ATC for Drones?

Microsoft jumps in to help separate drones from each other.

AirMap drone air traffic control
With new backing from Microsoft Ventures, AirMap seeks to provide air traffic control for drones.AirMap

Anyone who offers up hard numbers for the drone population in the United States is merely guessing, especially since the FAA’s new Part 107 rule took effect last year. While the precise number isn’t really known, the trend is certainly clear: there will be more and more drones from now on. What worries people who operate airplanes, helicopters and other drones is how do we keep them from running into each other?

Enter Microsoft Ventures, part of the same family that married Windows to the PC. Microsoft’s corporate venture fund recently helped raise $26 million to turn a California start-up company, AirMap, into a software system to keep drones in their own airspace by allowing them to communicate with other aircraft.

The new system is called unmanned traffic management, or UTM. AirMap had already raised some $17 million before the recent cash infusion from Microsoft, as well as from companies such as Airbus Ventures, Sony and Qualcomm Ventures.

As more drones take flight, AirMap has been working on UTM technology to manage the logistics and safety demands of the industry. Supporting the technology are over 125 airports, including almost all major airports in the United States, that use AirMap’s airspace management dashboard to locate drones flying nearby.

A Microsoft spokesman said, “AirMap will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the drone industry.”