Alphabet’s moonshot factory, X, has announced the successful demonstration of its UAS Air Traffic Management (UTM) Platform in Virginia Tech last June 6. The UTM platform is a part of the company’s automated aircraft project named Project Wing. The UTM platform takes advantage of Google’s cloud computing infrastructure and massive amounts of location data to simultaneously control hundreds or even thousands of unmanned aircraft systems across a wide range of areas. The platform is still under development but it is already capable of controlling several drones at the same time. In the demonstration made by Project Wing researchers, its UTM platform controlled three different drones with minimal intervention of the human operator. These drones are controlled by the UTM platform while picking up and delivering packages within a certain area. Without the UTM platform, the drones would have to be controlled individually by humans in order to avoid obstacles, making drone-based delivery service a costly venture.
Once fully developed, Project Wing’s UTM platform will allow for a single operator, or, at most, a small group of people, to fly and manage drone fleets simultaneously. This, ultimately, could make drone delivery much more cost-effective and efficient. At this point, researchers are still working to improve the core elements of the UTM platform, which include real-time route planning, alert notifications in cases of sudden changes in the flight route and in the UAS itself, and operator notifications to avoid flying drones into restricted and safety-sensitive areas. In order to deliver these core elements, Project Wing’s UTM platform uses data from Google Maps, Google Earth, and Google Street View. These Google services have more than enough location and zoning data to precisely identify target locations and areas of concern for UAS operators. To manage the millions of drones potentially flying at the same time, Project Wing researchers are banking on Google’s massive cloud infrastructure to provide the computational horsepower to make flight decisions within a split second.
Aside from the UTM platform, X’s Project Wing is also working on an automated aircraft that uses sensors and software to detect and evade obstacles and other drones in a shared airspace. Researchers under the said project are also developing fail-safe architectures to ensure that the unmanned aerial vehicles remain in flight no matter what.