Drone Makers Seek Traffic Control


NASA-backed software could orchestrate urban skies

Michael Belfiore

The commercial use of drones remains mostly illegal in the U.S. All the same, businesses are moving ahead with ways to profit from the small helicopters, with some assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration. In February the FAA, which is preparing drone rules, agreed to exempt State Farm from the prohibition, letting the insurer test the use of drones in claim inspections. On March 19 the agency granted a waiver to continue testing its package-delivery drones. And in Portland, Ore., startup SkyWard is pushing forward with a drone traffic control system that will allow thousands of the machines to fly through cities without colliding with one another or endangering people.

SkyWard is working with NASA and the world’s three largest drone makers—DJI in China, 3D Robotics in the U.S., and Parrot in France—to demonstrate that swarms of drones can safely coexist in crowded airspace. “It’s about applying the regulatory framework to a new kind of aviation infrastructure,” says co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Evans. The software project, Urban SkyWays, is designed to resemble a conventional air traffic control system at altitudes of 1,200 feet or lower, says Parimal Kopardekar, who manages NASA’s experiments on drone coordination and whose researchers are contributing their time to the project.

Urban SkyWays would load SkyWard’s cloud software onto each drone and the computer used by its pilot, says Marcos Osorno, SkyWard’s chief technology officer. The software plots the paths of all drones equipped with it, so a dispatcher working for a company such as Amazon or UPS could log on to the system to file a flight plan and receive an automatically generated route, from pickup point to destination, to help a drone avoid other machines. The flight plans will also take into account local and federal regulations. “The first question our system has to answer is, ‘Where is it safe to fly?’ ” Osorno says.

Full article here SkyWard

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  • Check out  & "add" SFO.  I'm sure AGL flying to MSL is fine and completely clear of airspace.  I actually see the Coast Guard going under the bridge sometimes.  There's the seaplane business out of Sausalito - I just hope people are aware of how busy it actually is when flying a drone there.

  • and the above being said I wonder if they are planning on cutting through flying areas legally sanctioned for other air traffic..


  • hmm from ft funston on down there are  hang glider and paraglider launch sites sanctioned by the US Park Service.. most below the local 300-600ft cliffs, but at the pacifica dumps a popular

    USHGA sanctioned paraglider launch spot we have 747s overhead at 4K while we fly at 1500 and below  sometimes errant PG pilots get forced down in the neighborhoods above the sunset cliffs as you go north YMMV..

    lots of sanctioned diverse air traffic sandwiched in that area

         dont see how drones could be THAT much of an issue as long as they keep clear of other craft


    USHGA P4 rated foot launched pilot(I jump off of  tall cliffs under a flapping piece of cloth!!)

  • The Golden Gate is actually VERY busy airspace where they do low altitude routing to get around Class B, SFO.  I surprised they haven't done a complete ban there?  

  • Admin

    Looks like 3DR is definitely becoming a driving force in the sUAS environment!



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