Amazon testing commercial UAS traffic management system

By Patrick C. Miller | January 29, 2019

Amazon Prime Air is working with NASA and Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) to solve the problem of how small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) performing a wide variety of commercial applications can fly safely in the same low-altitude airspace.

Bob Roth, a director with Amazon Prime Air, and his team are developing a UAS traffic management system focused on safe operations, enabling collaboration and communication between drones—regardless of who is operating them. Roth told Amazon’s Day One blog, ““We will always prioritize safety first within our system. People both on the ground and in the air are the most important to protect. We’re building a traffic management system with this as our guiding principle.”

To test the system, Amazon has been working with NASA and SESAR. Roth chairs an industry group developing standards for drone traffic management aimed at ensuring safe operations. In addition, he’s building Amazon Prime Air teams in Seattle, Tel Aviv, Cambridge and Paris, all working toward the company’s goal of delivering packages to customers in 30 minutes or less.

To manage all the possible routes for the Prime Air vehicle fleet, Roth’s team is building an automated system. Unlike the current labor-intensive air traffic control system, a sophisticated set of automated functions both on and off the drones will ensure safety and reliability. These drones will operate below 400 feet where manned aircraft typically don’t fly.

Amazon’s traffic management system is designed for ease of use by drone operators in the same airspace. It will connect via the internet, cellular communication such as LTE or another cloud-based connection, enabling each system to communicate.

For example, a drone flown by a crew filming for a movie supported by one traffic management provider will be able to be in the same airspace and communicate with a drone delivering a package being supported by another provider. Amazon compared its system to the way mobile phones allow people with different wireless services to talk to one another.

“Small aerial drones will soon make a big difference in our lives,” Roth said. “Whether it’s bringing medicine to a parent who has a sick child late at night or doing a search mission for a lost hiker. It’s exciting to be at forefront of building technology that will benefit so many people.”