In February 2018 UK mobile telephone network provider Vodafone has announced the start of drone tracking and safety technology trials. Vodafone’s approach uses 4G Internet of Things (IoT) technology to protect aircraft from catastrophic accidents as well as prevent inadvertent or criminal drone incursions at sensitive locations such as airports, prisons and hospitals. The Vodafone IoT drone tracking and safety technology trials support the objectives of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Vodafone has developed one of the world’s first Radio Positioning Systems (RPS) for drones.
This uses a 4G modem and SIM embedded within each drone to enable:
• real-time tracking of each drone (with up to 50 metre accuracy) by drone operators and authorised bodies such as air traffic control;
• over-the-horizon/beyond line-of-sight control by the operator, greatly reducing the risk of accidental incursions when operators lose sight of their drones;
• protective geofencing, with drones pre-programmed to land automatically or return to the operator when approaching predetermined exclusion zones (such as airports and prisons);
• emergency remote control intervention to provide the authorities with the means of overriding a drone operator’s control to alter a drone’s flight path or force it to land;
• SIM-based e-identification and owner registration.
In a preliminary trial in late 2017 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. Further trials, which will be coordinated with the relevant authorities, are now scheduled in Spain and Germany through 2018 with the intention of making the Vodafone drone tracking and safety technology available for commercial use from 2019.