RMIT develops talking UAV

By Emily Aasand | March 05, 2015

The unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research team at RMIT University in Australia has developed a first-of-its-kind talking drone that can independently converse with air traffic controllers just as a normal pilot would.

The system enables drones to respond to information requests and act on clearances issued by an air traffic controller, using ATVoice, UFA Inc.’s voice recognition and response technology. UFA Inc. is a privately-held software engineering firm that provides air traffic control tower and radar simulation technologies to civil aviation, military and universities.

“The majority of air traffic control services are provided to aircraft by radio—aircraft controls speaking directly to pilots,” said Reece Clothier, leader of the RMIT UAS research team. “Our project aimed to develop and demonstrate an autonomous capability that would allow a drone to verbally interact with air traffic controllers.” He continued, “Using the system we’ve developed, an air traffic controller can talk to, and receive response from, a drone just like they would with any other aircraft.”

The project is part of a lager research initiative that addresses safety and efficiency issues related to drones and air traffic management. It’s a result of a partnership between RMIT, Thales Australia and the company’s Centre for Advanced Studies in Air Traffic Management, and UFA Inc., the university said.

Flight-testing of a prototype system was completed late last year, demonstrating integration to Thales’ Top Sky Air Traffic Control System, RMIT University said.

“This is a significant project that is important for the future of air traffic control systems,” said Philippe Bernard-Flattot, technical director at Thales Australia. “It brings the safe and seamless operation of unmanned vehicles within civil airspace one step closer, and is an excellent example of close collaboration between different teams.”

The system was presented by the research in a paper at the Australian International Aerospace Congress, and further studies are currently being conducted to understand the benefits and explore the human factor issues associated with drone-to-air traffic controller communications.


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