Take a look outside. How many planes do you see in the sky?
Right now I am in Brisbane Australia. The capital city of the state of Queensland. I can see the whole flight path from my vantage point. From approach to landing.
You know how many aircraft I can see? 2. The rest of the sky is absolutely empty. There is sooo much space up there.
I bet even if you lived nearby one of the major airports (E.g. Heathrow, Singapore) and took a look outside right now, I bet that most of your sky was probably empty too. No more than 10% would be used at any one time.
It is easy to look at the image above and think wow so many planes in the sky so little room for anything else. But this is simply not the case.
Governments all over the world are trying to figure out how to integrate drones in to our airspace. However they are looking at it in the old fashioned way. In the traditional way aircraft fly certain paths (mainly), they are kept well away from each other and they are controlled by humans.
The controlled by humans is mostly why the system is set up the way it is. There is built in margins for error so if something goes wrong there is room for recovery.
The future of integrating drones in to the same airspace as piloted aircraft must be thought of with technology in mind. Technology will keep the drones away from the piloted aircraft.
I imagine an interconnected drone management system that could communicate through the mobile phone tower network. All the drones flying around will be connected to each other and to a "big brain" that would track every aircraft in a given area. It would give priority to piloted aircraft and make sure that all the drones stayed out of its way. Think of swatting flies away from you BBQ. Your hand is the pilots aircraft and the flies are the drones.
Transponders are what is used to track current piloted aircraft. Traditionally they are too big and heavy to put in drones. There has been a lot of work done on bring down the weight (~80g) however the price is still very high. A much cheaper way to track is with drones transmitting their GPS locations through the mobile phone tower network. This will give pretty accurate speed, location direction of travel etc.
Much like current systems, drones would most easily be managed by creating drone highways/corridors around a city. Drones would hop on and off the highway as needed making deliveries etc.
UTM (Unmanned Air Vehicle)) Traffic Management)
The big brain has a more technical name UTM. NASA is working on a version of UTM that "is designed to enable safe low-altitude civilian UAS operations by providing pilots information needed to maintain separation from other aircraft"
There are a lot of smart people working on this problem and we will come up with a solution. There is a lot of space up there. Lets use it!
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!