Innovation

Google makes it easier for businesses to fly fleets of drones with new flight management tool from Project Wing

On Tuesday, Project Wing conducted a series of tests developed by NASA and the FAA to demonstrate whether unmanned aerial vehicles can safely navigate around obstacles. Here are the results.

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Image: James Ryan Burgess's blog post

As private drones begin to fill up the skies—some companies expect fleets in the 1,000s—how can we ensure that the influx won't result in a series of crashes?

On Tuesday, Google's Project Wing, which is working on developing an unmanned aircraft delivery system, made steps to ensure drone safety via a new flight management tool. At the FAA test site, run by the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP), Project Wing set off unmanned aircrafts in a series of tests developed by NASA and the FAA, meant to see how well its UTM (UAS Air Traffic Management) platform would perform.

In order to test whether drones can handle complex pathways, navigating around obstacles, three aircraft from the company Wing, operated by a single person, performed pickup and delivery of a package at the same time as two Intel Aero Ready to Fly Drones (operated by Intel directly over LTE) and a DJI Inspire, operated by MAAP, were involved in automated search and rescue missions, according to a blog post on Wednesday by James Ryan Burgess, co-lead of Project Wing.

While traditional navigation usually involves manually steering around obstacles, the UTM platform successfully circumvented objects by forging new pathways.

The tests, wrote Burgess, demonstrated that the UTM could manage multiple drone flights simultaneously. "This is an important step that paves the way to a future where many UAS operators can fly safely together," wrote Burgess. "It also makes it possible for a single operator — a person or organization — to fly multiple aircraft simultaneously."

And while this is an important feat in itself, it also has implications for the enterprise. The ability to fly fleets of drones could make drone delivery and drones used in massive construction projects more feasible, for instance, streamlining navigation and speeding up delivery.

The UTM platform is built with several key pieces, including real-time route planning for multiple drones in an area and notifications that will alert the operator to route changes, no-fly zones, and potential hazards.

Project Wing has a big advantage when it comes to navigation—a vast database of geolocation information drawn from things like Google Maps, Earth, and Street View, that can detect things beyond highways to include trees, buildings, and other landmarks. And, according to Burgess, "Google's cloud computing infrastructure will enable our UTM to support millions of routes, process decisions in fractions of a second, and deliver the reliability that's critical for managing aircraft."

SEE: Drone policy template (Tech Pro Research)

Project Wing's tests "showed that an important foundational technology is making good progress," wrote Burgess, and the platform will continue to develop in the coming months.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

1. On Tuesday, Project Wing, which is working on developing an unmanned aircraft delivery system, made steps to ensure drone safety via a new flight management tool.

2. The UAS Air Traffic Management platform was used to test how drones could navigate around obstacles by having multiple aircraft in the same place simultaneously: A 3 Wing aircraft, operated by a single person, and two Intel Aero Ready to Fly Drones (operated by Intel directly over LTE) and a DJI Inspire, operated by MAAP.

3. Project Wing benefits from Google's vast database of geolocation information drawn from sources such as Google Maps, Earth, and Street View, that can detect additional objects to make navigation easier.

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About Hope Reese

Hope Reese is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers the intersection of technology and society, examining the people and ideas that transform how we live today.

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