Connected Drones: Drones as “flying smartphones”

Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS) and Deutsche Telekom have developed Connected Drones to enable the operation of drones outside a pilot’s line of sight. The UTM system received the German Mobility Award in 2018. According to the company, the system captures the position of drones and creates an accurate picture of the low-level airspace including other aircraft. The abbreviation UTM stands for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Traffic Management. This opens up numerous possibilities for use in commercial settings, as well as by authorities and organizations responsible for security.

“As an air navigation service provider, we can locate airplanes via radar. Drones are not shown on radar images as they are too small, or do not have the required technology, such as a transponder,” says DFS project leader Thilo Vogt. So how can small flying objects be made visible for air traffic controllers to ensure that they are safely integrated into air traffic? The solution is mobile telecommunications networks – and this is where Telekom comes into play. “We adapted our existing air navigation tracking system so that information transmitted by mobile telecommunications networks can also be processed and displayed,” says Vogt.

At DFS, the data transmitted from the Connected Drones by the mobile telecommunications network is fed into the UTM system and then shown on an air situation display.

Connected Drones allows drones fitted with a special mobile transponder to be located up to a height of 500 meters and displayed on the UTM tracking system. This mobile transponder is attached to the drone. It then establishes a connection with the Telekom network and transmits its GPS data, and barometric and geometric altitude. The system also creates alerts for possible conflicts and shows areas where drones are not permitted to fly, for example near an airport.

The UTM system allows drones to be used safely, even outside the drone pilot’s line of sight. This key function has advantages for a variety of uses, for example:

  • Inspection flights on power lines, gas lines, pipelines and other surveillance flights hitherto carried out by helicopter.
  • Supporting searches for people and rescue missions, such as by the fire service or police.
  • Use in agriculture, for example for the need-based application of pesticides.
  • Transporting important and urgent goods, such as blood reserves, to remote, difficult to reach areas.

The technical feasibility of Connected Drones has already been proven. The functionalities of the system are currently being developed and tested further, and will be commercially available from 2019/20.

German Mobility Award

With the German Mobility Award, the “Germany – land of ideas” initiative and the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) honor digital innovation for intelligent mobility. Prizes are awarded to exemplary, innovative projects that promote the digital transformation of mobility. In 2018, the focus was on aspects of sustainability.

FRADrones 2020

Fraport AG is also currently exploring the professional application of drones on airport sites as part of project “FRADrones 2020”. All tests are carried out in close coordination with the relevant authorities and the German air navigation service provider (DFS).

Text by Benjamin Klare
Photos: DFS