Talking drone could ease concerns over aviation safety

A talking drone that can communicate with air traffic controllers like a human pilot has been developed by Australian researchers to address safety concerns.

The project was designed to integrate the drones into civil airspace without fears of causing disruption to air traffic management.

The software enables drones to respond to information requests and act on clearance issued by air traffic centres using an automated voice recognition system and response technology.

Reece Clothier, leader of the research team at RMIT University, said drones needed to be able to fly safely alongside other airspace users.

“The majority of air traffic control services are provided to aircraft by voice radio – aircraft controllers speaking directly to pilots,” said Clothier.

A prototype was successfully tested late last year and further research is planned to assess the effect of a talking drone on air traffic controller communications.

“Our project aimed to develop and demonstrate an autonomous capability that would allow a drone to verbally interact with air traffic controllers.

“Using the system we’ve developed, an air traffic controller can talk to, and receive responses from, a drone just like they would with any other aircraft.”

Drone makers are expecting a surge in sales as UAVs are the fastest growing sector of the aviation industry. Figures from CES show that the global market for consumer drones will approach $130m in revenue in 2015.

However, safety concerns have led industry figures to call for clearer and stricter regulation of the use of unmanned air systems.
The talking drone is the brainchild of RMIT University, Thales Australia and UFA Inc.

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