Australia, Queensland University of Technology to develop automatic approval system for drone flights.

SOURCE Brisbane Times/Stuart Layt : QUT’s Dr Aaron Mcfadyen is leading the development of a real-time automatic approval system for drone flights in built-up areas. image © QUT

Airservices Australia has commissioned the Queensland University of Technology to develop a system to automatically manage flight requests for drones.

All approvals for drone flights have to be done manually, meaning there could be significant delays if there is a sudden influx of flight requests.

That is an unlikely prospect today, but as drone use increases in the commercial sector for everything from food delivery to ferrying medical supplies, the prospect of dozens or even hundreds of drones all seeking flight approval at once is a real future concern.

Paul Stoddart from Airservices Australia said the organisation was planning ahead by asking QUT to help design a system that would give flight approvals automatically, and almost in real-time.

“The drone market is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Australian aviation industry, and we’ve got an important safety role to ensure drones fit in with other conventionally piloted aircraft,” Mr Stoddart said.

“The current process for gaining approval to operate in controlled airspace is a manual one, and an application from a drone operator can take up to two weeks to process.”

Mr Stoddart said commercial drone operators were starting to make applications to fly in controlled airspace such as helipads at major hospitals to make deliveries of medicine and other supplies.

In situations like that, having to wait two weeks for flight approval is not feasible, and with the number of drones only increasing, the problem will only get worse if it isn’t fixed.

QUT researcher Aaron Mcfadyen is leading the work into developing a system that can automatically approve drone flight plans.

“We’ve been working with estimating the likelihood of coming into a collision with manned aircraft in our skies,” Dr Mcfadyen said.

“We’ve been using lots of official data to classify all that airspace and then we’re developing a system which is able to use that data to make very accurate assessments of how safe it is to fly in those areas.”

The system is being developed with a specific focus on drone use in highly controlled airspace around airports and helipads, but Dr Mcfadyen said it could easily then be scaled up to cover all of Australia’s airspace.

“We want to get to a place where we can scale these operations and have lots of drones helping society,” he said.

“Here in Australia and in Queensland we’ve got a chance to develop some of the technology that’s going to be key to making that happen.”

In particular as more players enter the commercial market for drone delivery, having a system that can regulate their movements to stop accidents is valuable, and it needs to be in place before it becomes a problem, Mr Stoddart said.

“This project is trying to take what is quite an onerous manual process to a real-time process which enables drone services to be able to scale, particularly in times of emergency, or even a pandemic, where we need a range of technology to be deployed to provide services to the community,” he said.

The work is being supported by Advance Queensland, which awarded Dr Mcfadyen an Industry Research Fellowship for the project.

Development of the system is due to begin in November and is expected to take about three years.

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