Vodafone Group claimed a world first as it launched a drone tracking and safety system designed to protect aircraft from collisions and prevent criminals from using the technology to deliver contraband.
Using an embedded SIM (eSIM) and 4G modem in each drone, Vodafone’s system can allow drone operators or authorities to track unmanned craft for up to 50 metres and prevent them entering restricted areas.
Authorities – such as air traffic control or the police – can protect areas by remotely taking control of the connected drones or installing geofencing around sensitive buildings.
Vodafone pointed to potential use cases of preventing drones delivering contraband into prisons or flying in areas where other aircraft are scheduled to operate. It added the inclusion of eSIMs would also allow owner registration systems to be implemented.
The operator’s drone tracking technology uses Radio Positioning Technology (RPS) location data with artificial intelligence algorithms – a system designed to be harder to spoof than GPS.
After developing and implementing the 4G-based system in late 2017, Vodafone will perform extensive tests over Spain and Germany later this year with commercial launch scheduled for 2019.
Although Vodafone holds global ambitions for the technology, its initial focus looks to be on Europe with trials taking place in the region. The operator also collaborated with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on the development of the technology.
The trials come as EASA develops pan-European rules for drone use – which is already gaining significant popularity in the EU, information from the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) project showed.
SESAR’s market report for 2016 said 2,050 drones spent a total of 250 million hours flying over densely populated areas of the EU.