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NY promises $9M for nation’s largest indoor drone testing site

JPL engineers recently finished developing three drones and the artificial intelligence needed for them to navigate an obstacle course by themselves. As a test of these algorithms, they raced the drones against a professional human pilot. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Released)

The state wants to invest $9 million to build the nation’s largest indoor drone testing facility at Griffiss International Airport in Rome.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to highlight the project in his 2020 State of the State address on Wednesday in Albany.

The state money will help Oneida County, which owns the airport, establish what it calls “Sky Dome” in a former airplane hangar at the former Griffiss Air Force Base.

The county will renovate the building so that it can be used to test and certify small drones as part of the national test site at the airport overseen by Syracuse-based Nuair, an alliance of industry, government and institutional partners.

The drone test site is one of seven nationwide authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said the renovated hangar will allow for year-round experiments and testing of advanced drone technologies, including artificial intelligence-based flight controls and autonomous swarms of small drones.

The project will include an adjacent outdoor testing facility covered by nets installed to stop any wayward drones.

“We’re pretty excited about the doors that this will open for us,” Picente said in an interview. “It will clearly take us to a whole new level.”

Cuomo and Picente said the project will initially support collaborative research between the Nuair test site and the nearby Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, known as Rome Lab.

Nuair oversees a 50-mile drone testing corridor between Rome and Syracuse that’s being used to find ways to safely integrate drones into the nation’s air space. The corridor includes a network of eight stationary radars and one mobile radar.


© 2020 Syracuse Media Group