Thales’ ECOsystem UTM solution for unmanned air traffic management aims to help airports, cities, the police and others manage the proliferation of drones.

Cresswell said that air traffic management is one of the most significant areas where the point between regulation and the useful application of drones meet: “Because the great majority of these objects will be flying in the ‘lowest space’ (a few hundred metres altitude), which at the moment is not controlled airspace, and is a very immature regulation environment.”

Cresswell called for drone regulation to be much less bureaucratic. In the UAE, for example, he noted that it can take up to six months to get a licence to operate a drone.

“Clearly, people won’t use drones the right way if it takes six months to get a licence.”

Automating automation

Cresswell added: “The way that the regulations are implemented has to become much simpler. We think that is the space where there is a tremendous amount to be gained by using many of the principles of air traffic management, adding artificial intelligence on the huge amounts of data.

“We’re talking about millions of objects potentially flying in this space, which is a task intractable for humans. So we have to automate automation.”

Thales is working with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to develop a ‘future ready’ air traffic management system architecture. The company is also collaborating with the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR), a coalition of New York and Massachusetts aerospace and academic institutions, to drive advances in unmanned aerial systems traffic management (UTM) and airspace automation capabilities.

“We also do a lot of work on radio and optical sensors,” Cresswell said. “And these have a part to play in detecting and identifying drones where they’re perhaps not being used for legitimate purposes.”

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