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: