Amazon announced this week that its development of an air-traffic control system for its package delivery drones (and other commercial drones flying in the national airspace) has taken off –pun intended. This air-traffic control system would support Amazon’s package delivery system from the warehouse to the customer’s doorstep. This air-traffic control system was created by a research and development team in Paris, France, to ensure that delivery drones don’t collide with buildings, trees, birds or other drones to be part of this research and development team. Amazon hired engineers with expertise in aviation as well as machine learning and artificial intelligence. However, unlike air-traffic control systems for manned aircrafts, a program for drones is much more complicated because the drones fly at lower heights with more obstacles. The air-traffic control systems developed by Amazon’s team will integrate detailed maps (including temporary objects like construction cranes) and information about poor weather conditions. Also, the team recommends, and will help develop, software to load directly into drones themselves to allow drones to communicate risks in real-time with each other, as well as a central control center. And to deal with even more unpredictable objects in the air –birds –the team recommends that drones be programmed with instructions on how to react if the drone comes near or strikes a bird.
Amazon is also working with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the European Union and other countries to develop a broader air-traffic control system for coordinating all drone flights in the air. This is surely the beginning of a very difficult process, but we are seeing progress.