With the FAA and the aviation community facing increasing pressure to find a way to keep UAS and airplanes separate, a group of four engineering students from the University of Rhode Island have proposed a solution. Their project, which took first place in an FAA design competition, proposes installing a solar-powered drone detection and tracking system at airports, and affixing radio-frequency detection tags to drones. The system would alert air traffic controllers to the location of drones in their airspace, and also would warn drone operators when their UAS enters the no-fly zone. The team traveled to Washington, D.C., last month to present their concept to FAA officials.
According to the students’ report (PDF), the system would be easy to install and maintain, and close to 100 percent reliable. The tags that would be attached to the UAS weigh less than an ounce and are equipped with an internal lithium battery with a lifetime of up to five years. The electronics required to alert the drone user could be incorporated into drone operating systems as a standard feature, according to the report, making the technology available at virtually no cost to the drone operators. The costs of installing the system could be up to $200,000 per airport, but the students note that’s much less than the cost of even one accident caused by a jet engine ingesting a drone.