What It Is

Ornskoldsvik Airport in northern Sweden has one of the first air traffic camera systems, built by Saab. It doesn't have any people in it -- instead, footage is streamed to live controllers at another airport 90 miles away. There's no machine vision or artificial intelligence involved yet, but the data is starting to be collected remotely for later human processing.  In the United States, Leesburg Executive Airport in Virginia has been cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration to start testing camera-based air traffic control.

The Implications

In the short term, this technology will allow small airports to pool controllers -- if you've only got one or two flights taking off a day, you won't need a full-time controller. Going forward, air traffic might be able to be automated. Sure, it's a critically important job to avoid crashes, but considering how well self-driving cars operate, it could be much safer than human controllers. The biggest barrier is regulation -- there are laws requiring manned air traffic controllers on the books.

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