Google parent Alphabet houses several initiatives under
its X research division, one of them is Project Wing, focused on making
seamless drone deliveries a reality. We very well know the skies will be flooded
with autonomous drones in the coming years and simultaneous management of the
same will become a necessity.
This is precisely what Google is currently trying to
achieve and has already started conducting traffic control tests in
collaboration with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and NASA, who
recently joined hands to develop potential systems capable of the process of
tracking and managing multiple Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) flying at the
same time in the sky.
Through an official Medium blog post, James Ryan
Burgess, the Co-Lead of Project Wing announced that their team participated in
the nationwide air traffic control tests organized by the two government
organizations. He kicks off the discussion citing the key problem that an air
traffic management system will help solve — to prevent autonomous (not human
piloted) drones from crashing into each other and randomly falling down from
the sky. The blog post mentions:
Within a few years, Wing and other companies are likely
to have fleets with thousands of UAS in the air at any one time, so we’ll need
systems that can dynamically route UAS not only around each other but around
manned aircraft, buildings, terrain, weather patterns and special events.
At a FAA test site run by the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic
Aviation Partnership (MAAP), Google demonstrated Project Wing’s traffic
management system that will be capable of managing a complex network of
multiple non-piloted drones– from different hardware maker –flying around
making food or package deliveries.
As seen in the image attached above, Google’s air traffic
control trial involved three different Wing aircrafts — two Intel Aero Ready to
Fly Drones (operating over LTE network) and a DJI Inspire. All the drones were
simultaneously being flown by a common Wing operator, performing package pickup
and delivery missions or automated search and rescue missions.
We earlier had to attach the screen to the controller and
manually guide UAVs around obstacles but the said Wing system makes it capable
of automatically managing flight paths — planning new, clear routes for each
aircraft if and when conflicts arise — which is the case in the image attached.
It can also alert operators of any unexpected changes in the drone’s route or a
flight into FAA no-fly zones and safety-sensitive areas.
Talking about the successful trial, Burgess in a
This is an important step that paves the way to a future
where many UAS operators can fly safely together. It also makes it possible for
a single operator — a person or organization — to fly multiple aircraft
And as one would expect, the Project Wing has been
successful with building the drone traffic management system because of the
already existing in-house capabilities– Google Maps, Earth and Street View. It
has enabled the team to create a detailed outline of the outside real-word,
making it easier for drones to navigate simultaneously.
Though Google has conducted the said tests, we still
await the day when FAA will soften its stance of drone deliveries. Amazon will
most likely be the very first technology giant to benefit from the new
regulations because it has already conducted successful drone deliveries both
in the U.S and the U.K. It is mostly ready to kick-start last mile delivery
operations via its ‘Prime Air’ drone delivery service.