Alphabet’s Wing unit and two other companies say they have successfully tested a new and potentially game-changing system to identify and track airborne drones.
The advanced drone management system, expected to be announced this Tuesday, could expand the commercial uses of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) significantly.
The platform, tested in December, is aimed at tracking different types of drones using disparate software applications linked by a common web-based system. By sharing such data, the companies say the location of drones and the identity of operators can be easily captured on laptops, mobile phones or other digital devices simultaneously.
Project Wing says that it will enable UAVs to navigate around other drones, manned aircraft, and a variety of other obstacles including trees, power lines, and buildings.
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Drone traffic management is one of the biggest barriers to the roll-out of drone delivery. Drones cannot simply follow a direct set route to make deliveries as there are other variables that need to be taken into account to prevent collisions.
Pilots must be aware of the location of other airborne drones, UAV exclusion zones, and when to avoid certain areas, for example, if there is a major event or a natural disaster such as a wildfire.
Automatic Collision Avoidance on a Single Platform
At present, there is no comprehensive countrywide system in the US to track and identify drone traffic, which is one of the reasons why it is illegal to operate a drone out of the operator’s line of sight. In the test, Project Wing’s team was able to track the flight path of multiple drones simultaneously on a single platform.
Three of the drones were Project Wing’s own devices; a winged drone that the company hopes will one day be used to deliver food and retail items.
Another device in the test was made and operated by Intel and the third drone was an Inspire from DJI. Those two were simulating search and rescue operations, while Wing’s three drones were testing delivery scenarios.
Using Wing’s system the drones were able to automatically avoid each other without a drone operator needing to manually intervene. The success of this project could mean that drone delivery in the US could happen sooner than expected.
A similar method of traffic control would be welcomed in the UK following the recent drone incidents, which saw major UK airports shut down. The perpetrators of the incidents have yet to be identified, however, it has shone a spotlight on the need for greater drone regulation in the UK and seen much stricter drone laws proposed.