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ODOT partners with FAA on system to make Ohio's skies safe for all as more drones take flight

Posted at 10:30 AM, Aug 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-26 10:30:37-04

CLEVELAND — The Ohio Department of Transportation is partnering with the Federal Aviation Administration, Ohio State University and Ohio's Unmanned Aircrafts System Center to develop new technology to better detect drones.

The popularity of drones has taken off in recent years and their use has become a part of our everyday lives. As the number of aircraft in our skies increases, so does the concern over keeping the airspace safe.

“This is an absolutely critical and enabling technology to essentially keep the flying public safe,” said Dr. Matthew McCrink of Ohio State’s Aerospace Research Center.

For the last three years, ODOT has been working with the FAA to develop a detect-and-avoid system that will track drones and keep them from colliding with aircraft that fly at lower altitudes, like medical helicopters. The new technology would allow drone pilots and manned aircraft to see each other safely and share the airspace.

“The way that it works is you, as a drone operator, would request clearance to fly, much like manned aviation does today,” McCrink said. “That would be approved or allowed by the system and would allow you to essentially conduct your flight and give you the situational awareness of what's going on around you.”

Detecting air traffic on radar can be difficult at low altitudes because of obstructions like trees, homes and low-flying objects.

Under current FAA regulations, commercial drone operators must have an observer and can only operate their unmanned aircraft within line of sight.

Delivery companies like Amazon, UPS and others are planning to use drones for deliveries in the future. Not only will need to safely share the skies with manned aircraft, but they will also have to do so over distances that are out of the operator’s field of view.

“The promise of drone deliveries has been around for some time, but that key infrastructure to support that has not existed,” McCrink said. “ “ODOT is at the forefront of essentially establishing what that infrastructure looks like, how we can scale it, grow it and incorporate it with existing manned air traffic control systems as well.”

The technology could also be utilized to implement lifesaving medical technology for transplant recipients.

“The medical use case is the biggest driver. Blood in organs and tissues, things that are time sensitive that drones could bring to a community — a business that is very beneficial,” said Richard Fox, Airspace manager for the Ohio UAS Center.

The drone traffic management system includes three ground-based radar locations in central Ohio. In working with the FAA, ODOT hopes to expand the system into other areas of the state and eventually throughout the country.

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