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RMIT unveils talking drone

written by australianaviation.com.au | March 3, 2015

The RMIT talking drone during flight testing. (RMIT/Luke Bouwmeester)
The RMIT talking drone during flight testing. (RMIT/Luke Bouwmeester)

A drone that can accept and respond to instructions from air traffic controllers has been developed by Melbourne’s RMIT University, bringing the integration of these increasing popular unmanned aircraft into civil airspace a step closer.

The world-first technology, which enables a drone to respond to information requests and act on clearances issued by an air traffic controllers, was presented at the 2015 Avalon Airshow.

A prototype went through flight testing in late 2014, where the drone was integrated with Thales’ Top Sky air traffic control system.

Dr Reece Clothier, who leads the RMIT Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Research Team, said the research was focused on ensuring drones could operate safely and without causing disruption to other airspace users and air traffic management.

“The majority of air traffic control services are provided to aircraft by voice radio – aircraft controllers speaking directly to pilots,” Dr Clothier said in a statement.


“Our project aimed to develop and demonstrate an autonomous capability that would allow a drone to verbally interact with air traffic controllers.

“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.”

The project was a partnership between RMIT, Thales Australia and the company’s Centre for Advanced Studies in Air Traffic Management (CASIA), and UFA Inc.

RMIT noted drones were the fastest growing sector of the aviation industry, with an estimated US$6 billion in sales expected in 2015.

The university said further studies are currently being undertaken to “better understand the benefits, and explore the human factor issues associated with the automation of drone to air traffic controller communications”.

Thales Australia technical director Philippe Bernard-Flattot said the project “brought the safe and seamless operation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles within civil airspace one step closer”.

An RMIT video of the system can be seen below:

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Comments (2)

  • Spoof


    Can it recognise the ATC voice or will it comply to instructions from anybody claiming to be ATC?

  • Anthony B


    I think they might want a function that reverts to some other means of directing the drone if interference happens. And also the drone would be programmed logically to not do anything it can’t or shouldn’t do. But as it stands I’m currently a survey pilot and controllers change 2-3 times in the same airpace as i survey and I can’t tell if it’s actually ATC or someone on the ground. I just follow the instructions given and wouldn’t know if it was fake or not till i was told so i dont think it will pose any more risk than the currently is. Unless of coarse the drone is pprogrammed to do exactly what its told no matter what the outcome

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