Pilotless drones have achieved the ability to detect other planes and avoid midair collisions. Has the day come when passenger planes will routinely share the skies with unmanned aircraft?
Much more needs to be done to make that happen, but the idea of pilotless cargo and rescue aircraft is starting to take off.
A breakthrough was announced this month when a team of researchers in Australia said
it had developed a way for small, unmanned, aircraft to detect and avoid other aircraft -- making it safe for them to fly in commercial airspace.
In a video released on February 6 by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), project ResQu manager Rowland Marshall described the advancement as a "major milestone."
"ResQu itself was put together to basically bring the technologies required to allow that civilian integration to occur as fast as possible. And we've been able to successfully detect, onboard a ScanEagle [drone], an oncoming system. And that's a very big step for us," Marshall said in the video
The researchers say that during a recent flight trial, the onboard system provided "real time warnings" back to the ground-control station. They say that resulted in a successful manual collision-avoidance maneuver.
QUT professor Duncan Campbell says unmanned aircraft could be useful in disaster management and recovery operations, and could also find a niche in environmental, biosecurity, and resource management.
The research was carried out by QUT in conjunction with two aviation firms, Boeing Research & Technology-Australia and Insitu Pacific.