In the Future: Drones Will Have Their Own Traffic Control Rules

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【Summary】The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other industrial companies to research the requirements that will be needed for drones.

Original   Claire  ·  May 18, 2017 12:10 PM PT
author: Claire   

Drones are a tech geek's hot new toy. However, drone owners are not allowed to play with the machine in many situations, as it can intrude property privacy. For commercial drones, companies such as Amazon and UPS are making and testing their drones, with the hope that future parcel delivery can be carried out via air, in a faster, more convenient way.

Nevertheless, the lack of government regulations can often put commercial drones in an awkward situation: the drones have to be in the operator's sight during testing to avoid any collisions with buildings or aircrafts, or any other obstacles. The undefined routes, or unpredictable weather conditions, can pose a challenge to a smooth flight.

The good news is that the government is trying to set up air traffic control rules to solve the problem.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other industrial companies to research the requirements that will be needed for drones.

The plan is to finish the research by 2019, and hand over the results to the FAA for implementation by no later than 2025. By 2020, an estimated 7 million drones will be flying in U.S., delivering packages or conducting search and rescue missions. Control regulations for drones will have to be ready by then.

How difficult will it be for commercial drones to fly in the air in a large scale?

Weather matters

For small-size gadgets such as drones, strong winds, heavy snow, or pouring rain could all greatly impact its flight, as it's flying at low altitude.

In NASA's recent drone tests in Reno, Nevada, a strong gust of wind tossed some of the drones more than 100 feet off course of their designated routes. To solve the problem, operators will receive notifications of weather changes, and make the drone land safely on the ground. Meanwhile, NASA is partnering with organizations such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to pull in weather statistics for the research. There is no developed tool yet to predict how weather will affect drones as they fly around obstacles.

The mapping system

Just like the autonomous car system, the future drone is expected to be autonomous, so that operators don't need to keep an eye on it all the time: it can travel by itself. Therefore, a thorough and extensive mapping system needs to be built to accurately navigate a drone's flight.

Instead of a mere street map, the mapping system for drones needs to consider not only the location of physical buildings, but also real-time changing data to steer clear of dangers or restricted zones.

If a fire, explosion, flood, or earthquake danger occurs, the drone will receive real-time notifications and change its path accordingly.

Drone to drone communication

As is the case with vehicle-to-vehicle communication, future drones will need to communicate as well. NASA, the FAA, and the industry are trying to figure out what information can be passed between drones in flight. They might need a common communications protocol, just like the Internet Protocol, to share and transfer information with cybersecurity taken into consideration.

Flying further away

The current rule stipulates that a drone should fly in the operator's sight unless it gets permission from FAA. NASA is trying to test what kind of drones could fly further away. The operators need to know the drone's precise location and direction in real time. To achieve this, telecommunication giants including AT&T, Verizon, and Qualcomm have all joined the project to contribute their ideas.

Connectivity is key to remotely monitor a drone's flight status. Location tracking relies on satellites and cellular networks. Experts are delving into ways to ensure that the right bandwidth and stable, quality reception are available for drones in flight.

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