aviation Administration has authorized individual test flights in cities before but never for multiple drones or outside the sight of the operator.

The new round of tests continuing this summer in Reno and Corpus Christi, Texas, marks the first time simulations have combined all those scenarios, said Chris Walach, executive director of the Nevada Institute of Autonomous Systems, which is running the Reno tests of unnamed aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

“When we began this project four years ago, many of us wouldn’t have thought we’d be standing here today flying UAVs with advanced drone systems off high-rise buildings,” he said.

The team adopted a “crawl, walk, run” philosophy when it initiated tests in 2015, culminating with this fourth round of simulations, said Ron Johnson, project manager for unmanned aircraft systems traffic management at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

“We are definitely in the ‘run’ phase of this development here in Reno,” he said.

READ MORE: Residents in B.C. city complain about drones spying on backyards

The results will be shared with the FAA. The agency outlined proposed rules in January that would ease restrictions on flying drones over crowds but said it won’t take final action until it finishes another regulation on identifying drones as they’re flying — something industry analysts say could be years away.

Critics assert that the FAA has stymied the commercial use of drones by applying the same rigid safety standard it uses for airlines.

“There can be a lot of Silicon Valley mentality where people don’t want to wait. So, we’re trying to strike a balance between unleashing entrepreneurship and ensuring we’re doing it safely while trying to accelerate acceptance of drones in public,” Johnson said.

Amazon and FedEx are among the companies that hope to send consumer products by drone by 2020.Drone delivery company Flirtey began testing delivery of defibrillators for cardiac arrest patients last year in Reno under FAA oversight.

Johnson said cities present the biggest challenges because of limited, small landing areas among tall buildings that create navigation and communication problems.

He said it became apparent early on that the travel management plans for drones would have to be completely automated because FAA air traffic controllers can’t handle the enormous workload.

The system is being tested with the help of 36 private partners, including drone manufacturers, operators, software developers and other third-party service providers, Johnson said.

The system uses software on the ground that communicates flight plans and positions to other software systems. The drones are equipped with programs for landing, avoiding crashes, surveillance, detection and identification, optical cameras and systems similar to radar that work with lasers.

Huy Tran, director of aeronautics at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said her supervisors at NASA headquarters were surprised to hear they had be testing drones in Reno.

“They said, ‘Are you crazy?’” she said. “We hope (the test in) Reno shows drones can be flown and land safely.”

READ MORE: Federal prisons taking aim at special deliveries from the sky

Scott Sonner, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Local shares his story of life and death on the St. Mary River

Aric Keane hopes sharing his story will show that even with experience, the river can be dangerous

Kootenay Savings donates to regional health care initiatives

Kootenay Savings has donated $20,000 to health care efforts amid the COVID-19… Continue reading

Compound 1080 confirmed in dog deaths in Gold Creek area

Pathologist believes the poisoning was secondary

Farm life: Planning and preserving, a time of transition

Over the coming weeks many plants will be pulled from my garden and replaced with cool weather crops

Masks4Canada group reiterates call for mask mandate

Walmart Canada and BC Transit have made masks mandatory

B.C. records new COVID-19 death, 85 more cases; Horgan calls on celebrity help

This brings the total number of active confirmed cases to 531 across the province

Horvat scores 2 as Vancouver Canucks beat Blues 5-2 in NHL playoff opener

Game 2 in best-of-seven series goes Friday night

Teachers to get 2 extra days to prepare for students’ return, now set for Sept. 10

Students will first start with orientation and learn rules of COVID-19 classroom policies

High-volume littering at Cape Scott draws ire from hiking groups

Popular Vancouver Island hiking spot not closing, but frustration about crowding grows

SFU to drop ‘Clan’ varsity team name

The ‘Clan’ name is shortened from ‘Clansmen,’ and was introduced roughly 55 years ago

New Tory leader must build a strong team in Commons and for the campaign: Scheer

Scheer marked his final day in the House of Commons today as leader of the Opposition

B.C. to hire 500 more COVID-19 contact tracers ahead of fall

Contract tracers add an ‘extra layer’ in the fight against the novel coronavirus

Feds commit $305M in additional funds for Indigenous communities during COVID-19

Money can be used to battle food insecurity and support children and mental health

We were a bit tone deaf: Hobo Cannabis renamed Dutch Love after backlash

Hobo Cannabis has various locations in Vancouver, Kelowna and Ottawa

Most Read