If autonomous delivery drones are ever going to see widespread use, then they can't simply fly around with no regard for other aircraft. In recent projects, drone operators had to file flight plans in advance. Researchers from Australia's RMIT University have gone a step farther, however. They've developed a system that lets drones communicate with air traffic controllers using a synthesized voice.

The system was developed by RMIT in collaboration with Thales Australia's Centre for Advanced Studies in Air Traffic Management (CASIA), and software engineering firm UFA Inc. It utilizes UFA's ATVoice Automated Voice Recognition and Response software, allowing drones to both verbally respond to spoken information requests (delivered by radio), and to act on clearances granted by air traffic controllers.

"Our project aimed to develop and demonstrate an autonomous capability that would allow a drone to verbally interact with air traffic controllers," said Dr. Reece Clothier, leader of the RMIT Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research Team. "Using the system we’ve developed, an air traffic controller can talk to, and receive responses from a drone just like they would with any other aircraft."

A flight test of the system was performed late last year, using Thales’ Top Sky Air Traffic Control System.