By Alex DeMetrick

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WJZ) — Finding room in the sky for unmanned drones. It’s a technical challenge Maryland says it’s up to.

Alex DeMetrick reports if it can be done, merging manned with unmanned flights could lead to a big payoff.

Unmanned drones have been under military development for 20 years at Patuxent Naval Air Force Station, technology headed toward civilian use–provided it can fly safely with what’s already in U.S. airspace.

“You’re trying to fit an unmanned system into a manned system,” said Matt Scassero, UM Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

And the University of Maryland is trying to convince the government it can, using Patuxent and Southern Maryland to test systems to integrate drones.

“So the idea is to take advantage of all the infrastructure we have in place down there, as well as the people, combined with University system research effort and bring them to bear on the same issues,” Scassero said.

Drones piloted from the ground have already branched into severe weather, riding into hurricanes long before they reach shore.

“The purpose is to give people warning of what’s going to be happening,” said a NASA researcher.

And on land, police are testing small eyes in the sky.

“I don’t want to see this get shot out of the air but I’d rather see that than an officer shot,” said a police officer.

From crop dusting to finding lost hikers, keeping drones from hitting people on the ground or in the air is a critical step to a new industry.

It’s estimated that globally, drones could be a $90 billion business.

“The projection for Maryland is to gain $2 billion of that just inside the state,” Scassero said.

Maryland is vying for one of six sites the federal government will establish to test integrating drones into civilian airspace.

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