Amazon: The Future Is Collaborative Control Of Drones And Airplanes


As Amazon bolts at breakneck speed toward package delivery by autonomous drone, it sees future air traffic control and de-confliction as a series of overlapping but collaborating apps in which aircraft and controllers share separation tasks. Amazon’s Gur Kimchi, who’s overseeing the company’s PrimeAir drone development efforts, outlined a view of the future in which aircraft will be tied into the internet and mutually linked, just like cars, appliances and computers already are. Kimchi elaborated on Amazon’s plans on the opening day of Exponential 2106, the trade show of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in New Orleans.

Kimchi concedes that when drones of all kinds begin to proliferate, which he and others see as happening in the next year or so, the industry will need to be ready. “The airspace at some point will become congested. And we need to be ready. This is not a technology problem, but an industry-getting-together problem. And we have to do it now,” Kimchi said.

He sketched Amazon’s view of how to do this as a multi-tiered airspace system monitored and controlled by real-time data flow from manned aircraft and unmanned systems, via transponders or dependent surveillance. Kimchi sees an automated and integrated system that he called “NextGen for low altitude.” No-fly zones for drones would be imposed around airports and above 400 feet, enforced by a constant stream of transponder altitude and position data, with hard geo-fencing.

He explained that Amazon favors “overlapping federated control,” which means aircraft and drones would be capable of de-confliction through traditional air traffic control or through collaborative, onboard sense-and-avoid capability. Or both. Kimchi argues that such a protocol is different from current technology only by degree. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here,” he said. He said the system would need to have “pre-defined low-risk locations” that would allow drones and manned to aircraft to operate in the same or nearby airspace with acceptable risk. But geo- and altitude-fencing would reduce the risk of collisions. “You don’t leave your box, I don’t leave mine,” Kimchi said. He offered no specific timeline on when Amazon thinks its delivery drone network will launch. Worth noting is that many have expressed disappointment at the FAA’s slowness in developing UAS regulation. Most of Amazon’s testing has, therefore, been done in the UK.