This is how Amazon thinks drones should fit into U.S. airspace.
Amazon envisions a future delivery system that can get packages to your doorstep in 30 minutes or less using small unmanned aerial vehicles. Before Prime Air can come to fruition, though, it must first overcome a fair share of regulatory hurdles. To get the ball rolling, the retailer recently laid out a proposal that aims to divide the U.S. airspace into various layers for different categories of drones, all while keeping them away from airplanes.
The plan, which was described by Amazon’s top drone executive at the NASA UTM Convention, would include two different lanes at varying altitudes: one for “low speed localized traffic” below 200 feet and another for “high-speed transit” between 200 and 400 feet in the sky. Meanwhile, the 400-500 feet range would be deemed a “no fly zone,” unless for emergencies.
Right now, the FAA regulates all manned air travel using humans and air traffic towers. However, the latest pitch is part of a broader effort to develop automated systems that would maintain order amid the growing number of drones soaring around U.S. skies. The Amazon vision shares many similarities to NASA’s plan for an automated drone-traffic management system, a project that already has gained interest from more than 100 enterprises and universities.
As The Verge points out, there would also be vehicle-to-vehicle communication, similar to that of autonomous automobiles. The positional data of each drone would be collected by a command station and shared with every other vehicle connected to the network. Access to the different layers of the airspace would be governed by how well a drone can communicate with its pilot, the central network, and other UAVs. If a flying gadget cannot connect to others, it will be required to remain below 200 feet. This new air traffic control system would link drones to traditional aircraft as well.
While it remains unclear as to which organization will steward the project, it appears NASA has taken the lead. The agency has partnered with Verizon on a new program that would enable cell towers to serve as nodes in this system, helping to track drones and exchange critical information between aircraft and fleets. According to The Guardian, Verizon is scheduled to introduce a concept for using cell coverage for data, navigation, surveillance and tracking of drones by 2017.
While the future of drone delivery remains up in the air (no pun intended), as more companies collaborate with government agencies, it’s only a matter of time before services like Prime Air become a reality.
[Images: Amazon, The Verge]