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UAV Communication Systems as Invisible Traffic Lights

New Era of UAV Communication

The revolution in flying vehicle capabilities, which practically made unmanned vehicles that were once accessible for government and enterprise organizations affordable and available for anyone, is due to rapid technological advancements that have been present in recent years. Driven by smart mobile handset development, which requires minimizing many key elements such as Gyros, Accelerometers, Batteries and other MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems), these advancements have essentially closed a very large gap between the traditionally expensive unmanned military aircrafts to the radio controlled (RC) small scale flying toys and have paved the way for a wide variety of new unmanned flying vehicles - enabling almost any mission, which once was thought of as science fiction.

The New Traffic Light is based on effective UAV Communication Systems

Now, among the high altitude manned and unmanned aircrafts and the low altitude RC flying toys, we can expect a lot of unmanned aerial vehicles with different capabilities, partially or fully autonomous, and they all need to be coordinated and controlled by one communication system to prevent these drones from falling on us from above.

Unlike traffic management systems we deploy on our roads, based on visual traffic lights and signs for human drivers and pedestrians commuting on two-dimensional planes, the aerial environment is very different. First, adding a third vertical dimension dramatically increases complexity, requiring a communication system which is independent of physical signs and entirely based on technology. Such systems are currently controlling our residential airplane transportation, safely taking off and landing tens of thousands of commercial and military flights worldwide every day. These operations however, are designated to specific locations (airports) and pre-selected flying routes and are still heavily supervised by humans, whether in ground control stations and aboard the aircrafts or with robust, reliable and stable communication systems.

The new era of drones introduces new challenges, as tens of millions of flying vehicles, independently controlled by private people and corporations, will fill the sky and could potentially risk residential and armed forces aircrafts and people on the ground. There is an urgent need to develop UAV communication systems which can monitor and coordinate flights between all types of drones, manned and unmanned, fully controlled or fully autonomous, flying at altitudes of tens of meters to a few hundred or thousands of meters.

Some mechanisms are already embedded into commercial drone platforms such as pre-defined restricted flying zones and we can expect more to come in the near future.  The key however for safety will always lie in a reliable UAV communication system between drones and ground control stations as well as in between the flying vehicles themselves in order to respond in a timely manner to real-time risks.

Safety is first and foremost the capability to process the right information and react to it in a timely manner. The future UAV communication systems which will support the vast operation of drones in our lives will probably combine several layers and technologies, including 4/5G mobile networks, inter-drone direct communication and other offline and online channels in order to establish the required secured infrastructure for a “virtual aerial traffic light” system for drones. The information these networks will carry may include control, telemetry and even video recordings of each and every flight at 360˚, generating large amounts of data that might be required for insurance purposes and fulfillment of other regulatory restrictions.

Ensuring UAV Safety from Day One

Drones are here to stay – they have come into our lives in the era of the Internet of Things (IoT) and autonomous vehicles are expected to have the same qualities. Unlike the Internet, automotive and commercial air transportation industries, which had the privilege of slowly maturing into reliable and safe platforms, drone systems have no time for trial-and-error experiments.  They need to get integrated safely from day one to remove regulatory and other obstacles which are all driven by safety.