One of the biggest problems that still needs to be figured out before most people’s Amazon orders are delivered by a drone is managing how aircraft will coordinate and communicate with other drones and humans on the ground.
In other words, air traffic control for drones.
One company, AirMap, a drone mapping and alert platform, has made some serious strides. The company announced today it raised $26 million from Microsoft, Airbus, Qualcomm, Yuneec and Sony. Microsoft led the Series B funding round.
NASA and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration are in the midst of a multiyear research project on safely integrating drone air traffic control into the national airspace. That research isn’t slated to be finished until least 2019.
AirMap, in the meantime, has rolled out a system that alerts air traffic controllers and other drone operators where unmanned aircraft are flying and for drone pilots to report flight plans. It is already in use at nearly every major airport across the country.
Eighty percent of the world’s drones — including aircraft made by DJI (the world’s largest drone maker), Yuneec and Intel — are using AirMap’s services for things like preventing drones from entering protected airspace, like near airports.
Drones flying out of line of sight from the operator need to be able to ensure that they won’t hit other drones or collide with buildings, and they’ll also need a way to know which areas to avoid and when, like if there’s a fire the drone shouldn’t fly into.
That is, drones need to share and receive real-time information with other drones, as well as operators and local authorities on the ground — especially considering how unmanned aircraft can land and take off anywhere, unlike airplanes.
Another difference between drones and manned aircraft is that, increasingly, drones will be flying themselves.
“The drones of today are primarily piloted,” said AirMap CEO Ben Marcus. “But the drones of tomorrow, the drones that will really deliver benefits to people in their daily lives, will be more and more autonomous.”
This reality is still years away. Drones in the U.S. won’t be allowed to fly without an operator watching until the FAA creates new rules that outline how that can be done safely and legally. But that timeline obviously wasn’t enough to dissuade major investors.
The FAA has said that the agency does not provide air traffic control services for low-altitude airspace, which is where drones are permitted to fly, and is looking for industry solutions. That’s where a company like AirMap might come in.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.