Uncrewed Flying Objects: Many hands make flights work

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5D Arch Aid maps recreate physical buildings and landscapes with upwards of 90% accuracy. (credit: Geospatial Enabling Technologies)

The ability to develop new technology to combat climate change and operate more sustainably in isolation is dwindling, fast. Collaboration is central to expanding the sector. 

This week at the Royal Geographical Society, London, the European Innovation Council-funded UFO Project’s showcase event brought together 25 startups from across the worlds of HAPS, drones and UAVs. To date UFO, – which has the strapline Innovation boosted by small flying objects – has invested €3.6m ($3.75m) across the projects, providing an acceleration programme for 66 small businesses. 

The project is targeting six sectors: Mobility, climate, environment, blue growth, creative/gaming and finance/insurance using three types of UAV: Small satellites, drones and high-altitude platform systems to encourage interindustry collaboration using small flying objects.

Enabling small enterprises from different regions and sectors to collaborate and giving them access to funding is key, according to Donna Lyndsay, strategic market lead, Environment & Sustainability at Ordnance Survey, the mapping company. 

“The key thing about collaboration is we don’t have time [we must act now],” said Lyndsay. “We know the climate challenge is running really fast, whereas historically it would take a long time to develop something and could be done in silos, we just don’t have that anymore. We need to collaborate to be really efficient and effective in moving forward quickly.” Efforts like the supply chain data collaboration partnership which brings big corporates’ data together are central to this, she added.

Funded projects include Digital Air Traffic Unification & Management, a partnership between Dronamics and London navigation tech company, Neuron to develop beyond visual line-of-sight air traffic management systems to enable long-range cargo deliveries. 

“Essentially what we are trying to do here is develop a flight tracking application and integrate it into the drone’s mission control,” said James Dunthorne, CEO, Neuron. “This includes developing a ground-based IoT network with aviation sensors, working out the regulatory framework to glue all of this together and conducting some flight tests with the Dronamics [Black Swan] prototype.” 

Neuron’s prototype system takes the input from multiple IoT sensors and feeds it into the ground control station of the pilot. “Being able to see all of this data on a single map is really important to be able to digitise air traffic management,” said Dunthorne. The technology is now being further tested in a £3.6m project in the UK. Other use cases like EV charging and climate sensing are also being looked at and Dunthorne says a token will be launched to incentivise IoT sensor deployment. 

The UFO project also backs high-altitude platform systems (HAPS), such as the joint venture by French firms Asman Technology and Innovidea and UK-based B2-Space. FORESTS (Fire Observation and Remote Environment and Sea Thermal imaging by near Space solutions) aims to operate an affordable high-altitude observation and data transfer platform over Europe. It does so using a stratospheric balloon flying between 18-25km. 

Currently this technology has only been developed in the USA, so achieving this technological challenge will put Europe in a privileged position to compete in the HAPS sector, Jean-Louis Lauront, president, Innovidea told Revolution.Aero. There are a number of use cases including fire prevention and monitoring, illegal fishing surveillance and 5G. 

Conservation and sustainability are not exclusive to the natural world. 5D Arch-Aid (5D ARCHitectural AIr Documentation), a project formed of Geospatial Enabling Technologies, JGC Geoinformation Systems, Heritage Management e-Society (HERMeS) and Asociatia Monumentum, builds what it calls five dimensional maps of historic buildings and urban areas with upwards of 90% accuracy. Using the maps, 5D Arch-Aid can analyse which locations require conservation and maintenance and grade those areas by immediacy.

Now operating for more than 10 years throughout Greece, initially the team operated door-to-door, building-to-building, but this process was time consuming, according to Pavlos Chatzigrigoriou, CEO of HERMeS. “The ability to scan with above 90% accuracy means we can map entire towns and cities and produce conservation plans,” he said.

Nick Appleyard, head of Space Solutions Department TIA-A, European Space Agency summed up the need for collaboration best. “Increasingly, we are integrating multiple elements of technology into complicated system with complicated needs. You have to collaborate to achieve this, it is very hard to get your arms around the entire technology,” he said.

“I have to say in the European business and academic culture we are very good at collaborating. If you compare us for example with the US culture, they try to find one company or research group who can do everything. We work in a much more distributed fashion in Europe and I think that gives us great resilience and flexibility,” added Appleyard. 

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