TECHNOLOGY

European Trials Focus On Managing Drones In City Skies

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By Christopher Carey, Editor, Cities Today

A new Europe-wide drone project that tests how to safely integrate drones into urban airspaces has kicked off at the UK’s Cranfield University.

It will explore how various types of drones, such as those carrying passengers, fighting fires, and delivering parcels, could safely interact.

The programme is being run by AMU-LED – a consortium of European public and private sector organisations – and will host six trial events during the summer in Cranfield, the Dutch cities of Amsterdam, Enschede and Rotterdam, and the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela.

Cranfield University hosted a demonstration day last week which included presentations from the project team, a tour of the connectivity laboratories, and the opportunity to see data from a live drone test flight integrated into simulated air traffic using a “digital air control tower”.

“The flight demonstrations will put into practice scenarios, concepts and systems developed throughout the project to test how drones and manned aircraft can operate safely in the same airspace,” said  Professor of Autonomous Systems and Artificial Intelligence, Cranfield University, Gokhan Inalhan.

“This is a very exciting project and one that will pave the way for highways in the skies, removing traffic and congestion and changing the way we move around.”

U-space

The AMU-LED project is a Very Large-scale Demonstration (VLD) project funded by the SESAR Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

The project will use large electrical Vertical Take-off and Landing (eVTOL) platforms for passenger and cargo transport, combined with smaller Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) performing delivery of goods and medical supplies, surveillance or support for emergency services.

Throughout the demonstrations the team will gather data on the different aspects being tested, which will then be analysed.

A central feature of the tests is an automated air traffic control system – U-space – that aims to safely integrate drones into urban air spaces.

Its developers claim the system is highly automated to ensure safe and efficient access to airspace for a large number of drones, and can handle more flights than a human-controlled air traffic control system.

“We will be running virtual flights alongside the drones physically flying at the airport, to test their interactions and air traffic management systems including U-Space,” added Inalhan.

“Our results will help inform the later demonstrations and move forward the whole concept of Urban Air Mobility.”

The project will also test the most efficient way to exchange data between the drones, their pilots and the air traffic management system.

As part of the programme, researchers are also studying the social impact of drones, and have launched a survey to gauge public opinion.

  • Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in Cities Today.

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