Verizon has a new project that doesn’t have much to do with iPhones or FiOS television. According to documents obtained by The Guardian, NASA, and Verizon are collaborating on experiments to monitor the U.S.’s commercial and civilian drones from cell-phone towers. If Verizon’s experiment works, it would essentially turn cell-phone towers into an air traffic control infrastructure for a new wave of unmanned aircraft. (Update: In an email to Fast Company, a Verizon spokesperson stated The Guardian’s article ” overstates the project and Verizon’s participation.”)
Verizon is believed to have between 12,000 and 15,000 cell-phone towers nationwide. NASA is tasked by the federal government with much of the duty of figuring out a way for manned aircraft and unmanned drones to safely coexist.
The Guardian’s Mark Harris wrote:
NASA is considering monitoring drones with a range of sensors including radar, orbiting satellites, and cell-phone signals. The UTM system is also likely to be cloud-based, meaning that drones will need an Internet link to download information about weather, traffic, and restricted zones. That combination makes using the existing phone networks very attractive.
However, there’s just one problem: NASA doesn’t have all that much money in its budget. Almost out of necessity, the space agency is forced to partner with the private sector to find solutions.
According to Verizon, the communications company is “supporting NASA’s experimentation.”
This article has been updated to include comment from Verizon.