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'Facebook for drones' Altitude Angel offers 'cloud' air traffic control

Will it float?

By Simon Rockman

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Altitude Angel calls itself “The Internet of Flying Things”, but it’s more “Facebook for drones”. It’s a database of "things" which unmanned aircraft might worry about.

The idea is that whenever someone launches an Unmanned Aerial System they will check in with Altitude Angel to find out if there are hazards in the areas where it is flying and similarly report back information for the benefit of other users.

Given that what used to be called a “publicly accessible database”, is now called “the Cloud”, it’s rather appropriate for flying things.

Altitude Angel expects that the flying things will use the data to plot routes. CTO Neil Kidd explained to The Register that each device needs to provide its capabilities to the database. “We need to know if it’s a quadcopter or fixed wing, we can’t issue a ‘hover’ instruction to something fixed,” he told us.

The company explains: “Our customers send us their UAS telemetry data in real-time, and if we detect a scenario that needs corrective action to avoid a collision, we'll send targeted waypoint or turn rate instructions directly to the UAS. Our high-end cloud platform accurately performs collision avoidance and conflict resolution (including predictive analysis) before sending the most appropriate instructions to all UAS involved in a conflict situation.”

The system has a number of APIs for adding and receiving data. It knows about manned aircraft too so the UAS can avoid the downwash of large helicopters, for instance. Kidd explained that there are different types of hazard. An airport no-fly zone might be fixed, a crane operating in an area is semi-permanent and a flock of birds avoiding walking on the planet is transient. Altitude Angel culls information such as Notice to Airmen (NoTAM) alerts, which warn pilots of the kind of plane you sit in of hazards in their area or on their route.

The service isn’t quite up yet, but as Altitude Angel is in the chicken-and-egg position of not being able to launch until it has a lot of data, and not being able to get the data until it launches, there is a beta test scheme for people who are prepared to use it when there isn’t enough data. Sorry.

Keen droners can register their interest at the Altitude Angel website. ®

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