According to Engadget in March 2017, there are over 770,000 drone owners registered to fly in the US. That’s up from 670,000 at the beginning of 2017, meaning 100,000 users signed up in just three months alone. The FAA has also issued 37,000 Remote Pilot Certificates that let drone owners do the filming, inspection and other commercial operations. So, it’s not only our roads that are congested.
The growing popularity of drones, whether for leisure or commercial use, has highlighted the challenge of facilitating traffic in very-low- altitude airspace. As they are airborne objects, drones fall under aviation law. However, that’s only part of the challenge for drone flyers. Because they fly in the low level airspace, drones also need to take into account obstacles, buildings and people’s privacy.
(Image Source: https://360.here.com)
For autonomous drones to operate safely and predictably, access to rich and accurate data sources is key. Standards to support interoperability, just like those practiced by the aviation industry, are also needed. To meet these needs, they HERE is teaming up with UNIFLY, the Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) platform, to develop 3D airspace maps for drones.
In the first phase of their collaboration, the companies plan to enable an airspace map for drones that covers both rural and urban areas, and marks out no-fly zones, such as airports, residential areas and sensitive government installations.
In the second phase, the companies plan to further develop the system to support the management of drone traffic flow and even collision avoidance, much like air traffic controllers do for the airline industry today. Longer-term, the aim is to explore how drone transportation and logistics can be integrated seamlessly into the broader transportation system.
The Unifly UTM platform connects relevant local and aviation authorities with drone pilots to safely integrate drones into the airspace. HERE, meanwhile, is developing the Reality Index™, a rich real-time digital representation of the physical world. Based on the companies’ commercial agreement, Unifly will integrate HERE map and location data from the Reality Index™ into its applications to provide a more and more robust picture of the low-altitude airspace.
Drones: the ultimate users of the Reality Index™
A drone generally needs a map from the ground up to an altitude of about 150 meters; in future, a flying taxi may need the map to extend higher. Drones need to take into account obstacles, buildings and people’s privacy. As airborne objects, they are also subject to various airspace regulations.
(A 3D visualization of the world, Image Source: https://360.here.com)
For drones to operate safely and predictably, access to rich and accurate data sources is paramount. These data sources must also be kept updated to ensure usefulness. Just as HERE today turns the real-time sensor data generated by millions of vehicles on the road into map information and new location services for drivers and passengers, drones themselves could also be employed to enable the self-healing of the airspace map. Equipped with various sophisticated sensors, drones could detect changes in the real-world environment and feed data back to the cloud to support map updates.
By aggregating data from many drones, the airspace map could also be enriched with precise information about hyperlocal weather conditions, potential hazards and the best navigable routes.