(TNS) -- ROME, N.Y. — Over the past few years, Griffiss International Airport has become home to some of the most advanced developments in drone technology in the country.
With the November announcement of a 50-mile flight traffic management system — otherwise known as a drone testing corridor — between Syracuse and Griffiss, that is only going to continue, said Chad Lawrence, deputy commissioner of aviation at Griffiss.
"We're ultimately building an incubator site here," he said. "The way that we do everything here is crawl, walk, run, period. We're going to continue to do that to make sure we have safe integration of this. ... We're still in the crawl stage, (but) we're starting to move into the slow walk phase, 'cause we don't want something to happen — safety is a priority. We're doing some cool testing here."
The most recent development in the drone testing corridor is the adoption of a plan for Gryphon Sensors to move forward with Phase One of the Unmanned Secure Autonomous Flight Environment Capital Project.
That project is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's planned $30 million investment in the corridor, said Lawrence Brinker, executive director and general counsel of the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance.
NUAIR is an alliance of more than 40 private and public entities and academic institutions from across New York and Massachusetts that partnered to promote Griffiss as an ideal location to conduct testing and research to allow for the safe integration of unmanned vehicles and systems into the national airspace. The location was named one of six FAA test sites in the nation in 2013 along with New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Alaska, Virginia and North Dakota.
"Gryphon Sensors is doing the first phase of the project," Brinker said about the most recent project. "That will give us about a 15-mile outreach from Griffiss toward Syracuse. Then we will start this summer in putting out bids for the work to build out the corridor."
The whole point of the corridor is for companies to experiment with the ability to fly these drones safely beyond the visual line of sight, which has been one of the major hurdles for the commercialization of these unmanned systems.
"The FAA restricts commercial, small UAS operations to being in line of sight of the operator, basically a mile, mile and a half," Brinker said. "That wouldn't work for, say, (Amazon's) package delivery system. So we're developing a test bed that the FAA will approve that will allow for beyond visual line of sight tests."
The corridor will be lined with sensors placed in the ground that will then speak to a computer system in the control room at the UAS facility at Griffiss — basically air traffic control for drones.
The information transmitted to that control room will allow the person flying the drone to "see" what is around it and not have to have eyes on the actual aircraft in order to fly safely.
Once those techniques are perfected, companies such as Amazon can perfect their drone flying programs.
The goal is to eventually be able to integrate commercial drone traffic into the U.S. airspace, Lawrence said.
"What we were kind of challenged with was to do ground-based sense of avoidance systems," he said. "What we're doing is we built a high-altitude system that can detect both cooperating systems and uncooperating systems, and we're building a low-altitude system as well that starts at the ground and goes all the way up to 1,200 feet. ... We're trying to help the whole industry out, not just one part of this."
Gryphon Sensors projects this portion of the project will create about 20 new jobs in the region, drawing in people with specialized talents and training.
Rome Mayor Jacqueline Izzo said there is nothing bad about this project, especially when it will be adding jobs and bringing more people to the area. The project also shines a light on Griffiss and the city, she said.
"It also reinforces the use of our federally designated test site at Griffiss, so it's all good news," Izzo said. "This is what we hoped would happen after we were designated as a test facility. This is what the UAS test facility is mandated to provide — a safe environment to test technology of tomorrow as far as drones are concerned."
©2017 Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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