Deutsche Post DHL Group (DPDHL), DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung, Deutsche Telekom, and RWTH Aachen University have announced that they will be launching a joint research project on drones, scheduled to begin in 2017.
The objective of the project is to test the concrete applications of unmanned aircraft and their safe integration in air traffic. Three different uses of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) will be examined: fire-fighting, agriculture and logistics.
In the future, the mobile network could be used for the surveillance and monitoring of unmanned aircraft beyond the remote pilot’s line of sight. The new technology will be tested in concrete applications including the delivery of parcels.
One of the goals of this project is to examine if Deutsche Telekom’s mobile network can be used to connect UAS to the mobile internet. A prototype for a UAS traffic management system (UTM) is also to be developed to raise the safety level in uncontrolled airspace and allow flights over larger distances. Finally, the safe and rapid delivery of parcels in urban areas using autonomous aircraft is to be tested, which is expected to open up the chance to offer new logistics services.
The first application is going to be the DHL Parcelcopter. DHL has been running its own research project since 2013. In the latest trial run at the beginning of 2016, the delivery of urgently needed goods, such as medicines, was tested in the Bavarian village of Reit im Winkl. A safe interface between the Parcelcopter and end-customers was successfully trialled, showing that drones can be integrated into logistics processes.
Equipping unmanned aircraft with a mobile communications module will allow them to be located. Connecting the UAS poses a technical challenge, however, as the network is designed to work with devices on the ground, not in the air. By developing a UAS traffic management system, aircraft can be controlled almost autonomously.
Estimates show that there are around 400,000 private and commercial UAS in operation in Germany at the moment. DFS forecasts that this will rise to more than one million by 2020, which will require new solutions for the efficient monitoring of flights.
Klaus-Dieter Scheurle, CEO of DFS, said, “It is essential for the safe and fair integration of unmanned systems in air traffic that they are connected to the existing air navigation services infrastructure”.