No Existing Technology Can Ensure Drone Safety, GAO Official Says

Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP file photo

Unmanned aircraft operations need more spectrum, could be hit by GPS jamming.

No suitable technology currently exists to ensure that drones will “sense and avoid” other aircraft, Gerald Dillingham of the Government Accountability Office recently told lawmakers, adding that the Federal Aviation Administration lacks sufficient dedicated frequency spectrum to operate unmanned aircraft systems in domestic airspace.

Additionally, non-encrypted GPS navigation signals leave drones vulnerable to jamming and spoofing, according to Dillingham, GAO’s director for physical infrastructure issues, who testified Friday at a hearing held by the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Last Thursday, FAA kicked off a process to set up six test sites to conduct drone research and development toward a goal of widespread use of UAS by law enforcement agencies, universities and other organizations in domestic airspace by 2015. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, estimated that, by 2030, “30,000 drones will be cruising American skies.”

Karlin Toner, director of FAA’s Joint Planning and Development Office, told lawmakers the agency “will not integrate UAS unless and until we can be assured the safety of the [National Airspace System] will not be degraded.” FAA last March published a UAS research and development roadmap detailing projects to advance drone sense-and-avoid technology and secure control communications systems. The research effort includes an assessment of the human factors associated with operation of unmanned aircraft and calls for establishment of maintenance and repair standards, Toner said.

Dillingham told the hearing that while no technology exists today to ensure drones can avoid other aircraft, officials at the Defense Department, FAA, NASA and MITRE, a federally funded research organization, suggest that “potential solutions to the sense-and-avoid obstacle may be available in the near term.” Dillingham said the Army has developed a ground-based system, but did not provide any details, and added NASA recently demonstrated an airborne transponder for drones that is similar to technology manned aircraft will use to automatically report their positions in the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System.

Edgar Waggoner, director of NASA’s Integrated Systems Research Program Office, which is helping FAA with its drone research, testified that drone pilots may have to contract air traffic controllers more frequently than pilots of manned aircraft to avoid traffic, increasing controller workload.

Lack of dedicated and protected spectrum for UAS operations “remains a key security and safety vulnerability” to drone operations, Dillingham testified, as “interruption of radio transmissions can sever the UAS’ only means of control.”

The International Telecommunications Union allocated the 5030-5091 MHz frequency band for UAS control at the 2012 World Radio Conference, but the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has said it needs and plans to seek additional spectrum at the 2015 conference.

Jamming UAS GPS signals could interrupt command and control of drones, interfering with their ability to determine location, altitude and direction, Dillingham said, a situation that could be mitigated by a second navigation system. Spoofing GPS signals could allow an unauthorized user to take control of a drone; to prevent this, Dillingham recommended any UAV larger than 18 pounds be equipped with a spoof-proof navigation system.

Dillingham also said FAA needs to establish standards, processes and procedures to deal with what he called the “lost link scenario,” when communications systems on unmanned aircraft cease to function, potentially leading to loss of control. The Defense Department experienced 72 drone crashes from 2001 through 2012, according to data compiled by the Air Force, with sixteen of those crashes resulting from lost communications.

Toner told the hearing that the challenges of integrating drone operations into domestic airspace are “extremely complex” and said the agency will work to ensure unmanned aircraft can operate safely by 2015.

“We need to identify potential security features or mechanisms to protect UAS operations against threats, such as IT system threats, radio link threats, and human or physical threats,” she said. “FAA is currently collaborating with NASA on a UAS prototype architecture that will be used to develop a high-level security risk assessment.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.