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A new network will allow pilots of drones to fly farther distances, even outside their line of sight, which is currently against FAA rules. If successful, the range of new uses for drones could include quicker and safer disaster cleanup, search and rescue missions, mapping and better data on droughts or soil moisture in cornfields, according to orlandosentinel.com.
A team of researchers, including Harris Corp., has been developing the network, a series of receivers that would establish what’s known as a “wide-area network,” or one that connects devices that are far apart, that could track activity in lower altitudes.
The first network will be built in North Dakota. Once in place there, the goal would be to expand it to other states and, eventually, the entire U.S.
“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.
The broader usage in delivery businesses will gain momentum as result of the new development.
Central Florida has been a hotbed for activity. In 2015, Orlando’s CineDrones became one of the first in the country to land a certification from the FAA, which authorized it to fly in Orlando airspace.
Chris Fink, founder and CEO of Unmanned Vehicle Technologies in Maitland, said technology’s advancement necessitates smarter regulation of the industry. He said stronger drones have transponders that allow for closer tracking. “These aircraft are getting more intelligent,” he said. “It’s a natural move in the industry, so I think it’s great this [Harris project] will happen.”
Kirov said a more robust network could make hurricane cleanup easier because drones could be outfitted with camera systems or other sensors that would allow them to track and scan a wider area. He said that the project in North Dakota may include 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 total to develop and test the network.
University of North Dakota and the Northern Plains Test Site in Grand Forks, N.D., partnered with Harris.