AirMap has made real-time traffic alerts available to the drone ecosystem. Any drone operator can now be alerted when manned aircraft trajectories create a potential hazard for the drone’s area of operation. Live data about manned aircraft positions are now accessible to the hundreds of drone innovators and app developers who use AirMap’s airspace APIs and SDKs; to the manufacturers who use AirMap’s technology to power millions of drones; and to anyone who downloads the free AirMap app for iOS and Android.

On Tuesday, September 6th, I had the privilege of joining many of the drone ecosystem’s best and brightest at Intel headquarters for a conversation about the future of our industry. I walked out of the room more excited than ever about the hardware, software and services innovations that are happening within the drone ecosystem. Package delivery? Flying cars? Thanks to this incredible group of innovators, these services are closer than you might think.

As I talked with others who are tackling the challenges of pushing innovation forward, while keeping the skies safe for all, I heard one resounding theme: it’s all about data.

In fact, I believe the only thing constraining how far we fly is how well we learn to use data to understand our environment.

Drone innovation is happening below 400 feet, and most drone flights will be measured in city blocks, not nautical miles. In addition to other drones and manned aircraft, drones will be sharing the low-altitude sky with people, cars, and more. Drones can become a part of our daily lives — but only if they can plan safe and efficient routes, learn where obstacles are in the surrounding airspace, and adapt in real time.

In the drone industry, we talk a lot about “sense and avoid” technology — onboard sensors that can “see” and “sense” a drone’s environment, and the computing power to react to it without the direction of a human operator. Drones are connected devices — and very soon, they’ll be thinking devices too.

But while sense and avoid technology will help us prevent crashes and react in emergency situations, we’ll need more than that to plan safe and efficient routes. That’s where platforms like AirMap come into play.

In order to make safe flight plans and smart decisions in real time, drones will also need a wealth of data that can’t be gathered through onboard sensors alone: data about who else might be flying in nearby airspace, and information about obstacles that we don’t think about in traditional aviation, like population demographics, building heights, wildfires and emergencies, community events, and low-altitude weather. Drones will need to know that the area above a local roadway should be avoided during a community parade…or that the President is in town and the Secret Service doesn’t appreciate drones flying overhead.

A sensor can’t tell you these things, but information exchanged across an easily accessible platform can. If we can figure out where to find it, how to analyze it, and how to communicate it to each and every drone, then we’ve laid the groundwork for drones to make decisions in real time and fly beyond the visual line of sight of their operators — or without an operator at all.

At AirMap, we’ve begun to tackle the challenge of delivering this type of information to drones: hyperlocal weather, wildfire data from the U.S. Department of the Interior, and yes, even VIP movements.

One of the more critical pieces of data drones need is the location of others who may also be in nearby airspace, including airplanes, helicopters, and other drones.

The low-altitude sky is certainly going to get a lot busier…but it doesn’t have to become any less safe. When aircraft, either manned or unmanned, communicate their locations, any drone can make a call to an API to find out what they need to watch out for in shared airspace. And when that connection happens in real time, drones can start to adjust routes by themselves, with the technology and computing power they have on board.

Together, we can make this future a reality. And that’s why I’m so pleased to announce the availability of AirMap’s traffic alert service.

Today, we also announced partnerships with uAvionix, the creator of the Ping ADS-B sensor, and PASSUR Aerospace, Inc, the leading air traffic management platform for manned aircraft.

On-board ADS-B is an important element of the overall traffic deconfliction formula. There are many areas of the world where no ground-based sensors are available, or where there is limited internet connectivity. uAvionix has led the development of small, low-cost ADS-B transceivers, and we’re excited to partner with them to exchange data in real-time so that more drones and operators can have a more complete picture of their surroundings.

PASSUR owns and operates the largest commercial passive radar and ground-based surface surveillance network in the world. It’s important to note that not all manned aircraft have ADS-B transponders, especially the low-altitude helicopters, crop dusters, banner towers, and similar aircraft that have the greatest chance of conflicting with drones. The data PASSUR contributes to the AirMap platform will help to fill out this picture.

I’m very proud of our team at AirMap, as well as the teams at PASSUR and uAvionix, for helping make the skies safer, but I want to end with this: a safe, efficient, innovative future for drones is not something one company can or should build on its own. Instead, it’s something we’ll have to build together, as an industry and as champions for how drones can transform our lives. Innovators across the world are collaborating in amazing new ways, and we’re incredibly grateful to be a part of the story.