Vodafone has completed the first European trial of mobile tracking and control technology for long distance drone flights.
The firm said the trial successfully demonstrated how mobile networks could support the European Commission’s vision of safe long distance drone flights.
Vodafone’s Radio Positioning System (RPS), which was first announced at Mobile World Congress in March 2018, uses a 4G modem and SIM attached to a drone, enabling a self-learning artificial intelligence system to calculate the position of the device.
The system will be able to indicate if a drone has veered off an agreed flight path, helping to safeguard aircraft, civilians, sensitive facilities and other drones.
The trial also demonstrated that existing 4G networks, which are optimised for ground-based users, could simultaneously be used to monitor drone flights at up to 120 metres above ground level.
It confirmed that RPS could be used as a back-up to GPS location, which is easier to disable or spoof than mobile technology supported by secure SIM cards.
Vodafone went on to describe how this was the first time it has been possible to identify two drones in close proximity and manage them separately, something which could be used in the future at mass scale with SIM cards in drones serving a similar function to aircraft transponders.
The 4G mobile network also supported a live video stream at 1080p and image transfer at an average download speed of more than 9 megabits per second, which could support several commercial use cases.
Commenting on the experiment, Vodafone Group chief technology officer, Johan Wibergh, said: “This important trial has shown the capability for mobile networks to help to implement a regulatory framework and enable the creation of a substantial drone services economy in Europe. In addition, we have learned a lot about how Vodafone’s mobile network and technology can support businesses seeking to introduce innovative new drone services.”
Vodafone also confirmed that it is currently scoping out two further phases of trials which will test features including geo-fencing, implementation of different authority levels when accessing location information and flight plans and the tracking of drones with 5G.
The firm will additionally undertake drone demonstrations as part of the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) Joint Undertaking within the framework the EU’s Connecting Europe Facility programme which aim to illustrate that Europe is on course with its implementation of U-space, an initiative that aims to ensure safe and secure drone traffic management.
Vodafone is clearly keen to capitalise on the growing drone industry and, as part of this announcement, cited a study commissioned by the European Union which estimates that a regulated drone services industry could contribute in excess of €15 billion annually to the European economy by 2050, creating over 100,000 new jobs in the process.
Read CDP’s coverage of Vodafone’s air traffic announcement from earlier this year here: