We read with interest this week that Vodafone has just announced that they have developed the world’s first Radio Positioning System (RPS) for drones.
This new control system uses a 4G modem and SIM embedded within each drone to enable real-time tracking of the drone with up to 50 metre accuracy. The system is intended for use by drone operators helping them to identify and stay clear of unauthorized airspace zones. Authorized bodies such as air traffic control will be able to use the technology to repel unauthorized intrusions into controlled airspace. In addition to position monitoring the system can help drone pilots with beyond line of sight control. The telecom company aims to use the technology to secure a central role in the development of a framework that would be capable of integrating drones into international airspace safely. Other features of the technology include
With an already well established 4G network infrastructure Vodafone have the technology and capability to contribute to the delivery of a truly global airspace management system. Their decision to make the IP openly available enables any local operator to develop RPS for their country so it’s possible this could lead to an internationally adopted standard.
This groundbreaking innovation by Vodafone will help to ensure the skies stay safe as drones become ubiquitous, everywhere
The Vodafone RPS protocol is combined with Artificial Intelligence algorithms which have also been developed by Vodafone. The combined technologies enable very large numbers of drones to be monitored and controlled remotely. To encourage the early adoption of the system by others Vodafone has placed its RPS research and associated intellectual property in the public domain with no licensing fees for re-use in order to accelerate the pace of drone safety and geolocation innovation worldwide.
Vodafone Group Chief Technology Officer Johan Wibergh, said: “This groundbreaking innovation by Vodafone will help to ensure the skies stay safe as drones become ubiquitous, everywhere.”
In a preliminary trial in late 2017 – the first of its kind in the world – Vodafone used its 4G network to control a 1.3 metre wingspan, 2 kilogram X-UAV drone. Throughout the preliminary trial – which took place over a 32-kilometre course around the town of Isla Mayor, near Sevilla in Spain – the drone transmitted a real-time HD video feed and flight data including speed, RPS location and GPS coordinates.
In their release Vodafone cite that the risk to aircraft is growing at an exponential rate. Quoting analysis from the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) project that indicates by the year 2050 drones will log more than 250 million flying hours per year over densely populated areas of the European Union, seven times the cumulative annual flying hours of conventional crewed aircraft.*
The Vodafone IoT drone tracking and safety technology trials support the objectives of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), with whom Vodafone has collaborated. EASA is currently developing new pan-European rules to regulate the operation of drones.**
The new technology developed by Vodafone also enhances the European Union’s potential to become the centre of global innovation in drone technology in line with the European Commission’s “U-space” vision for innovative and safe drone operations.