Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

With drones being used for carrying out deliveries, recreation, and other applications like mapping, spotting crimes, or checking up on infrastructure such as bridges, we’re very soon going to be living in a world in which the skies above our heads are as busy as our roads. In the same way cars have license plates that let us identify who they belong to, it’s crucial for drones to sport the same kind of identifying information — especially as they fly over more densely populated areas.

The question of how exactly you do this isn’t so straightforward. Physical license plates found on a car work because they’re easy to spot. That doesn’t necessarily apply to drones. Instead, the startup AirMap recently teamed up with Google Wing and Kittyhawk.io to develop an app capable of solving the problem. It does this by displaying a map of all the drones (or, for now, all the drones which have opted in) that are flying in a certain airspace — including information about who they’re being flown by and even their purpose.

“AirMap and Alphabet’s Wing built a smartphone application that serves as a public portal to accomplish a specific use case in which a non-operator, such as a concerned citizen, sees a drone in the sky and wants more information about who owns the drone and what it is doing,” Ben Marcus, co-founder and chairman of AirMap, told Digital Trends. “This is possible today without any additional infrastructure required on the part of the drone manufacturer.”

The tool visualizes all drones within a one-mile vicinity. In a demonstration carried out last month, AirMap, Wing, and Kittyhawk.io carried out a test flight showing how the technology works. What makes this all possible is an open source and scalable API, known as the InterUSS platform, developed by Google parent company Alphabet. This API connects multiple drone platforms operating in the same area so that they can share information. It can be easily integrated into apps. Not only could the results be useful for civilians wanting information about UAVs in their area, but it could also help drone operators know who is flying close by.

“Industry-led network remote identification solutions like the one demonstrated last month prove that there’s an easy, scalable, and cost-effective remote ID solution available today to help regulators improve compliance with aviation rules, while protecting the privacy of drone operators and consumers of drone services,” Marcus said.

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