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Amazon tests drone traffic management systems to prevent aerial collisions




As our skies become increasingly filled with drones, companies such as Amazon are investigating ways to avoid mid-air collisions from occurring.

Amazon, the third largest commercial retailer in the world, is one of the companies at the forefront of drone delivery technology. It is therefore in their interest to make sure that packages flying via drone from their distribution warehouse, make it safely to a customer’s doorstep.

One of the biggest challenge facing the roll-out of drone deliveries is legislative. The technology is there – drones have been successfully delivering goods in countries such as Australia and Iceland for several years now (although not without controversy). The logistics and laws governing the movements of hundreds of drones in the air, however, have proven to be far more complex than early proponents of the idea could have anticipated.

Amazon’s traffic management system would allow the drones to communicate with others in the network and keep a safe distance from each other at all times.  A director for Amazon Prime Air, Bob Roth said:

“We will always prioritize safety first within our system.”

“People both on the ground and in the air are the most important to protect. We’re building a traffic management system with this as our guiding principle.”

While Amazon can relatively easily install a system across all of their drones to communicate with one another, what about UAVs from other people? Amazon’s team are working with regulators as well as the likes of NASA and Single European Sky ATM research to test how different drones from different operators can fly together harmoniously. We assume they will need to work out contingency plans for how one of their delivery drones should respond in the event of a random rogue UAV starts flying in their vicinity.

Managing air traffic involves is magnitudes more complex than ground traffic due to there no set routes for aircraft to travel and the ability for aircraft to travel along both the horizontal and vertical axis. Some of the features of a good aerial traffic system for drones would be to give the likes of the FAA easy tools for knowing the location of any airborne drone at any time as well as well as a system for grounding all drones in a particular zone during an emergency such as wildfires.
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