Ok what does ADS-B have to do with UAV’s and Drones? And why is Google looking at this technology? I’ll get back to Google in a moment but first what is ADS-B and what does it do?
The acronym doesn’t really do it justice but here goes: ADS-B stands for Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast.
Perhaps a simple explanation is that it allows your aircraft (or drone) to see other aircraft and also allows it to be seen by other aircraft. This can be useful for situational awareness and Collision Avoidance (CA) amongst other things.
Wikipedia also has an entry that provides additional information.
So why are Google and other drone companies looking into this technology? As commercial drones become more prevalent there is a very real and emerging need to ensure that unmanned aircraft and manned aircraft don’t cross paths at the wrong time and place. With this technology, a drone could always or almost always take an avoidance action to avoid such a conflict.
The main problem with installing ADS-B in smaller aircraft, such as a drone, is that the payload is limited and somewhat costly. Current systems for civil aviation can cost over US $1,500 making it a somewhat expensive technology to incorporate into many hobbyist and commercial drones.
However unmanned aircraft market will certainly need this or a similar technology in the future and I’m hopeful that Google and other engineering companies/individuals can help improve the technology to drive the cost down.
In the U.S. the FAA has already issued some proposed rules and has a basic guide to safety, licensing and/or certification requirements posted on their website.
As I read through the FAA website, I noticed that it is already required for hobbyist aircraft to not interfere with and must give way to any manned aircraft. This is as it should be, but what if the drone is flying a pre-programed route? Or in a “follow-me” mode?
Hopefully manned aircraft won’t be flying that low, but if there is a cost-effective way to incorporate ADS-B then I believe it is possible to make this avoidance automatic.
Happy and safe flying!