The state is establishing a corridor between the upstate cities of Rome and Syracuse to test the next generation of wireless-enabled unmanned aerial vehicles.

By Phil Goldstein

The future of drone technology for state and local governments could be discovered somewhere near the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. That’s the hope, at least.

Earlier this fall, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a plan to launch what the state billed as the nation’s first unmanned aircraft systems testing range using fifth-generation wireless networks, in a 50-mile corridor between the upstate cities of Rome and Syracuse, which was first created in 2019.

The governor named public safety, agriculture and forest management, transportation and logistics, media and film development, and utilities and infrastructure as industries that could benefit from the development of 5G-enabled drone technology. The work will be led by the Open Generation Consortium, a group led by the MITRE Engenuity foundation that includes government agencies, academics and private firms. The group includes Verizon and wireless network infrastructure companies Ericsson and Nokia.

“There are a multitude of potential uses, so this 5G corridor will become an important training area to move from a test environment to an everyday use in commercial airspace,” Rome Mayor Jacqueline Izzo tells the Observer-Dispatch newspaper.

New York Corridor Will Test Drones That Go Beyond Line of Sight

The corridor is managed by the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance. New York has been laying the foundation for experimentation. As GCN reports:

Over the past five years, the state has put in nearly $70 million to advance the UAS industry in Central New York and the Mohawk Valley, which are now well positioned to conduct advanced 5G testing.

According to the governor’s statement, the corridor will “include an experimentation hub with more than 100 square miles dedicated to 5G beyond-visual-line-of-sight testing and long-range flight paths — a capability critical to the commercialization of safe and secure unmanned aircraft systems.”

Current Federal Aviation Administration regulations require drones to fly 400 feet above the ground and remain in the sight of the operator. The ability to go beyond the line of sight of an operator is crucial to expanding the capabilities of drones, especially in areas such as public safety and agriculture.

“Reliable uncrewed aircraft systems are critical to ensuring the cutting-edge developments in this field can be used to support businesses in the Mohawk Valley and across the state,” New York State Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon said in a statement. “5G research, which will allow us to safely operate drones on long flight paths and beyond the line of sight, will advance the drone industry by leaps and bounds and expand the range of practical applications.”