Back in May, Uber released its flying car prototype, which looks like a giant, flying drone.

In 2016, Amazon made its first drone delivery to a shopper in the U.K.

Let's face it, drones are here to stay.

At one point, a drone was visible high above the UMass-Amherst campus, scanning the sky.

Not for weather, but for a different purpose: drones.

"As more and more people are flying drones," stated Casa Research Center innovation manager Apoorva Bajaj. "We are seeing a lot good applications. As they are getting easier to operate, you have folks flying drones with a criminal intent, and you have drones that could come in the way of airplanes, as they are landing or taking off at airports."

According to the F.A.A., drone usage has increased steadily over the last few years.

"There is an increasing number of aircrafts that are going to be in the skies going ahead," continued Bajaj. "We said, let's come up with an early warning system that can warn people about these drones."

Just last year alone, nationally, over two thousand reports of drones were filed by pilots to the F.A.A., including fifty sightings here in Massachusetts.

On May 27, 2017, air traffic controllers notified a British Airways crew on final approach to Logan Airport that a drone was "not more than one hundred feet above them".

Two months later, a Massachusetts State Police helicopter narrowly missed a drone while flying over Lawrence.

"We just had a near mid-air collision," stated one of the Massachusetts State Police pilots. "We're trying to find out...they took it down as soon as we made an orbit back around to try and find it."

"If the drone had come into out flight path a little more," said Massachusetts State Police officer Russell Phippen. "We didn't see it and make evasive action. It would have been one or two seconds before we impacted the drone."

Bajaj and his team of researchers and students are using the campus' existing phased array weather radar.

"Our approach was to fly different drones," says Bajaj. "Different sizes, at different heights, with different speeds, at different distances from the radar and to start."

The initial results have been impressive.

"We are ready for mission two," continued Majaj. "So you can turn the radar on."

On a specialized map, the drone's on-board GPS is the red line.

The yellow line is what the radar saw.

"Our vision is," said Bajaj. "You can have a lot of these low-power, small-size radars displayed in cities, in rooftops, and cell phone towers, and provide coverage for both weather and drones. To the people who say you're searching for a proverbial 'needle in a haystack', what do you say to them? I'd say they are right. It's a difficult problem, because drones could be coming from any side, any direction, so you need to have the technology to rapidly scan the skies."

It appears the sky's the limit for this type of technology.

"Low level network of radars," began Raytheon engineer Michael Dubois. "Will support the integration of drones into the National Airspace System in the safest, most secure way possible. Not only could these radars enable the aviation technology of tomorrow, they could also be used to provide high resolution weather information to aid the public."

Copyright 2018 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

First Warning Meteorologist

Content Producer

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