Socially Responsible Drones

Do you have concerns or ideas about drones?
If so, help us make drone flying socially responsible. We, the Unmanned Aviation Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley are communicating public opinion to policy makers. Our goal is to learn if and how drone flying can be safe, secure, environmentally responsible and respectful of privacy.

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What We Do


Consumer UAV design

The Winged Hybrid Airship for Long Endurance (WHALE) is a vehicle that addresses the autonomous urban rapid delivery problem. The system is designed to deliver longer ranges and flight times. The WHALE has a range of eighty-five miles for payloads up to 5 pounds. It has an adequate form factor to achieve urban deliveries. The wing design allows for variable lift, enabling minimization of lift and drag for the return phase in which the weight of the payload is not a factor. Most importantly, the WHALE is safe. The bulbous shape of the helium envelope ensures safe and affable interactions with people. The next generation of unmanned aviation will have an unprecedented union with human environments, and must be modeled to meet the needs of our society. Thus, we designed the WHALE to mimic natural features that can coexist in a space shared with humans. We expect to have a flight tested prototype by the end of October 2016.

Vehicle Design

We focus on designing consumer drones for enhanced interaction

Air Highway Design, Routing & Collision Avoidance

To reduce the computational complexity of the drone-drone avoidance problem, we plan to develop an air highway system. The system also avoids geographical areas with high population density, to reduce disturbance to human life and ensure safety. The basic principles would be referenced and modified from the existing highway design literature. On top of the air highways, routing algorithms for UAV’s will be developed. In addition, a merging algorithms from departing location or after-avoidance locations to air highways, and a demerging algorithm from highway to destination, need to be developed. As a preliminary exercise, we developed a single-origin-multiple-destination air highway system using the Fast Marching method. The idea is to avoid areas with dense populations and tall obstacles. From simulations, the paths are 5% to 20% longer than straight-line routes from the Amazon Fulfillment Center at Tracy to various cities in the Bay Area, which is acceptable given that the routes are safer in inhabited areas.

Air Highways

We work on flight planning problems for low altitude airspace

Drone License Plate

Once flights paths have been accepted and airspace permissions have been set, enforcement becomes the next concern. According to Waley (Automobile License Plate for Illinois - 1937), a car license plate is well designed when they have legibility in daylight from at least 125 ft. Similarly, we are creating a drone identification system for low altitude flight, in a way any person can look at the drone for few seconds and detect it at least by 400 ft. The objective is to create a system of traceable identity for UASs. The way we found to make a visible code is using visible LED color sequences for each UAS. This identification technology is integrated with ADS-B, displaying a unique code both through RF and through visible LEDs. With this technology, NASA will have the traceability of the UASs registered to the UTM while they fly, also NASA can easily detect drones that doesn't have the identification system, like a car driving without license plate. Besides the way used to transmit the identification code (LED or RF), we are studying also the size of the code, how many combinations will be available in order to scale up with the growth of the UAS in the airspace. For more information visit www.lightcense.co

UAS Identification System

We develop technologies for regulation of consumer drones

Air Parcel Management System

According to FAA regulations (under the 333 exemptions- ) and laws under discussion drone pilots require the consent of the owner in order to fly over private property. As drone policy proceeds in this direction, regulation of future flights necessitates some form of continued communication between pilots and property owners. To tackle this, we are approaching the problem of regulating low airspace navigation from the land ownership model. A property owner (like an Individual, City or County) may provide full, partial or no restriction for a UAS flying in the air parcel above. The current build of NASA’s UTM system checks new flight paths against existing reserved paths and geofences. If accepted, a polygonal prism of airspace is reserved along the entire flight path for the duration of the flight. Our system breaks up the complexity of checking the large number of flight paths against static (air parcels/geofences) and dynamic (other flights) obstacles into two parallely running platforms. A flight operator inputs the path and it is verified based on the existing air parcel permissions in our air parcel system and if it checks through, it is forwarded to the UTM to be checked against existing flight paths thus ensuring that most of the paths submitted to UTM are acceptable. Secondly, we would be able to retrieve active flight track data from the UTM via WFS requests and update them in real time. Thus even property owners can track which flights are expected to cross their air parcels. There are several research problems in understanding the complexities in this large scale implementation of such a system. Efficient data structures and algorithms are needed in order to check constraints before flight, and in real-time if the flight paths change. At a higher level, this system can be conceptualized as distributing the control of a large scale airspace between consumers and FAA rather than a single centralized source.
Currently the system allows property owners to change permissions for the air parcel above their properties. To explore further visit unmanned.berkeley.edu/airspace

UAS Traffic Management

We are sourcing consumer sentiment towards UAS operations

NASA UTM Convention 2015

The NASA Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Traffic Management Convention or UTM 2015 was held from July 28-30 at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. NASA and the Silicon Valley Chapter of AUVSI co-hosted the convention in anticipation of the widespread increase in unmanned aircraft. The three day event attracted a broad international and U.S. audience of government and civilian representatives including leaders from industry and academia. We showcased our research and contributed to discussions geared towards understanding and defining the UAS impact and challenges ahead. The panel speakers, including our lab lead Professor Sengupta, discussed low altitude traffic management with reference to: Policy issues, Emerging markets and operations, Strategies for management and International perspectives. Our current research incorporates the valuable inputs received at the convention.

Technology Outreach

Reaching out to industry experts

International Drone Expo

The International Drone Expo is organized annualy by the UAVSA and The Tesla Foundation. The event brings together innovative and talented members of the commercial drone community from around the world. It provides a forum of sorts that allows all attendees, professionals, governments, companies and institutions to interact with each other and the community. At the past two Expos (2014 and 2015), we exhibited the technologies being developed in the lab to the public. We educated the attendees and received valuable feedback from them which we have incorporated in our research.

Public Outreach

Exhibting research and technology to the public

Meet the Team

We are a team of multi discplinary researchers with skills including software development, hardware development, and behavioral modelling.

Leadership and Strategic Advisors

Dr. Raja Sengupta

UC, Berkeley

Dr. Aislan Foina

Lab Director
Civil Systems

Dr. Mark Hansen

UC, Berkeley

Frank Ketcham

Commercial Aviation Specialist

Christian Manasseh

Mobius Logic

Drew Van Duren

Systems Engineer


Zhilong Liu

PhD Student
Civil Systems

Vishwanath Bulusu

PhD Student
Civil Systems

Fadi Kfoury

PhD Student
Civil Systems

Dalmir Hasic

Visiting Scholar
University of Salzburg

Patrick Lerchi

Undergraduate Researcher

Miguel Soto

Undergraduate Researcher

Rachel Zhang

Undergraduate Researcher

Justin Lee

Undergraduate Researcher

Jeffrey Kurohara

Undergraduate Researcher


Conference Papers


Research Sponsors

Associated Labs

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Keep in Touch

Give us a call or drop us a line.


+1 (510) 717-0632




Davis Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720