Hurricane cleanup efforts and other operations that could be enhanced by wider drone flights might get some help soon.
Melbourne-based Harris Corp. and partners announced Tuesday a two-year grant to develop a system that allows safe usage of drones beyond a person’s line of sight.
The work would create network-based tracking of drones that could eventually allow drone pilots to fly beyond their line of sight.
Right now, Federal Aviation Authority guidelines do not allow a pilot to fly an unmanned aircraft system – or drone – unless they can see it.
At an event Tuesday, Harris officials said the research could help farmers and those in other industries.
“We believe this would help industries mature and progress faster,” said George Kirov, vice president and general manager of Harris’ Commercial Unmanned Aerial Systems Solutions.
Kirov said farmers, rail workers and energy companies – just to name a few – could benefit from the research eventually.
Some of the work on the development of the program will be done in Central Florida.
“It’s easier, quicker and more-precise data for those farming the field or building that pipeline,” Kirov said.
But these developments have applications beyond farming.
A more-robust network could make hurricane clean up easier because drones could be outfitted with camera systems or other sensors that would allow them to track and scan a wider area.
The goal of the project is to use North Dakota as a use-case example of how the new network would benefit industries, Kirov said.
If successful, the plan would be to expand the network to other states and, eventually, across the U.S.
The company said Tuesday that it sought to partner with railroads or utility companies to create test scenarios.
The North Dakota Centers of Excellence Commission awarded Harris and its partners a two-year grant worth $500,000 a year to develop and test the network.
University of North Dakota and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks, N.D., partnered with Harris.
Access to air space is closely monitored, an effort to avoid collisions or unauthorized flights in specific areas.
Harris had to get a temporary permit to fly a drone up to 100 feet for Tuesday’s demo.
“It’s not really a technology issue,” Kirov said. “It’s a safety case.”
The company has had a long relationship with the FAA.
From its Melbourne headquarters, Harris employees monitor U.S. air traffic for the agency on a system it developed.
The company employs more than 17,000 people, including roughly 6,300 in Central Florida and on the coast.
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