Altitude Angel and Students from Imperial College London Respond to Key Challenge Facing Drone Industry


Autonomous air traffic control system for drones based on Artificial Potential Field theory and refinements to state-of-the-art route finding algorithms.

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How to successfully integrate manned and unmanned aviation into our skies safely is widely considered to be one of the factors limiting the transformative potential of non-military drone technology, and proving how this can be achieved while meeting rigorous aviation safety standards is a critical step.

Traditional methods of air traffic control do not scale well to the unmanned environment, and there are many varied and different challenges to overcome. “That’s why this study, led by Altitude Angel and Imperial College London has such a profound relevance to the development of the drone industry on a global scale”, said Richard Parker, Founder & CEO of Altitude Angel.

Building on Altitude Angel’s existing technology and under guidance of Altitude Angel’s engineers, 14 undergraduate Computing students from Imperial College London split into two teams and went head-to-head to find the most effective algorithms for enabling drones to go about their business while avoiding each other, other air traffic and hazards. The students had to verify their algorithms against a simulation powered by Altitude Angel’s drone cloud platform.

Using just a modest amount of compute power provided by the Microsoft Azure Cloud, the students proved that over 1,000 drones could successfully co-exist with both manned and unmanned aviation in a 1 sq. km area, crossing paths at a safe distance without human intervention.

Professor William J Knottenbelt, Department of Computing, said “This project demonstrates why it is so mutually beneficial for computer science students to interact with industry. In this instance, our students were empowered to achieve to the best of their potential by Altitude Angel, who provided valuable domain expertise, test infrastructure and regular feedback, and Microsoft, who provided cloud-based compute resources. It also shows the importance of being open to ideas from other disciplines: in this case the physics-based notion of treating the drones as charged particles which naturally repel one another turned out to be a critical element of the solution.”

Lawrence Gripper, Head of Product at Altitude Angel, said “The students came up with some really innovative designs which complement our existing solutions and the proof of concept research undertaken is truly ground-breaking. We are already investigating options for further development of these options and their use with our GuardianUTM service”.

Emily Byle of Microsoft UK’s University Engagement Team, who sponsored the work said, "The use of Microsoft’s Azure Cloud platform by Imperial’s students enabled them to bring the worlds of data science and data visualisation together to demonstrate how a concept would work in a real world environment. This is a perfect example of how the cloud can bring learning to life and help solve some of the key challenges that lay ahead as drone technology becomes more pervasive.”

The project Whitepaper can be downloaded here

About Imperial College London:

Imperial College London is one of the world's leading universities. The College's 16,000 students and 8,000 staff are expanding the frontiers of knowledge in science, medicine, engineering and business, and translating their discoveries into benefits for society. Founded in 1907, Imperial builds on a distinguished past - having pioneered penicillin, holography and fibre optics - to shape the future. Imperial researchers work across disciplines to improve health and wellbeing, understand the natural world, engineer novel solutions and lead the data revolution. This blend of academic excellence and its real-world application feeds into Imperial's exceptional learning environment, where students participate in research to push the limits of their degrees. Imperial collaborates widely to achieve greater impact. It works with the NHS to improve healthcare in west London, is a leading partner in research and education within the European Union, and is the UK's number one research collaborator with China. Imperial has nine London campuses, including its White City Campus: a research and innovation centre that is in its initial stages of development in west London. At White City, researchers, businesses and higher education partners will co-locate to create value from ideas on a global scale.

Project Supervisor: Professor William J Knottenbelt

Project Students: Sam Wood, David Cattle, Paul Balaji, Jan Matas, Galia Peycheva, Andrea Janoscikova, Oliver Norton, Paul Benn, Bruce Key, Mikhail Bobkov, Mery Noa Bendahan, David Williamson

About Altitude Angel:

At Altitude Angel, we're building the Internet of Flying Things™, an open, global platform that anyone can use to connect their 'Flying Things' solutions to a rich source of airspace and regulatory data, and advanced cloud services including flight automation and collision avoidance. As the world's first open, platform-based drone services company, we provide essential foundation services to operators, manufacturers and developers to deliver enhanced situational awareness, real-time separation assurance, plug-in geofencing and much more. www.altitudeangel.com

Contributors: Lawrence Gripper, Chris Forster and Neil Kidd

About Microsoft:

At Microsoft UK we have a University Engagement team focused on deep partnering with the faculty and the students at some of the top Computer Science Universities in the UK.  We look to work closely in bringing the latest technologies and industrial practise to the students at these Universities in close partnership with the faculty that teach them.  The aspiration we have is that our engagement and support will further help the students develop their skills and experience alongside the classroom teaching they get as part of their degree. 

Contributors: Andrew Webber, Lee Stott and Jonathan Collinge

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