Mobile phone operator Vodafone has commenced trials of what it claims is the world’s first drone tracking and safety system.
The technology, which it describes as an air traffic control system for drones, is aimed at monitoring unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and ensuring they do not collide into planes.
Using 4G and Internet of Things (IoT) technology, the system can also intercept criminal use of drones, including when they enter sensitive locations such as hospitals, prisons and airports.
Vodafone said commercial civilian drones are “too small to be tracked by conventional radar”, but “present serious risk to pilots worldwide”.
In particular, it is looking to track people who use drones to spy on secretive locations and conduct drug smuggling.
It is working with the European Aviation Safety Agency on the first trials of the system. The organisation is currently developing new pan-European regulations to keep drones in check.
The company said this is the first ever radio positioning system developed for drones. It uses a 4G modem, and each drone is embedded with a SIM card.
With the system, drone operators and authorised bodies can track registered drones with an an accuracy rate of up to 50 metres. This reduces the risk for accidents and incursion, said Vodafone.
The system enables protective geofencing as well. This means they can land and return to the operator when they enter forbidden territory, such as airports and prisons.
Operators can tap into an emergency remote control feature if a drone gets out of call. In terms of security, the SIM comes with e-identification and logs owner details.
Meanwhile, artificial intelligence algorithms can track and control multiple drones at the same time.
Vodafone confirmed that it had conducted a trial in late 2017. This year it will run more trials in Spain and Germany.
Johan Wibergh, chief technology officer of Vodafone, said the system is about making drones safer. “This groundbreaking innovation by Vodafone will help to ensure the skies stay safe as drones become ubiquitous, everywhere,” he said.
Matthew Baldwin, deputy director general of the European Commission, said: “The Commission supports all trials aimed at realising our U-space vision for safe commercial drone operations in the EU – there is a growing network of demonstrations and projects across the EU. We look forward to hearing the results of Vodafone’s work.”
Yves Morier, principal advisor to the flight standards director at EASA, added: “We welcome Vodafone’s focus on developing new approaches to ensure safe and responsible drone use.”