Vodafone proves LTE-based RPS tech for controlling drones in no-fly zones
Mobile connectivity can be used to construct airspace geo-fences as virtual barriers to prevent drones from entering no-fly zones such as airports, or indeed leaving their designated fly zones.
This is the conclusion from a new Vodafone trial, which has looked into how mobile technology can be used to prevent drones interfering with controlled areas, resticted events, and high security zones.
Airspace geo-fences can be used to ‘fence off’ a permanently restricted area, such as an airport or a prison, or ‘fence in’ drones on a particular mission, such as inspecting power lines.
“Many drones will have a memory of no fly zones but these tend to be drawn from offline static databases. With temporary geo-fences an offline database is simply not good enough,” explained Víctor Fernández, new technologies and innovation specialist at Vodafone Group, in a blog post.
“Authorities need the ability to tell drones already in flight that they must divert their course, for example to avoid extreme weather conditions, which they can do through mobile communications.”
Vodafone’s latest trials have demonstrated airspace geo-fences can be generated and erased using its proposed ‘radio positioning system’ (RPS), which uses an LTE modem and SIM attached to a drone, to identify when a drone has entered the designated area.
RPS is more secure than GPS, reckons Vodafone. Conventional radar does not work with small devices like drones, it argues. RPS uses artificial intelligence to calculate the position of a UAV, and indicate if it veers off course. The technology will be available to operators, generally, as Vodafone has placed its research and intellectual property in the public domain with no licensing fees.
Vodafone completed tests in Germany in late 2018 to underline the suitability of RPS as a backup, at least, to GPS for managing high volumes of drones. The tests in Germany showed it is possible to “identify two drones in close proximity and manage them separately”, and that 4G networks, optimised for users on the ground, could be used to monitor drones at altutudes of up to 120 metres.
In the latest round of testing, Vodafone created a “fully automated” three ring exclusion zone. Engineers in London were able interact with drones in Spain, flying within the area, including to force landings if they breached the barriers.
Fernández explained the findings: “When a drone entered the outer ring, both the drone operator and the no-fly zone manager received a warning about the incursion into restricted airspace; if the drone carried entered the middle ring, it was forced to hover in place; if the central no-fly zone was expanded to the area the drone was in, a command was sent over the mobile network forcing it to land immediately.”
He added: “We believe that this will be an important part of making drones safe to use on long-distance flights as it will ensure that they are resilient to any hacking attempts and can communicate with trusted authorities using strong end-to-end encrypted over-the-air messages… It is easy to imagine this Vodafone technology in future being used to ensure that police drones can safely search an area without the risk of crashing into other drones.”
Regulators will need technology support to ensure drones are constantly monitored when flying ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS) and to enforce no fly zones around sensitive buildings. RPS technology could be eight months after authorities implement rules for drone no-fly zones, allowing for a SIM card based approach, said Vodafone.
Meanwhile, Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) has entered into an agreement with Air Canada where Air Canada Cargo will market and sell DDC’s drone delivery services in Canada using Air Canada Cargo’s marketing and sales platforms and resources.
Subject to regulatory approvals, DDC will build and operate up to 150,000 drone delivery routes in Canada. These routes will include timetables, flight schedules, payload capacities, type of drones to be deployed, and payment terms. DDC’s services will be marketed as a premium offering, and Air Canada Cargo has agreed that it shall not use or engage with any other drone delivery service providers.
Tony Di Benedetto, chief executive at DDC, said: “Our drone delivery services will be extensively marketed as we work to establish operations across the country leveraging Air Canada Cargo’s brand presence and their established sales network and marketing reach.
He added: “DDC hopes to pursue even larger markets in the United States and Europe.”
Tim Strauss, vice president for Air Canada’s cargo division, said: “Drone technology has the potential to offer the cargo community cost-effective solutions to complex issues related to supply chain distribution in non-traditional markets, including remote communities in Canada.”