The idea of skies filled with autonomous flying robots that change the way people interact with the world has grown in popularity amongst futurists and entrepreneurs alike. Largely absent from the public conversation is a discussion about the inherent shortcomings in unmanned aerial systems: namely that without a human pilot aerial vehicles are flying blind.
Autonomous drones can fly extremely well, but they lack perception having zero awareness of other aircraft operating in their immediate vicinity. This makes the idea of dozens (hundreds, or even thousands) of commercial drones navigating the same airspace while avoiding obstacles like planes and power lines unfeasible. Factor in that the majority of aircrafts in the sky these days are manned and it becomes not only unrealistic but also potentially dangerous.
But, this could be the year that all that change thanks to two decidedly unsexy technologies that are quietly undergoing mini-revolutions of their own. Neither is brand new, but both are falling precipitously in cost and size. These new breeds of radar and electronic systems could transform both the aviation industry and open the door to a genuine commercial drone revolution.
The first technology, automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (or ADS-B), is something most people only hear about after, say, an airliner vanishes like Malaysia Airlines 370 did last year.
ADS-B is a pricey, and often heavy, on-board aircraft tracking technology that not only determines an aircraft’s own position in space via satellites, but also periodically broadcasts its position and direction. Each broadcast can be picked up not only by air traffic controller towers, but also critically by other aircraft in the area. The automated nature of ADS-B lends itself particularly well to robotic drones since computers are well-suited for the multitasking needed to track multiple aircraft at one time.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com