When an errant drone gets in trouble with the law, Rome will have had a role in catching it.
The drone test site at the county-owned Griffiss International Airport in Rome was the site last week of tests of a drone remote-identification system developed by the company ANRA Technologies. Staff of NUAIR, the Northeast Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Integration Research organization that runs the New York UAS test site at Griffiss, flew drones using ANRA’s software, and two craft carried a wi-fi broadcast module ANRA provided with another company, Doodle Labs.
The emerging drone traffic system differs from the traditional air-traffic control system in that there are no controllers watching radar scopes in a central location. Instead, aircraft self-report their position in a networked environment so remote pilots can see the whole air traffic picture around them. The approach is called automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast, or ADS-B.
“There are twice, or more, as many UAS now flying as manned aircraft,” said NUAIR COO Tony Basile. “If they were all outfitted with transponders/ADS-B, air traffic control would be overwhelmed.”
ANRA CEO Amit Ganjoo noted in an interview that the unmanned-air system is a branch of the so-called “internet of things,” or IOT, where appliances and devices are linked through the internet to one another and human users.
“A drone is nothing more than a flying IOT device,” Ganjoo said. “So it doesn’t matter whether they can access the internet over wi-fi or cellular or satellite as long as they have access to the network.”
ANRA licenses its technology to states, localities and other entities involved in unmanned traffic control.
In a location where there are many cell towers, a user on the ground can easily identify a drone using an app for unmanned craft that can tap the internet for data.
“If you’re in the part there and you see two drones flying overhead you can … load an app and put a marker at your location on the app will query the network and say, ‘Hey, UTM system, can you tell me who’s in my area and if they’re authorized?’ Since the drones are already communicating with the UTM system they will return, ‘Yes, this is an authorized operation here.”
In a more remote area, though, a drone will simply give its own ID. Details are harder to come by. Ganjo likened it roughly to a police officer running the plate of a car he or she stops on patrol: The officer has to call into dispatch or somewhere with network access to get the details.
“The key is you need a combination of both capabilities to provide a comprehensive remote ID capability.”
That’s where the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office comes in. The department is starting its own drone patrol, just as it has special units for snowmobiles and the county’s major waterways, and Jon Owens, the deputy in charge of patrol, was at the test site last week.
The equipment being tested could be of significant service to law enforcement officers in their role of educating drone pilots on rules for safe flying by indicating who the pilot is, Owens said.
“If you saw somebody operating unsafely or not familiar with it, it provides the means of contacting that person and advising them, educating them for safe operations.”
Federal Aviation Administration rules lay out restrictions for drones, such as distances that must be maintained from buildings, distance from the cloud layer, and altitude.
“If they were to come near power lines, a hot air balloon, close to buildings, ceiling height, staying away from clouds — there’s a lot of things that could make your travels unsafe. This is a great opportunity to educate the public on what you can and can’t do.”
The Sheriff’s Office plans to have a drone display at the Boonville fair later this summer. Meanwhile, it is forming its drone unit from officers who have passed an FAA drone-pilot test.
“We’re still waiting for a team of people to be certified,” Owens said. “That could take anywhere from a month to six months depending on their level of commitment … It isn’t that easy of a test.”