If you are like me, you might wonder how the sky will be managed once unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) become commonplace. As you probably know, technology manufacturers are brainstorming countless ways UAVs can be used. Some of the most commonly cited applications so far include goods delivery, surveying agricultural sites, search and rescue operations, and transporting people (air taxis).

While we are probably still five years away from air taxis, the truth is that we will have to have a way to track these aerial vehicles and manage the sky, so all of these different UAVs don’t run into each other. However, this isn’t to say that we don’t already have technology available that addresses aerial safety. A UAV will have many different technologies to facilitate location detection and collision prevention, including a GNSS receiver, infrared cameras, and sensors. GNSS receivers pinpoint geographic location using a GNSS. A GNSS antenna may also be used for high precision applications.

How the UTM System Can Prevent Accidents from Occurring in the Sky Still, while GNSS technology and sensors will go a long way to improve safety for both manned and unmanned aerial vehicles, the sheer number of potential vehicles mandates a need for a sophisticated network to ensure chaos doesn’t occur in the sky. From commercial flights to air taxis and delivery drones, NASA and the FAA are using the same lessons they learned from the development of air traffic controller technology.

NASA and the FAA are in the process of developing something called Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM), which will parcel out airspace into narrow pathways, enabling various UAVs to fly very close to one another without colliding. NASA is exploring a UTM system that not only accounts for routes by identified UAVs, but one that will also address severe weather, heavy wind, rough terrain, and contingency efforts. A UTM system may also utilize aspects you can find on our grounded roadway today, including stop signs, traffic lights, etc.

While NASA and the FAA are very much in the planning and testing stages with UTM, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see a UTM system in the next ten years. Many of the biggest technology companies, including Uber and Boeing, want to commercialize air taxi travel within the next five years, creating a need for a sky management system sooner rather than later.