Report: Google to test drones in U.S. using LTE frequencies

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) has been testing its drone delivery program in U.S. airspace and plans further tests in rural California after striking a deal with NASA, according to a Guardian report.

For more than a year, Google has been quietly operating its drones in America under NASA's Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA), a program originally intended for government agencies, the report says. COAs allow public organizations like the military, state universities and police or fire departments experiment with unmanned aerial systems (UAS) as long as they meet safety standards, the Guardian said. However, COAs come with restrictions, and FAA regulations say that a public agency must own or exclusively operate the drone in question, and that commercial operations are prohibited.

Both NASA and Google declined to comment on the collaboration, according to the Guardian, which said it had obtained a Space Act Agreement that says: "Nasa and Google will conduct joint field tests of UASs … where Nasa may issue certificates of approvals to operate." A Google spokesperson was not immediately available to FierceWirelessTech for comment.

The report goes on to say that the latest trials will be used to see whether cellphone signals can be used by low-flying drones for automatic air traffic control. Citing documents filed with the FCC last week, the Guardian said Google wants to carry out demonstrations and tests on a remote stretch of privately owned land near Merced, Calif. The experiments could last up to six months and involve transmissions on the LTE radio frequencies used by all the major cellphone companies in the U.S., including AT&T (NYSE: T), T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), Sprint (NYSE: S) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ), the report said.

Collaboration with cellular operators doesn't come as a surprise. 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 an air traffic control system for drones. 

FierceMobileIT reported in June that NASA was investigating the possibility of drone monitoring via cell technology. Verizon is just one of the companies contributing know-how and it's still very much in an exploratory stage, a Verizon spokesman told FierceWirelessTech last month.

Google would not confirm to the Guardian whether any phone companies are participating in the experiments, but the document filed with the FCC said the latest experiments could help "generate new business opportunities for communications service providers and remove barriers to the broader deployment of UAS," the report said.

The Guardian also cited a document that reveals details about Google's aircraft. Project Wing drones weigh less than 55 pounds and use multiple electric engines to fly at up to 100 mph and as high as 400 feet or 120 meters. If a drone loses GPS navigation signals or communications with its ground-based operator, it is designed to automatically return to base and land immediately.

For more:
- see this Guardian article

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