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AI is expanding what drones can do, and how captured data can be analysed. Artificial intelligence - the ability of machines to reason, solve problems, and learn - is a key enabler of drone flight operations and data analysis. While a great deal of popular interest in AI is related to developing robots that think like humans, the specific value of AI in the drone world is delivered through using algorithms to navigate and turn data into knowledge. AI is already being used to help small drones operate without direct human control. Companies like Wing, Skydio, and Matternet have developed drones that can independently avoid obstacles, laying the foundation for routine autonomous operation. Eventually, autonomous machines should be able to make their own decisions about flight planning and navigation - both in cooperation with one other and together with automated air traffic service providers. Sensors, computing power, and AI algorithms are now robust enough to enable small consumer drones to follow a target throughout an obstacle course using real-time 3D mapping and motion planning; however, secure and reliable communication networks must be established to enable drones to interact with ground stations. AI will ultimately enable air traffic control services for drones that could overwhelm human operators; safely integrating drones into the airspace used by manned aircraft is critical, so developing adequate AI-enabled air traffic control should be a priority. Ensuring that AI can be used to safely coordinate manned and unmanned aircraft will require more research - one related challenge involves certifying AI-enabled flight controllers or traffic management systems in ways that civil aviation authorities deem sufficient. Even as AI is poised to increasingly impact how drones are flown, it has already changed how drone data is being used. Drone imaging and AI-enabled data processing can help farmers identify problems with crops, reduce pesticide use, protect fields, and cut costs, while in terms of infrastructure inspection AI-enabled drone flights and data processing can save hours of time otherwise spent subjecting workers to potentially unsafe conditions as they access powerlines, pipelines, and wind turbines. While AI’s potential contribution is considerable, successfully incorporating it into drone operations will ultimately require regulatory changes related to aircraft certification, product liability, and privacy protection.

Drones and Artificial Intelligence

KEY TRENDS

Advanced Air Mobility