Drone detecting software development funded by NASA
As amateur and commercial drone operators become more and more common, the opportunities for in-air collisions increase. As a pilot, Rick Zelenka is concerned about steering clear of drones and is doing something about it. His company, Drone Traffic and its partner Mosaic ATM have been awarded a research and development contract from NASA to mature his patented airborne drone monitoring, reporting, and avoidance system for the general aviation piloting community.
Zelenka said to think of it as "Waze for drone traffic." Waze is a GPS navigation software that provides drivers with directions and problems to avoid. This system would do the same, only for pilots to avoid problem drones.
"The FAA documents over 100 incidents per month of drones violating airspace regulations; most of those are no-harm, no-foul situations, but many require manned aircraft to unexpectedly deviate from their flight path and several have resulted in collisions," Zelenka said. "We're adapting newly available drone-to-drone collision avoidance radars, existing cockpit apps, and modern data processing and communication capabilities to increase flight safety."
According to Zelenka, the system will be available in late 2020. Drone Traffic LLC holds two patents covering the concept, with a third pending.
Zelenka earned a B.S. in aerospace engineering from Illinois in 1987 and an M.S. in mechanical engineering in 1989 from University of California, Berkeley. He has been a member of the department’s alumni advisory board since 2007. Zelenka worked for NASA for just under 10 years doing pilot guidance display and air traffic control research.
“I was fortunate to establish several NASA-industry partnerships and to manage an autonomous helicopter research program,” Zelenka said. “After leaving NASA, I launched an airline schedule management software system derived from our NASA work.”
He later worked for Boeing for about five years. “With Boeing, I negotiated technical research and development agreements with European government and industry groups, and had a dream job managing the Boeing staff supporting the USAF's set of observatories atop Maui.”
Zelenka added to his academic achievements by earning a J.D. in law from the University of Denver, Strum College of Law in 2010. He is now a practicing patent attorney in addition to being a budding entrepreneur.