Drones

"Internet of Drones" could be next generation of air traffic control

Amazon's new Prime Air Delivery drone
Amazon's new Prime Air Delivery drone
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Amazon's new Prime Air Delivery drone
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Amazon's new Prime Air Delivery drone

You've heard of the Internet of Things – the generic name given to all the various networked sensors, machines, devices and even buildings in the world – but most of those "things" stay in one place for the most part. The world is primed for an explosion of autonomous ambulatory devices, which led a team of engineers from the University of Waterloo in Canada to draft a conceptual framework for an "Internet of Drones."

The authors of a paper on the concept (linked at the bottom of the page) lay out what is essentially a structure for how drone traffic could be managed. It combines elements of the current air traffic control system, cellular networks and the internet.

The paper proposes terminology for key components of the system, with airspace divided up into "zones," each managed by a "zone service provider" (ZSP) that operates their own section of airspace.

The zone service provider, which could be software-based rather than an actual human operator, is sort of like a combination of a cell tower and an air traffic controller for a specific airport. Drones and zone service providers communicate via the cloud to ensure that autonomous traffic flows through that zone safely, and according to whatever rules have been established for that zone. When a drone passes into a new zone, it is handed off in much the same way that a wireless device is transferred to a new cell tower as it travels.

The infrastructure can also allow for third parties outside the zone (such as administrators, retailers on either end of a delivery or possibly even consumers) to communicate with drones in flight. This would be particularly useful for proposed drone delivery services like those that Amazon, Google and others are working on.

The paper suggests that the existing cell network base stations could be used to actually deploy the system.

"Sincethese base stations are already deployed, the physical space isavailable and they are capable of running the ZSP software," it reads. "Therefore, they seem well positioned to implement ZSPsand provide wide network coverage for [the Internet of Drones]."

Within each zone, defined airways, intersections and nodes are established, which can be thought of as being similar to the system of roads, intersections and destinations that cars currently use on the ground. Even though drones could theoretically fly anywhere in the three-dimensional airspace, the idea is to establish designated airways and regulate traffic through them to avoid collisions. Drones would also be responsible for avoiding collisions with objects outside the system (such as birds) on their own, and keeping the ZSP advised of those maneuvers.

Plenty of others are also working on how the coming, drone-filled world will fly. NASA has been working with Exelis on another drone-tracking system, but it's not immediately clear if it could integrate with the newly-proposed architecture.

Source: arXiv

4 comments
Mel Tisdale
One would hope that the automotive industry is similarly active in setting up a dynamic management system for satellite navigation and autonomous vehicle mapping requirements. There might even be a case to be made for combining the two with one central administrative structure. Now is the time to talk, not when the generation three road vehicles are rolling off the production lines. (If I were Amazon, I would be seriously considering having fully autonomous mobile charging stations with designated parking slots so that delivery drones could go past the 'point of no return' as far as range is concerned and then recharge after completion of task.)
f8lee
I hope they build in better security protocols than the laughable stuff found elsewhere in this ever-more-connected world, or the bad guys could have a field day with this (perhaps even more than carjacking automobiles remotely!)
Stephen N Russell
Delievery drones are best for suburb, rural venues & some Urban by density IE Mex City, Rio, Hong Kong, Macao, London, Paris, Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka, Shanghai. Need suburban Drone Control Center per area needed.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
This is an actual "fly-by-phone" system.