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NASA to build special air traffic control system for drones

NASA to build special air traffic control system for drones

The US space agency says system will be used for agriculture

This week, The New York Times (NYT) reported that NASA is working on creating a management system for drones to fly at around 400 to 500 feet off the ground

At NASA's Moffett Field base – around four miles from Google's Mountain View headquarters – the space agency is planning to build a new system that would check for other low-flying drone traffic, help the unmanned vehicles avoid buildings and scan for harmful weather condition that might affect the drone.

The drone system would follow the same rules as full-fledged air traffic control, but the NYT says its control centres will be fully automated. Parimal H. Kopardekar, the NASA principal researcher managing the program, mentioned that the first applications for the system would be in lightly populated areas, performing such tasks as monitoring agriculture like oil pipelines or crops. "I'm hoping we will see some action inside of the next year," said Kopardekar.

As large companies start to stake bets on drone delivery as the future of the retail industry, Amazon and Google have both announced programs that will see its items sent through the air to their customers, but both corporations are ahead of legislation – with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) still prohibiting the use of commercial drones.

However, NASA's planned traffic control system could become useful in the very near future, as an FAA spokesperson told the NYT that the administration plans to publish rulings for unmanned drones later this year.