Drones yes, but it’s safer.| technology

It is already clear that drones are something that is here to stay. But, what security guarantees do these prototypes of autonomous and unmanned flights provide? How can the traffic of these devices coming and passing in the sky of our cities be regulated in the future? Project Ágora attempts to answer this question, a research and development initiative promoted by Airbus and the Andalusian Foundation for Aerospace Development FADA-CATEC, a leading company in Spain.

At the ATLAS Experimental Flight Center, in Villacarrillo (Jaén), some tests were carried out in mid-November to approximate the real situation in the U-space environment, the European project of UTM (Autonomous Traffic Control, Unmanned Traffic Management, in English abbreviation) – An acronym defining the group of services for coordinating drone operations among themselves and with other airspace users. In this test, two different drones were arranged to fly, creating a conflict between their respective flight plans. The first of them, equipped with highly autonomous obstacle detection capabilities, alerted U-Space systems to the presence of an unexpected crane in the middle of its path. U-space warned the second drone of the machine’s presence, which redirected its course before takeoff, but already safely.

Antidio Viguria, technical director of the Center for Advanced Space Technologies (CATEC) in Seville and coordinator of these tests, explains that they were welcomed into the Agora project. Its goal is nothing but the movement towards more sustainable and smart cities, while ensuring the safe integration of all types of operations with highly autonomous drones (aerial robots) in urban environments through the use of U-space services.

“The crane demonstration was not designed for a specific application, but was intended to test a series of services that allow unmanned aerial vehicles to be safely integrated into the airspace,” Viguria exclaims through a video conference with EL PAÍS. “These services are perfectly complemented by the autonomous flight decision capabilities of another drone, for example the ability to detect and avoid, that is, if it detects that there may be a collision, it is able to automatically change the flight plan, maintaining other parameters that must be You have to monitor it with the rest of the drones, like the separation distance. If it’s done quickly, you get more airspace and it’s more efficient.”

In order for UAVs to be safely integrated into the airspace, the design of the UTM is essential and in its development comes the collaboration with Airbus. “UTM is the fabric that unites everything and only when it is perfected and developed will all the possibilities that come to mind when we think of drones be deployed,” explains Miguel Angel Villaplana, UTM Director in Spain. Video conference. Its design is necessary to be able to safely manage the flight of highly autonomous drones, that is, those that are not continuously piloted by a human being from the ground.

Technology is the backbone of managing this interaction because, Villaplana points out, there will be no drone air traffic controllers in cities. “We see how there are drones delivering medicines in remote places, parcel applications and this Christmas we will be monitored on the roads by drones, but until we can organize traffic safely it will be very difficult going forward and this development he says. He adds: “How do we help them if something happens, and if one of them fails, how do we control the impact on other air vehicles or manned aviation?”

The development of this technology together with FADA-CATEC is the basis of the Agora project. For the development of the project, the company, from its factory in Puerto Real (Cádiz), and the Andalusian Corporation for Aeronautical Development (FADA) set up a Joint Innovation Unit (UIC), to promote this industrial research. “The system has to be highly automated to be very safe, because the idea is that it manages many vehicles and that if something goes wrong the whole ecosystem will be controlled, also bearing in mind that the drones will carry out very advanced operations. These are the tasks that We want to launch it in Augura at the research level right now,” Villaplana notes. Viguria contextualizes it with practical examples: “If the GPS fails, we have to develop solutions that allow me, through an alternative means of positioning, to navigate and be able to carry out the operation until I can land safely. Or if I lose the communications link, to be able to Planning a path that would allow me to reach the landing point.

The challenge of having a common regulatory framework

Another essential element to give the project a boost is the organizational framework. There is still a gap between what drones can do and what the regulatory framework allows. This is also what Agora wants to advance,” notes the Airbus engineer. While in traditional air traffic it is very clear that standards must be universal, in UTM the consensus is much more complex. “There is a risk that every city, even every Neighborhood, would like to develop its own interface to push applications and add value to drones, and this may lead to the risk that the operator will design a drone with a specific emission system or interface, but in France they demand another interface, “warns Villaplana. That is why the work is underway. To promote international standards. After the United States and China take the lead in regulatory development, the EU’s U space is a serious bet to generate this global standard.” At the European level, a very clear effort is being made coupled with the fact that Europe wants to lead this at the international level. . Having these common standards is essential to progress in this area,” laments the Airbus chief.

Viguria points out that the technological challenges of this project include defining new concepts of operations for U-space, which will have their international regulations in February 2023. “From that moment on, in two years, it will be possible to set in the infrastructure that allows the development of applications, even We can start implementing long-distance screening applications for linear and logistics infrastructures,” Viguria Ventures. Getting these algorithms on board to manage emergencies in drone flight is centered at the Atlas Flight Experimental Center, nestled among the sea of ​​olive trees that surrounds Villacarrillo. “It’s a privileged space. Mountain science, meteorology, allows us to iterate and design all kinds of tests to develop all the technology,” Villaplana points out.

The Agora project is co-financed by the Andalusian Military Council with an amount of 1.06 million euros. The Minister of University, Research and Innovation, José Carlos Gómez Villamandos, emphasized that this investment contributes to “society’s continuation to make a difference and to be a benchmark in a strategic sector such as space and specifically in the field of non-aeronautical manned vehicles”. In addition to the Atlas Flight Experimental Center in Jaén, Andalusia has the Unmanned Aircraft Innovation Center in Seville or the Unmanned Systems Test Center (CEUS) in Huelva. Andalusia is the only community that has an aviation strategy for the period 2021-2027, which includes among its priorities the development of new businesses such as RPAS (Unmanned Aircraft) and their applications.

According to the data contained in the strategy designed by the Autonomous Administration, the drone market is valued at more than 20 thousand million dollars, and by 2025 it is expected to rise to 54 thousand million euros. The European Commission estimates that in two decades this sector will employ more than 100,000 people.

An opportunity for Spain is empty

In an environment where 5-G has not effectively penetrated, it may be thought in advance that the development of technology to ensure safe flight of unmanned aerial vehicles without ground control is limited to large cities, thus contributing to the widening gap between the rural world and the global world. But Miguel Angel Villaplana, president of Airbus UTM, sees an opportunity. “In this context, we always tend to talk about urban mobility, about air taxis, when the fastest progress has been made in rural areas. The most important company in drone logistics, Zipline, has operational networks in the countries,” he noted. African.”The quickest benefit and what can best lead us to this social acceptance is its development in the rural environment,” he abounds.

Antidio Viguria, Technical Director of the Advanced Center for Aerospace Technologies (CATEC), also believes that blank Spain offers many opportunities for developing technologies and implementing unmanned aircraft applications. “The requirements and risks are lower because flying in a rural area is not the same as in the center of Madrid. This can facilitate the development of certain applications, but also provides an opportunity to integrate Spain that has emptied into this new technology and the drone sector.”

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