Another major government is testing air traffic control for drones with drone industry corporate heavyweights — and the tests are proving to be largely successful. The UK this month completed simulation tests — both virtual and live — of an open-access drone traffic management system as part of its UK Connected Places Catapult demonstration.
Unlike the type of standard air traffic control for manned aircraft that you’re used to, where one centralized architecture oversees and directs flight routes, the UK Connected Places Catapult is more of a federated system.
That means individual drone traffic management solution providers would operate independently, but also in constant communication with each other. Each individual company would apply to join a broader ecosystem. Once approved, that company would then be able to access and share airspace information and flight data collected by all the other participants, sharing flight data with each other and therefore other drone pilots on those systems, as well as with airspace authorities.
And those drone traffic management solution providers could be big, private tech companies like Google sister company Wing, which actually took part in the latest round of tests. The Connected Place Catapult is leading the project, which is being overseen by the UK’s Department for Transport.
“The example set by the UK Government to explore innovation beyond the vehicles we fly to the way we manage those vehicles could not come at a more hopeful time,” according to a prepared statement from Wing. “Under the recently adopted U-space Regulation, EU governments have signaled their readiness to take on this challenge by establishing a harmonized framework that encourages UAS innovation and accelerates drone integration into European skies..”
And just as the Connected Place Catapult is designed to serve drones as they inch closer to full autonomy (no human operator needed to maintain visual line of sight, for example), the drone traffic management system itself is fully autonomous — no human air traffic controllers require
Remote identification is often brought up in conversations with drone traffic management — and it’s relevant here too. Many in the drone industry have been calling for an established system of Remote ID for drones, essentially giving drones invisible, electronic license plates so other operators can know what other drones are in the air. And most agree that some sort of system of remote ID is imperative to allowing UTM to take off.
The Connected Place Catapult bears that out, leveraging network remote identification technology to enable third-party observers to identify nearby operators.
Those successful tests mean drones are one step closer to performing widespread tasks including emergency response and grocery deliveries.
And even though it may seem like we’ve been talking about Remote ID and UTM for years now and that the testing and implementation is slow, participants like Wing aren’t worried about it.
“It took just six months for industry and government to collaborate to build a framework capable of handling complex operational scenarios,” according to a Wing statement. “By contrast, it has taken decades for traditional manned air traffic management frameworks to develop similar capabilities.”