Ohio university developing smartphone app, website aimed at making drone flying safer

Associated Press

A new smartphone app and website being developed by a university research institute in southwestern Ohio could make flying drones safer, institute officials say.

Drone operators would be able to upload flight routes or areas to the website or app, said Bruce Preiss, a lead research engineer at Wright State University Research Institute. Other users would then be alerted to potential conflicts with restricted flight areas or with those who have filed flight plans within the same system.

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"The power of this app is the more people we get using it, the better it's going to be," Preiss told the Dayton Daily News. "If everyone's not using it, it's going to be weak."

Developers aim to have the website and mobile phone app operational within three months.

The technology comes as a record number of pilots have reported seeing drones this year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Pilots spotted more than 650 unmanned aircraft as of Aug. 9; there were fewer than 250 sightings all of last year, the FAA reported.

Institute officials hope pilots will voluntarily log into the system to decrease the chance of collisions at lower altitudes, where drones are allowed to fly. The FAA generally restricts drone flights to beneath 400 feet and at least 5 miles from an airport.

Preiss estimates about 500,000 to 750,000 people are flying small drones in the United States.

"The problem is everyone's flying kind of on their own; it's kind of like the wild west out there," Preiss told WDTN-TV in Dayton.

Congress has directed the FAA to develop rules that allow drones widespread access to U.S. skies while maintaining safety.

The agency has worked with law enforcement authorities to identify "unsafe and unauthorized" drone operations, Elizabeth Cory, an FAA spokeswoman in Chicago, told the Dayton Daily News.