The rapid rise of amateur-piloted drones has created somewhat of a regulatory nightmare. Countless reports of pilots spotting drones near airports as well as the recent fracas over drones impeding firefighters are testament to that.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley are attempting to tackle this issue with license plates reports Technology Review.
Well, they're not really license plates the way we know them.
The researchers call their invention LightCense and they use multicolored LED lights mounted to the underside of an Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) that flash in a unique pattern. This pattern can be decoded by a smartphone app, specially designed cameras or memorized by a person, though that last one seems a little less likely.
Aislan Foina, director of the Cal Unmanned lab at UC Berkley, says LightCense was inspired by automotive license plates, despite the differences in how they work. He and his team consider drones as being more related to cars than aircraft, which makes sense given their small size and (relatively) large numbers.
As of right now, there are no definitive plans to bring this tech to market, but Foina would like to see it go commercial at some point.
UAV regulation has been a major issue with the proliferation of affordable consumer drones. Pilots at JFK recently hadthree separate close calls with UAVs flying in no-fly-zones in just one weekend.
Drones are also posing a large threat to firefighters in California. The state's chief of the Department of Forestry and Fire said that UAVs cause "immediate danger" to firefighting pilots in a recent press conference, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Many places, notably airports, are marked as no-fly zones but it's almost impossible for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to prevent drones from flying in these areas. Due to the large amount of UAVs flying at any given time, the regulation for drones would need to be automated, in contrast with the FAA's human-operated Air Traffic Control.
A proposal from NASA and Verizon would require all drones to connect to the Internet, enabling the ability for "geofencing." Amazon — which is trying to start up a drone delivery service — also released a similar plan that would require non-Internet connected drones to fly below 200 feet. The appeal of LightCense is that it could be retrofitted to drones that aren't connected to the Internet.
Assuming the proposal goes forward, LightCense could be a good way to keep older drones in the sky.