Amazon drone traffic management system
TECHNOLOGY

Amazon pilots traffic management system for drones

BY Dan Berthiaume

“Safe spaces” are a big topic these days, and Amazon wants to create them for drones.

Amazon Prime Air researchers are developing a traffic management system designed to create safe airspace for drones. The system is intended to support safe low-altitude airspace operations, enabling collaboration and communication between drones regardless of who is operating them. Amazon Prime Air is working with NASA and Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) to test the system, and also spearheading an industry standards group to create drone traffic management standards.

“We will always prioritize safety first within our system,” said Bob Roth, director, Amazon Prime Air. “People both on the ground and in the air are the most important to protect. We’re building a traffic management system with this as our guiding principle.”

One challenge facing drone traffic management is the lack of fixed routes, leading to numerous options for the path a drone will follow to reach a destination. To manage all these possible routes for the Prime Air vehicle fleet, Amazon is building an automated system. According to an Amazon blog post, a set of automated functions both on and off the drones will ensure safety and reliability. For additional safety, drones will fly at low altitudes below 400 feet, making it unlikely they would be in the same airspace as airplanes or helicopters.

The system will also provide aviation authorities like the FAA the ability to track the drones in airspace to ensure safety and create “no fly zones” in times of emergency. To make it easy for operators of different drones in the same airspace to communicate, the traffic management system will connect via the Internet, LTE, or another cloud-based connection so each system can talk to the other.

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