back to article Flying robots get aerial highway code

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs - flying robots) are here to stay. Thus far, however, they have mainly been a military phenomenon. Most UAV flights take place in airspace where civil air-traffic control (ATC) is either vestigial or completely absent. If UAVs are ever going to fly much above the countries which - at the moment - …


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  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Outsource pilot call centers ?

    What a daft idea. First of all, for military operations it will be unheard of - you don't want to give control of tactical assets to a party whose security you are not in control of either. Second, if outsourcing call centers is an already-not-so-bright idea for helpdesk and customer support, just imagine the nightmare it will become when you have a soldier trying to understand a stream of east-Asian engrish in the midst of a conflict situation.

    Might as well ask the Army to take its orders from an Admiral. It won't work well.

  2. Fluffykins

    I'm sorry Dave

    I can't let you do that

  3. Chris Harden


    Well at least, when the uprising comes, they killer flying robots wont be able to take over Europe without human consent.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    The rules make sense

    Once one remembers that European regulators always opt for more employment rather than greater safety & efficiency. Making the ALL AIRCRAFT, not just UAV's, able to sense and avoid other aircraft autonomously, is better for safety. Further, replacing human ATC with a combination of ground computer & aircraft networking for self organizing would be greatly safer than the present system. But it will never happen because employment of slack jawed government workers is more important than public safety.

  5. John Latham

    Ikea Anna

    Of course, the droid could just have some version of "Ikea Anna" or "MS Santa" installed, to allow ATC to interact with it's collision avoidance systems using voice.

    Nice side effect is that bored ATCs could talk dirty with the sky-cyber-crumpet when things got quiet.


  6. Graham Bartlett

    Beacons on planes

    There's currently a proposal (being strenuously fought against) for all aircraft in the UK to be fitted with beacons. That's aircraft including hang-gliders, parachutes and microlights. One of the major reasons given for this proposal is that UAVs would be able to detect other air users and avoid them. This fails dramatically when you realise that the largest number of airspace users have their own wings (with feathers) and are unlikely to be fitted with beacons, and if a flock of geese can down a fighter jet or airliner then it can certainly down a UAV.

    Incidentally, one good reason for fighting this proposal is that the smallest beacon currrently available is briefcase-sized, requires an external car battery to drive it, and costs £1000 (plus yearly maintenance costs). This isn't greatly useful for a hang-glider pilot whose entire kit might only cost £1000, and who has at most enough storage space for a bottle of water and a couple of Mars bars...

  7. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

    ATC, see and be seen

    The voice link is a big issue. There was a good piece in New Scientist last year. It said that ATC controllers were not happy with UAV pilots using the phone. ATC were insisting on talking to UAVs using their normal VHF radio systems. This implies that the UAV should carry a remotely controllable VHF radio and a voice link from this radio to its pilot.

    New Scientist pointed out another problem. What with UAV control and telemetry channels, surveillance and pilot-eye TV downlinks plus the pilot's two-way voice link, a UAV will be a bandwidth hog. However, the developers have forgotten to book any frequency allocation for UAV operations. Maybe this will mean we don't see them any time soon.

    As to see and be seen: either ADSB or FLARM would do the trick for UAVs as well as helping real pilots avoid the robots.

    ADSB has been foot dragging for years and is apparently both cash and power hungry, but if/when it gets rolled out it would have the advantage of working with current transponders as well as TCAS and PCAS systems.

    FLARM is already in wide use in Europe and Australia and does the same job as ADSB. Its cheap, small and needs little power, but it uses a different frequency to transponders and is relatively short range. Its suitable for gliders, GA aircraft and helicopters but not for anyhing much faster.

  8. Grant Czerepak

    Redefining "See"

    One of the major hurdles is redefining how aircraft "see" each other. Global GPS will be part of the picture, radar another. Other methods are simply too prone to atmospheric blindness.

  9. amanfromMars Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Mercenaries 'r' US

    "What a daft idea. First of all, for military operations it will be unheard of - you don't want to give control of tactical assets to a party whose security you are not in control of either."


    Tell that to the junkies in the White House who have outsourced war to the private sector and given them a license to kill at a rate of pay which makes the military look like fools ... especially as they invariably catch all the flak for renegade actions.

  10. Mike Hocker

    Small bites first

    UAV voice interaction can be largely automated for 'commands', pilots already repeat what they heard (so that the ground controller has a positive ACK), the UAV controller only needs to press the "approve" button. Even todays voice automation is better than some pilot's "English", and the entire voice interaction scheme is error prone anyway.

    It would be helpful to start with to have space/time corridors just for UAVs. Commercial enterprises will squeal like stuck pigs at first at the loss of some airspace, but dedicated space/time corridors would be good for cargo (save on paying those expensive pilots, and having costly "human rated" airplanes too) in addition to military and eventually enough confidence will be gained to mix the fragile meatsacks with the Machines.

    Of course, the mil wants to tootle around in the black UAVs now...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pffft... Yeah whatever

    Back when I used to do a bit of cloud worrying I found that the military NEVER got out of the way before.

    Before the yanks pulled out after the cold war ended the A10's were a menace and even resorted to "playing" with the "toy planes."

    Then there was the occasion when I was on finals below 500ft and two Jet Provosts passed between me and the runway. I did get an apology out of the the gits eventually though.

    So, the military are replacing meat guided aircraft with remote controls operated from Mumbai?

    "November two-niner, pop-up traffic in your 9 o'clock, turn right heading 225 for avoidance....."

    "Good mornings to you, this is N29, turning 225. Thank you, come again..."

    Big changes ? No, they'll just give them right of way and put the onus on everyone else to keep clear.

  12. trollboy

    re: Outsource pilot call centers ?

    Outsourcing Military Operations to foreign countries is nothing even remotely new. England did it with the Hessians.

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