Local cities partner with drone-landing companies

The testing involves sensors on two large tethered aerostat balloons approximately 500 feet above ground level (AGL) over San Diego and National City.

SAN DIEGO — People in National City and the City of San Diego might see balloon-like objects floating in the sky for four days in October. They are tracking systems designed to quickly identify drones flying in large cities.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is partnering with the Cities of San Diego and National City from October 21-25, 2019 for the project.

Urban settings present a challenge for tracking and identifying drones as they travel between and behind tall buildings. Under DARPA’s Aerial Dragnet program, the testing involves sensors on two large tethered aerostat balloons approximately 500 feet above ground level (AGL) over San Diego and National City, as well as radar/optical sensors aboard hovering drones and at fixed building-top locations to provide large-area coverage. The sensors are tuned to solely detect small drones and distinguish them from background objects such as buildings, vehicles, and animals.

San Diego was a natural choice to test this system given the city’s participation in the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program (IPP). While DARPA’s focus is on protecting U.S. troops from drone attacks in urban settings overseas, the system under development could ultimately help protect U.S. metropolitan areas from potential drone-enabled terrorist threats.

The testing also includes approximately a dozen commercial off-the-shelf drones, similar to those available at electronics stores or online retailers. These drones will simulate unauthorized/ unidentified drones flying in the city to assess how well the system identifies them. The drones have onboard cameras to aid controllers with navigation only—they are not equipped to record or store data.

All drone flights will be below 400 feet AGL and have been coordinated with the FAA to not affect civilian or military air traffic in the area. Drones will be flown by experienced FAA-certified UAS pilots.

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