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NASA explains how cell networks can restrict drone flights

Steve Dent, @stevetdent
June 12, 2015
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NASA has taken on the job of preventing drones from crashing into things, and it's now revealed more info about how it plans to do that. It wants to link up drones up to a control system when they're flying, then "geo-fence" them off from trouble, according to its latest missive. And as the space agency mentioned earlier, one way it could communicate with them is via cellphone networks like Verizon's. A central system would use them to transmit information to drones, helping them steer away from restricted areas and other aircraft. Creating such a network, which NASA calls the UAS traffic management system (UTM) would be a challenge, however.

To push things forward, it plans on co-hosting a three-day UTM convention next month with the Silicon Valley chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems (AUVSI). As for Verizon and the whole cellphone network thing, NASA reiterated that "cellphone tower technology (may work) to track and monitor both commercial and civilian aircraft. NASA is in the initial stages of exploring this concept with telecommunication providers, such as Verizon." It added that such a system wouldn't track or interfere with cellphone communications, an obvious concern in the age of Stingray towers and the NSA.

Other private companies are working on related projects, like systems to keep UAVs away from private residences, fleet operations for large companies, battery life issues for drones in sensitive terran and low altitude tracking and avoidance systems. NASA will try to build a coherent plan with that jumble of technology at the UTM conference, which kicks off on July 28th at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

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