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Air traffic control for drones


With a growing number of industries using drone technologies Singapore has decided to develop an air traffic system to ensure Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are able to fly safely.

Singapore’s dense population and limited airspace make a bespoke air traffic control system for drones a priority. And that is the goal of research now underway at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), an institution renowned for its expertise in autonomous vehicles and robotics.

The plan is to create a network which can support hundreds of UAVs operating in Singapore’s airspace at any one time. UAVs would operate within specific air-lanes and blocks similar to how cars are managed through lanes and traffic lights.

The Traffic Management of Unmanned Aircraft Systems initiative is being driven by NTU’s Air Traffic Management Research Institute (ATMRI) – a joint research centre by NTU – and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).

Led by NTU robotics expert Professor Low Kin Huat and Mohamed Faisal Bin Mohamed Salleh, ATMRI Senior Research Fellow, the project will work on technologies designed to ensure safety. These will include “smart and safe routing, detect-and-avoid systems, and traffic management to coordinate air traffic,” NTU said.

“At NTU, we have already demonstrated viable technologies such as UAV convoys, formation flying and logistics, which will soon become mainstream. This new traffic management project will test some of the new concepts developed with the aim of achieving safe and efficient drone traffic in our urban airways,” Professor Low said.

“The implications of the project will have far reaching consequences, as we are developing ways for seamless travel of unmanned aircrafts for different purposes without compromising safety, which is of paramount importance.”

Infographic on traffic management solutions for unmanned aircraft systems which is being developed by NTU researchers. Credit: NTU Singapore

Mr Faisal added: “We will also look into proposing safety standards, for instance how high UAVs should fly and how far they should be flying above buildings, taking privacy concerns and laws into consideration, and to suggest recommended actions during contingencies.”

The initial phase of the four-year project, conceptual design and software simulation, is due to be completed by the end of this year.

“This research will pave the way for appropriate rules and regulations to be implemented amidst the rapid growth of UAVs. The findings can help improve safety and address security concerns, which are especially important given today’s climate of uncertainty,” said Professor Louis Phee, Chair of NTU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.



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