According to Engadget in March 2017, there are over 770,000 drone owners registered to fly in the US. That's up from 670,000 at the beginning of 2017, meaning 100,000 users signed up in just three months alone. The FAA has also issued 37,000 Remote Pilot Certificates that let drone owners do filming, inspection and other commercial operations. So, it’s not only our roads that are congested.
The growing popularity of drones, whether for leisure or commercial use, has highlighted the challenge of facilitating traffic in very-low- altitude airspace. As they are airborne objects, drones fall under aviation law. However, that’s only part of the challenge for drone flyers. Because they fly in low level airspace, drones also need to take into account obstacles, buildings and people’s privacy.
For autonomous drones to operate safely and predictably, access to rich and accurate data sources is key. Standards to support interoperability, just like those practiced by the aviation industry, are also needed. To meet these needs, we’re teaming up with UNIFLY, the Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) platform, to develop 3D airspace maps for drones.
In 2012, a team of airspace controllers, pilots and engineers shared a vision. They were confronted by the growing number of drones in the airspace and the lack of tools to manage or even visualize them. You can see the drone, but where’s the operator? How do you connect to them? That group continued asking the hard questions of navigating low-altitude airspace, and eventually founded UNIFLY in 2015.
UNIFLY connects authorities with pilots to safely integrate drones into the airspace. HERE, meanwhile, has been developing the Reality Index, a rich digital representation of the physical world. Now, UNIFLY + HERE are combining their respective data assets to provide a clearer picture of the very-low- altitude airspace.
Our companies will create a mapping system comprised of two-dimensional polygons. This will cover both rural and urban areas, and mark out flight corridors and no-fly zones, such as airports, residential areas and sensitive government installations. We will initially focus on making this available in the United States and Western Europe by the end of 2018.
We will develop this system into a three-dimensional airspace map. This visualization of airspace will enable the management of drone traffic flow and even collision detection, much like air traffic controllers do for the airline industry today.
Just as HERE today transforms the real-time sensor data generated by millions of passenger vehicles on the road into map information and new location services, drones themselves could also be employed to enable the self-healing of the airspace map. Equipped with various sophisticated sensors, drones could detect changes in the real-world environment and feed data back to the cloud to support map updates.
A 3D visualization of the world
By aggregating data from many drones, our partnership could enable a truly three-dimensional view of the world, complete with precise information about hyperlocal weather conditions, potential hazards and the best navigable routes.
Drones are truly the ultimate users of a map – they really need to know every inch of the terrain, and more. Together with UNIFLY, HERE will be building out the tools needed for regulators and pilots alike to can safely navigate the skies above us.