Vodafone created the world’s first air traffic control drone tracking and safety technology. The company uses 4G Internet of Things (IoT) technology to protect aircraft from catastrophic accidents as well as prevent inadvertent or criminal drone attacks at sensitive locations such as airports, prisons, and hospitals.
Vodafone collaborated with the European Aviation Safety Agency during Vodafone’s IoT drone tracking technology trials. EASA is currently developing new pan-European rules to regulate the operation of drones.
Vodafone has developed the world’s first Radio Positioning System (RPS) for drones. This uses a 4G modem and SIM embedded within each drone to enable:
- real-time tracking of each drone (with up to 50 meter accuracy) by drone operators and authorized bodies such as air traffic control;
- over-the-horizon/beyond line-of-sight control by the operator, greatly reducing the risk of accidental incursions when operators lose sight of their drones;
- protective geofencing, with drones pre-programmed to land automatically or return to the operator when approaching predetermined exclusion zones (such as airports and prisons);
- emergency remote control intervention to provide the authorities with the means of overriding a drone operator’s control to alter a drone’s flight path or force it to land;
- SIM-based e-identification and owner registration.
4G mobile networks operate with long-established and proven security systems, including strong end-to-end encryption over-the-air from SIM to base station. RPS location data is significantly harder to hack or spoof than GPS location data, and the data connection used to control the drone offers the operator significant advantages over current drone radio control protocols including greater resilience and over-the-horizon real-time feedback.
The Vodafone RPS is combined with Artificial Intelligence algorithms - also developed by Vodafone - to enable a vast number of drones to be tracked and controlled remotely. Vodafone has placed its RPS research and associated intellectual property in the public domain with no licensing fees for re-use to accelerate the pace of drone safety and geolocation innovation worldwide.
The technology behind RPS will also be utilized to boost the functionality of other IoT devices in the future - from luggage tags to bicycles. RPS could support, or replace, GPS in some IoT devices.
If the European Aviation Safety Association (EASA) adopts the new system, drone manufacturers will need to create a slot for the SIM card, similar to mobile phones. SIM cards would not necessarily need to be using Vodafone's network.
The collision risk between a drone and aircraft is growing at an exponential rate. Analysis from the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) project indicates that by 2050 drones will log more than 250 million flying hours per year over densely populated areas of the European Union, seven times the cumulative annual flying hours of conventional manned aircraft.
"We welcome Vodafone’s focus on developing new approaches to ensure safe and responsible drone use," said Yves Morier, principal advisor to the flight standards director, EASA.