A British researcher told a crowd on Tuesday at the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia that he doubted the Federal Aviation Administration could open unmanned aircraft to civilian airspace in the next couple years as ordered by Congress.
John McDermid, a professor of software engineering at the University of York, said significant challenges remain in developing the right software to load on UAVs to "sense and avoid" other aircraft. He said that software is a requirement in order to open the national airspace to UAVs.
"I honestly doubt it's possible. Or would only be possible in very limited circumstances," he said according to a report by the Daily Press.
The FAA has estimated that tens of thousands will populate the national airspace by 2020. Considerable progress has been made on the unmanned front -- namely the landing of the X-47B on the deck of an aircraft carrier -- but plenty of obstacles remain before the skies above the U.S. are littered with UAVs.
Restrictions from the national airspace have posed training challenges for the military. Training exercises are relegated to the expansive military ranges on bases in order to incorporate UAVs.
Transiting UAVs is another challenge. Officials have limited options in regards to flying UAVs from one base to another because of FAA restrictions.
It's the abrupt, unpredictable changes that pose the greatest challenges for developers.
"Trying to design something that will cater to all possible situations is actually very difficult," Mc Dermid said according to the Daily Press.