AKRON, Ohio (WJW) — From air taxis to last mile deliveries to emergency services, drones are expected to play a huge role in our lives in the not-too-distant future.

Under FAA regulations now commercial drone operators must have an observer and can only operate their unmanned aircraft within line of sight. But the Ohio Department of Transportation is working with researchers, the FAA and Ohio State University to develop a system that might help improve safety and open the skies to be shared between manned and unmanned aircraft.

ODOT says at low altitudes detecting manned air traffic with traditional radar is much more difficult due to the presence of obstructions including trees, houses, cars and other low flying objects. It is in those low altitudes where unmanned drones must share the skies with medical helicopters, crop-dusters and other manned aircraft.

ODOT is using research dollars to develop a tracking system that creates the kind of infrastructure that allows for more and safer commercial use of drones.

“The way that it works is you as a drone operator would request clearance to fly much like manned aviation does today and so that would be approved or allowed by the system and allow you to conduct your flight and give you the situational awareness of what is going on around you,” said Dr. Matt McCrink of Ohio State University, the lead scientist for the OSU research team.

In a recent groundbreaking demonstration, a drone was used at a mock crash scene to deliver live video to first responder dispatchers. When a medical helicopter was inbounded to the scene the drone operator was notified and was able to clear the airspace so that the helicopter could safely approach.

ODOT says the FAA has more than 800,000 registered drones as of May.

Particularly with delivery companies like Amazon, UPS and others planning to use drones for deliveries in the future. not only will they need to safely share the skies with manned aircraft, but they will also have to do so over distances that would be out of the line of sight for operators.

“The promise of drone delivery has been around for some time, but that key infrastructure to support that has not existed and so ODOT is at the forefront of establishing what that infrastructure looks like,” said McCrink.

The uncrewed Traffic Management System includes three ground-based radar locations in central Ohio. With the input from the FAA It is hoped to eventually expand into other areas around the state and eventually the country.

“This system is designed to allow these various different drones that are operating in and around areas like Columbus or Cincinnati, Cleveland or other metro areas to interface with existing air traffic that’s in that same area,” said McCrink.

“It all comes down to doing the due diligence and the rigor behind the engineering to make sure we are doing something safe because it only takes one incident to really set the whole industry and this whole momentum back you know potentially decades if we do this wrong,” said Dr. Sean Calhoun of CAL Analytics.