NetworkCoverage: Allow advanced drone operations

While the US decided not to take the path of networked remote ID, Europe took a different path in developing its UTM program U-Space. The newly published NetworkCoverage Service Definition will help European drone operators, flight systems and telecommunications companies to communicate: and the European drone industry to advance complex operations.

Connecting the points – network solutions for complex processes in Europe and beyond

By: Dawn MK Zoldi, guest author

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) surprised many in the U.S. drone industry when its final RID (Remote Identification) rule went into effect in late 2020. The network solution originally proposed was missing, but the door remained open. Meanwhile, in February 2021, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) mandated a networked ID across the pond as part of U-Space, the unmanned traffic management system (UTM) that fits into the EU regulatory system (see previous U -Space cover) here).

The latest achievement is the first publication of a definition that harmonizes the interfaces of data exchange between mobile network operators (MNOs) and various aviation systems as part of the overall UTM system. It is known as the ACJA (Aerial Connectivity Joint Activity) interface for data exchange between cellular network operators and the UTM Ecosystem NetworkCoverage Service Definition v1.00 Feb 2021, a joint collaboration between the Global UTM Association and GSMA. Thomas Neubauer, Vice President for Innovations at TEOCO and co-founder of Dimetor, developer of AirborneRF, led this groundbreaking effort.

The new definition offers the possibility of bridging and harmonizing the data exchange between the triad of telecommunications companies, flight systems and end users of drones. This is critically important as in the past these parties either did not communicate with each other at all, or at least did not communicate with each other continuously for drone users and flight systems.

AirborneRF is the first end-to-end implementation of the ACJA NetworkCoverage Service Definition. It is end-to-end connectivity management software that enables telecommunications companies (telecommunications companies) and various flight system users to “talk” to one another.

This is how the NetworkCoverage service works. The NetworkCoverageService serves as a central interface for processing requirements from planning and authorization services that are located at the UAS service provider or UAV operator. The connectivity service is placed in the secure data center of a telecommunications company to automatically calculate the necessary results based on the confidential and classified network data, indicating whether or not there is sufficient connectivity for drone flight operations. The NetworkCoverageService returns these results to those who requested them. The connectivity service at telecommunications companies also forwards information via the NetworkCoverageService to a notification service in the event of unforeseen changes in the network during flight operations. In this way, communication service providers such as cellular network operators and SATCOM providers can become important SDSP (Supplemental Data Service Providers) providers for flight systems. AirborneRF includes both the Connectivity Service and the NetworkCoverage Service, which enables end-to-end bidirectional communication and the exchange of critical safety data between telecommunication systems and flight systems.

This information and other live data relating to weather and airspace situation awareness is aggregated and flows simultaneously to / from ANSP (Air Navigation Service Provider) systems (including for US FAA flight information management systems and air traffic management (ATM)) . for authorizations and tracking as well as to / from an operations planning service (for US, UAS Service Supplier or USS) to which the drone operator has a direct connection. Importantly, this continuous feedback loop also supports:

  • Near real-time notifications of gaps in coverage in a given flight path
  • Redundancy through satellite communications, terrestrial receivers and other technologies to complement cellular coverage and
  • A bottom line risk image as telecommunications companies can provide data on how many users are in a given area at any given time (note for privacy advocates: the data does not include who is where, just that a point is on a map ).

Will it actually work? Although these concepts have only just been codified, they have already been proven in the context of the European Research and Development (R&D) ecosystem. This ecosystem includes the European Commission’s initiative for the Single European Sky (SES) to reform the European ATM architectures at European level. The Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR), the technological pillar of SES (like the FAA’s BEYOND program), coordinates the research and development of EU ATMs. The SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU) manages large public-private partnerships made up of 3,000 global experts.

In the summer of 2019, the underground space project SJU Gulf of Finland (GOF) successfully demonstrated the safe integration of unmanned aerial vehicles into the airspace. The SESAR GOF U-Space project included an international drone delivery via GOF between Torbacka, Finland and Muraste, Estonia, as well as an urban Volocopter air taxi flight from Vantaa International Airport to Helsinki.

The next and current phase of research and development, the GOF 2.0 Integrated Urban Airspace Validation, comprises a 15-person consortium from 7 different European countries. They will for the first time implement the NetworkCoverage interface for combined drones, electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL), and manned operations in dense urban airspace using existing ATM and underground space services and systems. The first wave of two-year trials will take place in Estonia (Tallinn, Tartu), Finland (Helsinki), Poland (Kąkolewo) and Austria (Graz) from September to October 2021 and will include several different scenarios. For example, in Tartu, Estonia, inner-city and suburban eVTOL flights, long-range drone surveillance flights (over 150m) and drone surveillance flights in urban areas (up to 120m) will take place. Roadshows are to take place in May and June 2022 between wave 1 and wave 2 of the main tests in Denmark, Sweden and Latvia to demonstrate the scalability of the GOF2.0 architecture. AirborneRF will provide the only interface between the telecommunications company and the ATM / UTM system for integrated airspace management.

Why is it all important? According to Neubauer, “network connectivity is a must for secure airspace integration. This new definition opens the door to reliable, feasible, available and scalable functions that go beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and complex operations. The GOF 2.0 trials will be our final test field. “It will indeed connect the last dots the industry needs to really rise!

Dawn MK Zoldi (Colonel, USAF, retired) is a licensed attorney with 28 years of active military and federal service in the Air Force Department. She is an internationally recognized expert on the law and politics of unmanned aircraft systems, columnist for Law-Tech Connect ™ for Inside Unmanned Systems magazine, recipient of the Woman to Watch in UAS (Leadership) Award 2019 and CEO of P3 Tech Consulting LLC. You can find more information on their website at: https://www.p3techconsulting.com.

Miriam McNabb is editor-in-chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a marketplace for professional drone services, and a fascinating observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For advice or writing in the drone industry, email Miriam.

TWITTER: @spaldingbarker

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