Startup firm AirMap taking control of modern air traffic
Since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began relaxing its policies for commercial and recreational drones in early 2015, the number of UAVs in the sky has grown exponentially. This increased clutter in the skies has led to hundreds of near-miss collisions between commercial and government aircrafts, helicopters and civil drones. There were nearly 700 such incidents recorded from January to August 2015, more than triple the total number of incidents in all of 2014, according to FAA data.
The agency responded by partnering with the Know Before You Fly campaign, which administers the website that drone operators must visit to register their aircrafts. The FAA also released its iOS app B4UFly in January of that year. The app provides real-time information on temporary flight restrictions in your geographic area. But true universal air traffic control is needed for commercial and civil drones to reach their full potential, while also keeping everyone safe. That is where AirMap enters the picture.
The Santa Monica, Calif.-based firm was founded in 2014. It has partnerships with several drone manufacturers, including DJI and 3DRobotics, along with 100 airports across the USA. The company released its own iOS app, AirMap for Drones, that is built on the company’s own application program interface (API). The app allows you to view airspace data, pilot profiles, vector maps and much more, all derived from shared information provided by the company’s partners. AirMap for Drones will ultimately communicate real-time drone flight data, but that is just a small part of what the company does.
Jillian Switzer, director of marketing and communications at AirMap, said registered drones already outnumber manned aircraft by a 2-to-1 margin. Thus current air traffic protocols and radio signals that were appropriate for manned aircraft are obsolete in the 21st century where most flying objects in the sky are remote-controlled.
“An evolution of air traffic control models that makes use of available technology today and makes sense for drone operators is necessary,” said Switzer. “We want to provide the infrastructure, platform and technology by which multiple parties can communicate locations and information about their flights.”
Direct API integration to power drone operators, manufacturers and app developers’ airspace intelligence information is part of that evolution. Dashboard products that tell airports when and where drones are flying around their airspace are also part of modernized air traffic control. AirMap already provides airspace intelligence data for the aforementioned Know Before You Fly website.
AirMap closed $15 million in Series-A funding in April, which will help the company advance its Digital Notice and Awareness System (D-NAS). Before the system’s launch, the only real way for drone operators to warn airports about their flight paths (which is required pursuant to Sec. 336 of the FAA Modernization Act) was to call them directly. But most air traffic control phone numbers for airports are unlisted, while the sheer number of airports in the U.S. means drone operators would need to make several of these tedious calls to comply with the law. The D-NAS streamlines this process by allowing airports to plug directly into the system and get digital real-time data of all registered drones flying near its airspace.
AirMap also embraces aspects of co-creation similar to Local Motors. The company encourages makers to develop standards and protocols utilizing its platform. AirMap is releasing its software development kit (SDK) in August for anyone interested in powering their creations with AirMap technology.
“Drones have the potential to bring value to people’s everyday lives and we’re not too far away from autonomous drones delivering products and even flying people to locations on a daily basis,” Switzer said. “Our mission is to empower and enable that future by laying the fiber; by providing the virtual street signs, lane dividers and traffic lights for the skies. We expect to be the air traffic management solution that people rely on for all drone operations.”
Local Motors has already began building the prototype for the winning entry in the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge. Keep checking back here for the latest on the build and for other drone industry news.