Sunday, September 24, 2017

University of Massachusetts researchers receive grant to keep skies safer by detecting low-flying drones

AMHERST -- There is a near collision between a drone and an airplane or helicopter almost every week, according to University of Massachusetts professor Michael Zink. He hopes a new grant will help him develop technology to detect the often low-flying unmanned aircraft and prevent collisions.

In August, a drone nearly collided with a plane during takeoff at the Memphis International Airport. That same month there was another close encounter at San Francisco International Airport when a plane was descending and the crew saw a drone just 20 feet below.

Zink, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and co-director of the Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere, recently received an 18-month, $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. With the money, Zink and his team will develop a multipurpose radar system that can detect drones and also serve as a severe weather warning system.

The system is designed to scan the airspace closest to the ground, where drones and severe weather are not currently visible to existing weather radar and aircraft surveillance systems.  

Zink said he was happy to receive the grant because he is concerned about air safety. Drones "are very small, even smaller than private planes and they fly very low." They are therefore not detected by usual radar, and that's why near collisions have become more common as drones gain in popularity.

The detection technology could be used to find weather systems that are also close to the ground and go undetected by National Weather Service radar, Zink said.

According to a UMass press release, industry estimates that there could be as many as 3 million drones in the skies globally by the end of 2017. As the number of drones increases, so will the chances that they will pose a danger to public safety. In Massachusetts, at least 80 near collisions with aircraft have been reported to date, according to the university.

Another aspect of the research is to test the detection technology to see if it could distinguish between drones and birds and specify types of precipitation in the air.

The project could have future commercial applications for airports, urban areas or other places where accurate weather and drone-intrusion information is part of providing for public safety, the university said.

Original article can be found here ➤ http://www.masslive.com

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