Skip to main content

Google joins NASA and others to work on drone traffic control system

researchers say faa overestimating small drone risk above city
Alik / Shutterstock
With an increasing number of companies showing an interest in not only building drones, but also constructing an traffic management system to ensure their safe operation, the idea that the skies above our cities may one day be buzzing with the sound of quadcopters may not be so fanciful after all

The move toward widespread commercial drone use appears to be gathering pace, with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expected to announce new rules in the next 12 months, while at the same time NASA and a host of big-name firms work together to build a nationwide drone monitoring and control system to ensure order in the skies.

Google is one of the latest companies to demonstrate a commitment to helping develop a solution, joining the likes of Amazon, Verizon, and around 10 other businesses that have signed an agreement with NASA to help create a system to ensure safe low-altitude drone flights, Bloomberg reported Friday.

A robust, effective system would give the FAA the confidence to move, over time, from a stringent, restrictive set of flying rules toward a more relaxed approach that would allow, for example, operators to fly drones out of line of sight using on-board cameras, or for autonomous drones with pre-programmed flight routes to take to the skies.

Amazon, for one, is pressing the FAA for permission to one day fly its drones far beyond the location of its operator, an absolute necessity if it’s to succeed in its future plan to use quadcopters to deliver small items to its customers.

Although it abandoned its first attempt at building an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), Google, too, is now working on another version that it says could one day be used to carry vital supplies to people in emergency situations, giving it plenty of incentive to help create a traffic control system.

NASA has invited interested companies and universities to a conference next week to discuss ideas for an effective solution for drone flight management.

A number of smaller companies have already developed various technologies designed to prevent drones colliding with obstacles such as buildings and trees, as well as with each other, and these could potentially be incorporated into a final system comprising computers on the ground that set and monitor safe routes for UAVs.

We may still be several years away from the rollout of a full-fledged fully implemented air traffic control system for drones, but when the day comes, an industry potentially worth billions of dollars will finally be able to truly flourish.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
NASA suspends work on Space Launch System and Orion, may delay moon mission
nasa sls progress update block 1b in flight tw adj 1

Following outbreaks of coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, at and around a number of its facilities, NASA has announced it is suspending both its Space Launch System and Orion projects. The suspension is described as temporary but it is not yet known how long it will go on for.

“NASA will temporarily suspend production and testing of Space Launch System and Orion hardware," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine announced in a statement. "The NASA and contractors teams will complete an orderly shutdown that puts all hardware in a safe condition until work can resume. Once this is complete, personnel allowed on site will be limited to those needed to protect life and critical infrastructure.

Read more
The world needs a drone traffic control system, so AirMap is building one
AirMap technology in use

One hundred years ago, in late February 1920, the United Kingdom’s Air Ministry commissioned a first-of-its-kind building at the newly opened Croydon Airport. The U.K.’s inaugural international airport (now defunct) was home to an elevated wooden hut with four large windows that was grandly referred to as the Aerodrome Control Tower. It was the world’s first air traffic control center.

At the time, air travel was still in its infancy. Although the first commercial flight had taken place six years earlier, the era of mass air travel remained several decades away. Along with providing weather information to pilots, the job of the people who worked in the Aerodrome Control Tower was to mark the progress of approximately 12 daily flights, tracked using basic radio-based navigation, on paper maps by way of pins and flags. It was, needless to say, a simpler time.

Read more
How a guy used 99 phones in a cart to create traffic jams on Google Maps
how a guy used 99 smartphones to create traffic jams on google maps simon weckert

Since the app’s launch in 2008, Google Maps has gradually become the go-to navigation tool for millions of people around the world. Whatever your mode of transport, a couple of taps in Maps and you’ll be shown the best way to reach your desired destination.

For drivers, the app pulls data from other Maps users on the road at any one time, enabling its algorithms to offer the quickest or most convenient route according to current conditions. You know the app is doing its job when some of the roads on the map turn red, indicating a traffic snarl. When this happens, the app’s algorithms spring into action and will, if it can, offer a better route that takes you around the road congestion.

Read more