NASA Offers Prize Money for Drone Tech

The Centennial Challenge is NASA’s name for a program aimed at advancing drone technology, and the agency is offering a $500,000 prize for anyone who has a good idea on how to accelerate integrating them into the National Airspace System (NAS). Adapting airspace to accommodate Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) is a priority, mandated by language in the most recent FAA funding bill. It targets September 2015 for “full integration” of drones, but the definition of “full” is open to interpretation. To date, the FAA program is behind schedule and public acceptance of drones is even further off the mark – as privacy concerns dominate the national conversation.

From the manned aircraft pilot’s perspective, Phase 1 is the most important, since it deals primarily with developing technology that will permit drones to operate within regular airspace.

From the FAA: "Specific skills that Phase 1 competitors will need to demonstrate include:
"safe airspace operations: separation assurance using ADS-B; four-dimensional trajectories; ground control operations; robustness to system failures; lost link; GPS unavailable; GPS unreliable."

The FAA says those competitors for the $500,000 prize should “be able to field a robust UAS that is significantly closer to the goals of the UAS-NAS integration embodied in the NextGen Airspace Concept.”

The draft rules for the competition are available here.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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