Delivery drones could soon be flying over your neighborhood to drop off small packages of mail, medicine, food and medical equipment.
But the potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of delivery drones from different companies soaring above city skies requires software to avoid crashes.
Israel – already a world leader in drone technology – is now determining how vision-based navigation technologies can help drone operators address the increasing threat of GPS signal disruption, and whether drone companies can effectively share information in real time using a central managed database to coordinate flight paths.
A first worldwide test of civil drone flights in GPS-denied environments was successfully conducted this week in a special test zone in Yeruham.
Safe navigation solutions for drone flight beyond visual line of sight were presented by Sightec, whose NavSight system is based on computer vision and artificial intelligence, integrated with the FlightOps.io drone operating system from Simplex Interactive.
The data-sharing test will take place next month in the agricultural areas around Hadera, a city on the Mediterranean coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa. The pilot will be expanded in June to urban areas with low-rise buildings.
The pilot program will start with each of the five selected companies flying in its own area. In a later stage, the flights will be expanded to a single, shared airspace. Each company will carry out around 60 flights a day with 20 drones.
The participating Israeli companies–High Lander Aviation; HarTech Technologies; Simplex Interactive; Airwayz Drones; and F.T. Aerial Solutions — will receive grants from the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA), which is running the $6 million pilot program.
“Operating drones in a managed urban airspace is one of the most significant challenges prior to establishing regulation and integration of autonomous drones in Israel’s airspace,” says Aharon Aharon, CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority.
“Implementation of this pilot program, while demonstrating the operation of various drones by a number of different operators in the same airspace, marks the beginning of a new age in Israel’s smart transportation.”
Both tests described above are under the management of NAAMA – the Hebrew acronym for the IIA’s Israel Urban Air Mobility Initiative. The initiative encompasses the state-owned Ayalon Highways company, the Transportation Ministry, the Civil Aviation Authority, and the Alternatives Fuels administration and Smart Mobility Initiative in the Prime Minister’s Office.
The traffic-control program will run over a period of two years, with the drones to be tested in the air eight times.
“Today, in order to receive a flight path from the Civil Aviation Administration, a week is needed,” said Sagi Dagan, vice president for growth at the IIA.
“Here we are moving into an approval time of one second to allow hundreds of flights a day and later thousands and tens of thousands of flights a day.”
Other countries will be watching carefully, as every region faces similar challenges with its emerging drone landscape.