Credit: James Gordon Dailymail.com
Amazon and Google are pushing ahead with plans to develop their own air traffic control network for low-level altitudes so their drones can make deliveries.
The commercial drone industry would create the privately funded and operated air-traffic control network, entirely separate from the current federal system.
The plans were outlined at a conference earlier in the week and have the backing of major players including Amazon, General Electric, Boeing and Google.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the system would use automated cellular and web applications to track and prevent collisions among swarms of small unmanned aircraft flying a few hundred feet above the ground.
Amazon is proposing that a section of airspace above our cities should be dedicated to hundreds of thousands of high-speed delivery drones
The move would create a sort of ‘drone superhighway’ and would be the next step in Amazon’s ambitious plans to deliver packages via drone within 30 minutes.
The vision is in line with that of Google’s which would see all tracked drones to communicate their positions to a centralized computer system available to all operators, similar to aviation airspace, to avoid any collisions.
In conjunction with NASA, tests are already being planned over the next three months at a handful of sites.
The intent is to develop a ‘totally different, new way of doing things,’ Parimal Kopardekar, NASA’s senior air-transport technologist who first suggested the idea of an industry-devised solution, told about 1,000 attendees at the conference.
There would be a slow lane for local traffic below 200 feet and a fast lane for long-distance transport between 200 and 400 feet. Altitudes between 400 and 500 feet would become a no-fly zone
The test flights would work out how drones would function on a network and interact with one another but even a limited deployment will take at least two years and things could take even longer with various engineering and policy hurdles to be overcome.
They also need to work with the Federal Aviation Administration’s existing ground-based radars and human controllers.
In recent years, there have been a growing number of close calls between drones and other commercial aircraft near airports.
The latest recommendations, put forward by Amazon, are a bid to speed approval of unmanned aerial vehicles in large portions our skies.
The vehicles would also be capable of communicating with each other.
A centralized computer system of known flight hazards, such as towers and high ground, would be developed and shared with drone users, allowing them to automatically avoid these areas.
Long-range drones must also give notice when and where they intend to fly, and they have to be connected to the internet, he added.
Drones capable of flying long distances must also have sensors that can detect birds and other hazards not in the centralized database, Amazon claims.
This would prepare the airspace for a future in which thousands of drones fly over cities delivering parcels.