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Virginia Tech Researchers Testing Drones That Detect And Avoid Collisions

A drone flying through the air.
Virginia Tech “Detect and Avoidance” Drone Equipped with Radar. (Photo Courtesy of Virginia Tech)

Virginia Tech researchers are collaborating with NASA to test a system for commercial drones to detect and avoid mid-air collisions.

With few exceptions, today’s commercial drones are limited to flying within sight of an operator.  But experiments aat Virginia Tech’s FAA-approved test site could open up new opportunities. 

Says John Coggins, Chief Engineer at Tech's Mid-Atlantic Partnership, "It’s going to enable long-range drone missions."

The technology they’re testing enables a drone to detect unsafe conditions - like flying too close to a plane - and change course to avoid a crash. "All of the hardware and software worked as expected and the drone maneuvered gently out of the way," Coggins said.

The FAA estimates there are already 350,000 commercial drones, used for everything from search and rescue, to dropping off packages. Still, Coggin says the majority of drone potential has not been realized. And when the FAA writes new regulations to unleash it, the Tech experiments will play a part.