Verizon part of drone experiments with NASA to see if cell towers can monitor UAVs

Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) is one of several companies working with NASA on experiments related to monitoring of drones, and Verizon's part of the project is to see whether drones could be monitored via cell towers.

According to documents the British newspaper the Guardian obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Verizon signed an agreement last year with NASA "to jointly explore whether cell towers … could support communications and surveillance of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) at low altitudes."

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) have also signed agreements with NASA to test their systems at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

Verizon spokesman Kevin King took issue with several aspects of the Guardian report, which said that Verizon is "scheduled to introduce a concept for using cell coverage for data, navigation, surveillance and tracking of drones by 2017" and that the carrier hopes to finalize the technology by 2019.

King told FierceWireless that NASA is conducting ongoing experiments into different ways to monitor drones. NASA asked numerous technology companies to participate, and King confirmed that Google and Amazon stepped forward to help.

Google and Amazon have existing interest and projects related to drones. Google plans to use solar-powered drones to deliver Internet access and in March the FCC approved two licenses so that Google can run tests over the next six months in a 520-square-mile area east of Albuquerque, N.M.

In April Amazon received Federal Aviation Administration approval to begin new outdoor tests of its Prime Air drones. The approval covers a period of two years and comes with numerous restrictions. Amazon had asked for permission to test Prime Air, which it wants to use as a new delivery system to get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using aerial vehicles. 

King said Verizon is constructing a wireless network at the Ames center to conduct its part of the tests. "To say we're partnering with NASA, I think it overstates what we're doing," he said

The 2017 milestone is just that, King said, and Verizon expects to provide an update to NASA by then. The term of the agreement is five years, and King said that there is no expectation from NASA that Verizon will deliver a fully-developed commercial system by 2019 to monitor drones via cell towers.

"There's nothing that says we're going to deliver anything," King said, describing the experiments as an "investment in innovation." He said no money is changing hands as a result of the agreements, and that the $500,000 figure cited in the Guardian article is related to NASA's budget for the experiments.

A NASA spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

For more:
- see this Guardian article

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