Google Wing drones

Tech Advisor - - NEWS -

Google wants or­der in un­con­trolled airspace so its Wing drones can fly, says

To bring or­der to low-al­ti­tude airspace so its Pro­ject Wing de­liv­ery drones can get off the ground, Google is propos­ing a set of rules for op­er­at­ing air­craft be­low 500 feet.

The pro­posal calls for all drones, in­clud­ing those flown by hob­by­ists, to con­stantly trans­mit iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and po­si­tion in­for­ma­tion so airspace ac­cess and col­li­sion avoid­ance can be man­aged by com­puter.

The pro­posal, un­veiled by Dave Vos (pic­tured), head of the Wing pro­ject, seeks to take mo­ment-to-mo­ment con­trol of airspace un­der 500 feet away from air traf­fic con­trol author­i­ties and put it in the hands of pri­vate airspace ser­vice providers (ASP).

These com­pa­nies would re­ceive data from all craft in flight, in­clud­ing hob­by­ist drones, emer­gency he­li­copters and com­mer­cial craft such as those be­ing de­vel­oped by Google Wing. Be­fore ev­ery flight, each craft would send a short flight plan. The flight might be ap­proved as re­quested, ap­proved with mod­i­fi­ca­tions to take into ac­count other users, or de­nied.

“There’s this fun­da­men­tal en­abler called the airspace man­age­ment sys­tem. We have to build one, and we think ev­ery­body that wants to build one should be able to build one,” said Vos, out­lin­ing his vi­sion of com­pet­ing ASPs.

They would ex­change in­for­ma­tion about airspace users and com­mu­ni­cate with cur­rent air traf­fic con­trol sys­tems only when there was some­thing im­por­tant go­ing on. Run-of-the-mill flight and con­trol would re­main within the ASP-con­trolled sys­tem.

Right now, use of this low-al­ti­tude airspace is largely un­reg­u­lated and hob­by­ists are able to fly with­out hav­ing to iden­tify them­selves, their ve­hi­cles or de­tailed flight plans. That’s one rea­son that the US Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FAA) al­lows drone flight only within vis­ual line of sight.

But if Google, Ama­zon and other com­pa­nies are to use drones for pack­age de­liv­ery and other ser­vices, the line-of-sight re­stric­tion will need to be lifted.

“We def­i­nitely want to push the def­i­ni­tion of this Class G airspace where we’d like to op­er­ate,” said Vos, re­fer­ring to the FAA’s des­ig­na­tion for most un­reg­u­lated airspace. “There’s a lot of busi­ness to be done there.”

Vos is propos­ing that the sys­tem be based as much as pos­si­ble around tech­nol­ogy that al­ready ex­ists, to re­duce de­vel­op­ment and stan­dard­i­s­a­tion time.

That means drones and air­craft would use ADS-B, an avi­a­tion in­dus­try stan­dard used on many air­lin­ers that sends out po­si­tion, head­ing, speed and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion data ev­ery few sec­onds. All large planes al­ready have ADS-B transpon­ders, but with en­trylevel equip­ment start­ing at around £1,500, many smaller air­craft do not.

Ear­lier this year, Google said it had started de­vel­op­ment of an “ul­tra low­cost” ADS-B transpon­der that will be cheap enough that ev­ery op­er­a­tor will be able to af­ford it. “If you can’t af­ford it, you can’t af­ford to fly, in my opin­ion,” he

Mar­tyn Wil­liams

said. “That means we need to make sure ev­ery­one can af­ford it.”

He also wants to use ex­ist­ing cel­lu­lar net­works for the two-way data paths be­tween drones and the ASPs, and he called on net­work op­er­a­tors to get in­volved.

“Join us. You guys can make a ton of money and so can we.”

If the FAA takes up Google’s pro­posal, Vos said, it will make fly­ing “sig­nif­i­cantly safer and sig­nif­i­cantly more re­li­able and bet­ter per­for­mance”, but Google clearly has a heavy com­mer­cial in­ter­est in chang­ing the cur­rent reg­u­la­tory regime.

It and Ama­zon have been two of the most vo­cal pro­po­nents for a new set of rules and reg­u­la­tions that would al­low com­pa­nies to use drones to make money. The FAA is also be­ing lob­bied by film­mak­ers, real-es­tate agents, engi­neers and oth­ers who see drones as a way to change or im­prove the way some work is cur­rently done.

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