Drones at pilot event - Hero image

AI-based system to support world’s first test of multiple drone fleets operating in the same urban airspace

Image credit: Airwayz

An Israeli software company is taking part in a two-year pilot programme that will see drones operate in mesh networks to validate the safe and efficient integration of drone deliveries in urban environments.

To realise the future of autonomous airborne delivery, flight system, and Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) specialist Airwayz is taking part in the pilot that they say will see drone delivery tested “above and beyond” any other scheme of its kind. In a world-first, drones fleets from multiple delivery companies are operating in Hadera, just north of Tel Aviv.

According to Eyal Zor, CEO and co-founder of Airwayz, drone delivery has the potential to increase the safety, speed, and efficiency of transport systems across the globe, but warns that, so far, the company has only seen these types of pilot schemes test drones moving back and forth across a corridor of airspace.

“This restricts the number of drones that can work in an area and risks entire operations being abandoned if any part of the corridor becomes inoperable mid-mission,” he added. “This way of working in corridors is simply not practical for the technology to scale-up for commercial use.”

Drones during the Israeli pilot - inline image

Image credit: Airwayz

Zor and the team at Airwayz hope the pilot scheme will demonstrate how drones can operate in a mesh, reacting safely to real-time situations, while also maximising delivery efficiency for a commercially viable solution to drone delivery.

The pilot programme, organised by the Israeli Innovation Authority in collaboration with the Ministry of Transport and the Prime Minister’s Office, began in March 2020 but saw drone flight tests starting for the first time last week (15 March).

According to Tomer Serok, an engineer at Airwayz, the firm is the only software company in the world that does both piloting and sky control.

“There are quite a few companies that purchase their own drones and build the software around the one drone for certain missions,” he explained. “A lot of these companies also provide loads of air traffic management software for control towers, but the shift from manned to unmanned traffic management has become a challenge for these companies when having to manage many drones in a small space.”

Serok stressed a human cannot manage all these drones in any given space, therefore services need an artificial intelligence system within all these drones that can do decision-making in a matter of seconds. “Because we have a UTM and a pilot system, which was granted by the Israeli government about a year ago, that allows for multiple drones operating together in any given environment.”

Control room during the drone pilot - inline image

Image credit: Airwayz

Five separate delivery companies used their own differing USS (UAS Service System) in the pilot, all of which are managed by Airwayz’s UTM, which can uniquely manage fully autonomous operation across multiple drones with the use of AI technology. This allows the drones to operate in a mesh network rather than along a corridor.

Airwayz’s flight system and UTM platforms feature AI functions such as advanced mission planning, remote control, and multiple autonomous flight modes, which are integrated with a cloud-based network and decentralised swarm technology. 

Proprietary technology also allows Airwayz to share flight information and enable operational coordination for fleets of drones performing various missions so they can test wide-ranging scenarios in the pilot.

Zor explained: “Airwayz technology has been designed to enable drone fleet management in the real world. For instance, we can ensure police stations are out-of-bounds, and there are no drones flying over schools during school hours, or we can quickly close-off airspace if there’s been an accident to keep it private.”

He added that the system can do this all safely, autonomously, and efficiently. “That’s the only way the industry becomes commercially viable,” he said. “As such, we’re thrilled to be a part of this pilot so we can showcase the benefits to the world."

Airwayz hopes the technology will “demonstrate how much more drones can achieve,” not only in the delivery sector but also in utilities, gas, oil, and security sectors supporting mapping, inspections and surveillance applications.

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