Researchers at RMIT University have developed a drone equipped with technology that allows it to automatically communicate through human language with an air traffic controller if it loses connection with a remote pilot on the ground.\n\u201cThe air traffic controller can issue clearances or tell it to hold or anything required for it to travel safely in the airspace. And it can do that exactly like a main pilot would, so it has the on-board decision making and other aspects that allows it to think and act like a pilot,\u201d said Dr Reece Clothier, leader of the RMIT Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Research Team.\n\u201cWe have provided the drone the ability to talk and think itself should the remote pilot on the ground not be able to talk to an air traffic controller. And that\u2019s quite a common situation. You have communication outages between the ground station and the drone, for whatever reason the communication can be lost with the drone itself.\u201d\nThe drone or unmanned aircraft is able to communicate to an air traffic controller through English. It\u2019s based on UFA\u2019s ATVoice technology, which uses the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standard of phraseology, but the RMIT researchers are looking into more advanced machine learning algorithms for it handle more complex decision making.\n\u201cThe drone can interpret messages that are issued to it, and decide whether it can actually respond to a clearance issued to it correctly \u2026 and decide whether it can safely act on those clearances.\n"We\u2019ve had our own staff mimic the role of the air traffic controller and phone up the drone and say \u2018I would like you to hold here\u2019 and our drone has responded and executed those clearances as requested.\u201d\nAt the moment the drone is not highly intelligent, Clothier said. It has fairy static checks and responses and can only carry out basic decision making.\n\u201cA pilot would have to make decisions as to the safety of his or her flight, and that may mean ignoring air traffic control advice or asking for corrections or changing requests because there might be sudden changes in the environment and those sorts of thing.\n\u201cThat requires a high order of artificial intelligence and decision making. So there\u2019s plenty of avenues for further research there to improve robustness of the system, to be more and more like a human pilot,\u201d he said.\nClothier said the drone is not designed to replace the human pilot as it would kick in or assist when communications on ground level are lost. He said he sees it being used as a supplementary piece of technology to the pilot.\nClothier and his team of researchers are also looking into the psychology of air traffic controller and pilots interacting with the technology as part of their research.\n\u201cWe don\u2019t really know how air traffic controllers will respond to an automated machine talking back to them. So it\u2019s not just about the engineering and design, it\u2019s also about how the human interacts with the device.\n\u201cSo we get to explore those, and whether the system reduces the task of the workload placed on the remote pilot and likewise the workload factors associated with the air traffic controller. We\u2019ve only just developed the technology but now we need to say if we implemented this and had if flying all over the world, what would be the human issues around it?\u201d\nThe team presented their research paper at the Australian International Aerospace Congress this week, which will be made available in the coming weeks, Clothier said.\nThe prototype was tested late last year with Thales\u2019 Top Sky Air Traffic Control System.