NASA Aims For Regulated Drone Highways

With an estimated one million drones unwrapped at Christmas, we’ll look at NASA’s designs for drone highways in the skies.

Toy demonstrator Ralph Cruz, second left, flies a "Star Wars" drone spaceship for customers at Toys R Us, Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, Times Square in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Toy demonstrator Ralph Cruz, second left, flies a “Star Wars” drone spaceship for customers at Toys R Us, Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, Times Square in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Happy New Year! And there’s already so much going on. We’re keeping it close to home today, to start 2016. As close as the sky above us. The Federal Aviation Administration and NASA see it getting really busy with drones. Maybe a million-plus new drones out there just in recent weeks. Amazon and Google keep pushing for drone delivery. Now NASA’s talking drone highways in the sky. This hour On Point, how we will live with drones.

— Tom Ashbrook


Parimal Kopardekar, manager of the Safe Autonomous Systems Operations Project at NASA, where he is also the principal investigator of Unmanned Aerial Systems Traffic Management. (@nasapk)

Mike Whitaker, deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, where he is also Chief NextGen Officer.

Ryan Calo, professor at the University of Washington School of Law and faculty co-director of the Tech Policy Lab. (@rcalo)

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: A Field Guide to Civilian Drones — “Drones have been used by the military for several years, but as sales of their civilian cousins rise, so do safety concerns among regulators and law enforcement agencies, which worry about everything from drone collisions with airplanes to crashes into crowded stadium events.”

Scientific American: So Your Neighbor Got A Drone For Christmas — “Before airplanes and drones existed, people owned everything above and below their land—according to the law, their rights extended ‘to the heavens and down to hell.’ But modern aviation changed this definition in a big way. In the early 20th century Congress declared the air a public highway, which limited land rights so that people were not trespassing every time they flew. That public highway has generally been considered 500 feet and above.”

Forbes: Amazon Proposes Drone Highway As It Readies For Flying Package Delivery — “Areas between 200 and 400 feet would be reserved for a sort of drone highway. UAVs in this 200-foot range would likely be traveling autonomously at high-speeds and out of the line-of-sight of any operator. Because of this, drones will need to be able to communicate with one another, said Kimchi, and be equipped with standardized sense-and-avoid technologies that will allow them to dodge other vehicles and potential hazards like birds and tall buildings.”

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