The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will begin a battery of flight tests Nov. 16 with the intention of examining a commercial drone’s ability to safely fly beyond its operator’s line of site.
This past February, the FAA unveiled rules prohibiting businesses from flying small drones (under 55 pounds) outside of an operator’s line of sight. The test period, which was reported by MIT Technology Review, could ostensibly influence the plans of Amazon, Walmart, and other businesses that hope to use drones to enhance various facets of business.
Using drones equipped with software developed by Precision Hawk, the FAA will also test how the devices respond to unplanned dilemmas, such as an encounter with an airplane. Precision Hawk is working on a system that would make drones flying out of an operator’s sight safer, making the company a logical selection for the FAA’s program. Using Precision Hawk’s in-progress low-altitude tracking and avoidance system (LATAS), a drone would turn around or stop flying all together if it got too close to a designated object or an area that it shouldn’t be flying in, like an airport or a place where emergency personnel are operating. LATAS uses Verizon’s cellular network, satellite links, or aircraft location beacons to communicate with the far-off drone.
For one of its tests, the FAA will have a traditional aircraft fly close to the drones to see if a proper response is provided.
On Monday, a powered paraglider will come toward the drone flying within its pilot’s line of sight, to observe how quickly the pilot can respond. A similar test will later be conducted, with the only variation being that Precision Hawk’s LATAS will be expected to place the drone in a safer location. At some point, the drone will be weaned away from the operator’s line of sight completely.
“We want to measure the ability of a person flying the drone looking for airspace hazards visually against letting the drone make some decisions,” said Tyler Collins, who leads work on LATAS at Precision Hawk, according to MIT Technology Review. “We hope to show the FAA that as we introduce this technology it allows us to create a safer airspace.”
Precision Hawk and three other groups, CNN, railway company BNSF, and IT company CACI, are helping the FAA with its Pathfinder Program, which the agency hopes will lead to the production of technology that will expand the permissible use of drones in the U.S.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense