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Nevada, NASA Will Test Drones In Downtown Reno

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Drones aren't yet delivering packages, but that could change soon, at least in downtown Reno.

NASA recently chose Nevada to test unmanned aerial systems for tasks like newsgathering, package deliveries and emergency response plans.

It’s the first time in U.S. history that drones will fly beyond the line of sight in a metropolitan area.

Chris Walach, the executive director of the Nevada Institute for Autonomous System, said that is what makes this testing unique, "...we’re doing it beyond visual line of sight and we’re testing out different technologies that haven’t been tested before to ensure that we can safely do unmanned aviation in an urban environment.”

One of the technologies being tested is obstacle detection. The drones will scan the area where they plan on landing to find any obstacles.

They will also be testing technology that helps the drones avoid other forms of aviation.

The whole idea is to eventually have drones that fly on their own and integrate with manned aviation.

“We’re not doing this manually like its generally tested and commonly tested every day throughout the U.S. It’s actually a significant advancement of the technology,” he said.

The drones will be about 55 pounds. They'll be in downtown Reno for about two months but they won't be in places where people and traffic usually are.

Walach's team is working closely with the city of Reno and law enforcement to make sure the public is safe. That partnership will also help government and law enforcement entities to figure out how drones are going to work in the city in the future.

Walach is hopeful that we'll be seeing drones delivery packages and other tasks in two to three years.

Chris Walach, executive director, Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.