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.

Just Posted

Garden suite applications on the rise, but not without a few hitches: staff report

Victoria city council to hear update on revised garden suite application process

Armoury event highlights Canada’s D-Day efforts in Normandy

Event runs Saturday 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Bay Street Armoury

Canadians smoke less according to community health survey

Obesity and heavy drinking rates remain steady

Canada Day comes early with Oak Bay celebration

Fun continues with first free concert in the park Friday evening

Victoria woman accesses healing Burn Fund resources 45 years after injury

Stasi Manser was burned when she was five years old and now works as an adult burn survivor advocate

VIDEO: Stop-motion artist recreates Kawhi Leonard’s famous buzzer-beater

It took Jared Jacobs about 40 hours to make the video, on top of the research

POLL: Do you think the penalty should be increased for tossing a burning cigarette from a vehicle?

With grasslands and forests around Vancouver Island and across B.C. reaching tinder… Continue reading

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of June 25

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Rock slide in B.C. river may hinder salmon passage

DFO says it is aware that the slide occurred in a narrow portion of the Fraser River

Four-hour tarmac delay violates charter rights of Canadians with a disability: lawsuit

Bob Brown says new rules reduce the distance he can travel by air without putting his health at risk

PHOTOS: North Island home gutted in fire deemed ‘suspicious’

No injuries reported; firefighters prevented blaze from spreading

Child killed after being hit in driveway on Vancouver Island

The driver of the vehicle remained at the crash scene and is fully cooperating

Eating sandwiches, putting on makeup behind the wheel could land you a fine

RCMP say if you cause an accident while eating you could be penalized

Cat badly hurt in animal trap was likely stuck for days, B.C. owner says

Blu, a three-year-old house cat, suffered severe damage to his hind leg after being stuck in trap for days

Most Read