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 statement mentions:
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 simultaneously.
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.