Google, Verizon contribute to NASA's drone management efforts

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) is just one of scores of companies that are raising their hands to help NASA in its mission to figure out a way to manage unmanned aerial systems (UAS), otherwise known as drones.

Last year, NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley released an open call to invite government, industry and academic partners to collaborate with NASA to conduct and identify research needs and to accelerate the development of such a system. Many of those partners will meet this week when NASA and the Silicon Valley chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International co-host a three-day convention at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

FierceMobileIT last month reported that Verizon is indeed involved in the research project but it has not pledged monetary support. Verizon is just one of the companies contributing know-how and it's still very much in an exploratory stage. "We are happy to support NASA in the exploration they are doing around potential ways to monitor drones," Verizon spokesman Kevin King told FierceWirelessTech last week.

To address what could become increasingly crowded skies, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) want to develop a UAS traffic management system, which they refer to as UTM, for low-altitude airspace. Companies like Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), as one might expect, are interested in contributing as well.

"We think the airspace side of this picture is really not a place where any one entity or any one organization can think of taking charge," Google's head of Project Wing, Dave Vos, told Bloomberg News. "The idea being that it's not 'Google is going to go out and build a solution and everyone else has to subscribe to it.' The idea really is anyone should be free to build a solution."

Bloomberg reports that at least 14 companies, including Google, Amazon, Verizon and Harris, have signed agreements with NASA to help devise the first air-traffic system to coordinate small, low-altitude drones, which the agency calls the Unmanned Aerial System Traffic Management (UTM). More than 100 other companies and universities also expressed interest in the project.

Representatives from Amazon and Google, including Vos, are scheduled to give keynotes at this week's event. NASA says sessions will examine the crossover between research, development and air traffic management, and highlight the latest issues, advancements and opportunities in the aviation industry.

In a press release, NASA explained that it hopes to use UTM as a tool to bring more people together and bridge the gap between commercial innovation and NASA's air traffic management research. By working with partners that provide their own vehicles, low altitude radar, radio frequencies or cell phone towers, NASA aims to gain access to more technology for UTM applications to demonstrate unmanned aircraft systems can be safely operated at low altitudes.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg story
- see this release

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