Today at Amsterdam Drone Week, DRONELIFE had the opportunity to speak with Thomas Neubauer, VP of Innovation at TEOCO. TEOCO is developing the AirborneRF: connecting the cellular industry with aviation.
Cellular Data for Aviation
It’s a fascinating concept. Cellular companies have all kinds of information: and some of it is critical for expanded drone operations. According to Europe’s Specific Operations Risk Assessment framework (SORA) two elements in particular are part of the requirement for drone operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS): cellular connectivity, and population density, in order to estimate ground risk.
Neubauer says that connecting cellular with aviation makes a lot of sense – but is still a new concept. “We’re talking about two trillion dollar industries with no historic interaction,” he says. With AirborneRF, TEOCO is building a bridge between the two, making information that cellular companies have available to aviation in a simple and automated way.
“Uncrewed aviation still requires a pilot in command – and the only way to do that is through digital connectivity. Pilots need to know where connectivity is good enough to safely fly BVLOS. The telecom operators have that information, but aviation doesn’t.”
Cellular networks also know where people are in real time, because everyone is carrying a cellular phone. One of the key aspects of BVLOS authorization is the ground risk assessment – how high is the risk of someone getting injured if a drone falls? Currently, the information flowing into SORA is census data: but that’s static, and out of date. “Census data tells you where people live – it doesn’t tell you where people are,” Neubauer points out. “Using just census data means that you are either underestimating your risk, or over-estimating your risk. Telecom operators, on the other hand, can tell you in real time where the people are.” Population density is dynamic: financial districts are often empty after 5 pm, whereas parks may be more crowded on the weekends, or during certain seasons. The real risk for BVLOS flight changes with conditions.
AirborneRF automatically retrieves information about cellular connectivity and dynamic population density from cellular providers, and makes it available to aviation stakeholders. It’s not only useful – it’s a big step toward allowing BVLOS authorizations at scale.
“We help cellular provide that data to aviation operators in an easy way,” Neubauer explains. “In order to scale BVLOS drone operations, we need to automate risk assesssment with dynamic data in an automated process. That’s where we are working with the telecom providers, the UTM providers and the regulators.”
While most people worry about the privacy of cellular data, in this case, there isn’t an issue – the data is only exchanged in an anonymous and aggregate form, one that takes all of the privacy considerations into account. “For aviation, population data is only important over a certain threshold. If you’re above a certain threshold of population, you need to use a drone with different risk mitigation, like a parachute,” he says. “There’s no privacy issue – the data just shows the dynamic mobility of people.”
By building a bridge between cellular and aviation, AirborneRF is helping aviators access existing data sources for calculating ground risk: and combined with other sources like weather data, physical environment and more, automated approval for advanced flight operations like BVLOS may be on the horizon.
Read more about SORA:
- Drone Regulation 2022: Drone Industry Insights on What Comes Next
- European Drone Regulations: EASA Basic Regulation, and Whats Next
- EU Drone Regulations: a Risk-Based Approach
Read more from Amsterdam Drone Week:
- Security and Counterdrone, From the Floor of ADW: The City of AmsterdamStrategy for Dealing with Unauthorized Drone Activity
- Multi Modal Mobility Hubs and UAM: From the Floor of Amsterdam Drone Week
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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