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Smart Markets to Regulate Drones

Amid safety concerns and the battle for drone airspace, computer programs may pave the way, er, flight path.

Drones are in the news more and more each day, with so many possibilities for use in providing unprecedented speed of delivery within retail, emergency response and industrial settings. But before these pilotless aircraft can make themselves useful on a grand scale, rules must be made for airspace allocation and flight paths.

After all, we can’t have drones colliding midair, raining defibrillators, Amazon wares and machinery parts down from the skies. But it’s a complicated situation. One of the major benefits of drones is that they perform functions such as surveillance or delivery at a moment’s notice, so it’s impossible to schedule flights weeks in advance. (Timmy needs his iPad… yesterday.) Additionally, there are many different players vying for airspace in many different industries. It’s a logistical nightmare.

The solution may lie in smart markets, much like the ones used to distribute electricity. A smart market is basically a computer auction that allocates a resource across many participants using mathematical optimization. Multiple energy producers are connected to the grid while power consumption varies. To avoid blackouts or system overloads, the amount of power on the grid at a given time must stay in line with demand. The program finds the optimal solution between the flow on each line, the amount of power to accept from each generator and the amount of power to provide distributors.

Drone airspace may end up being controlled by computer programs in this way, with a drone operator bidding for a certain flight path and time slot. This will promote safe flights by coordinating between many different companies.

There are still many issues to hammer out, like who controls the airspace in the first place. But with the economic and life-saving potential of drones, the incentives are there for businesses and government to collaborate on a system..

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