Dr. Norbert Lohl, UAV Dach e.V., opened the European Drone Summit by stating this was clearly the right time for such a summit, citing a recently published special report that, he said, “calls our time the Drone Age.” It is important, he continued, to discuss and decide how to proceed and how to manage commercial unmanned aerial vehicle use because, though the basic regulations are in place for commercial UAVs, the enabling rules are not.

The theme for the event, Lohl noted, was Bridging the Gap Between Unmanned Systems and European Industry. Looking forward, one of the gaps that must be addressed is between the unmanned systems and the industries using drones in professional environments. On the matter of harmonizing regulations, it became clear by the end of the event that the efforts being discussed should apply not only to Germany (where the event was being hosted), nor only to the European Union, but they should take on a more global scope.

Comments on behalf of Steffen Bilger, parliamentary state secretary, Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, noted a primary goal of aviation safety. But, in that context, the economic, social and scientific potential that comes along with the new technology should not be ignored. 

To address public concerns, the federal government has to take into account all social aspects of the drone industry and must give serious consideration to its safety record. German legislation governing the use of drones centers on what can be termed a German certificate. The German regulations were always considered “transitory” in the move to a European Union standard. The view of the EU has been that there is one aviation regulator in each member state, but this is not the case in Germany. The 16 states in Germany have a degree of “diversity” in how they apply requirements. The German Transport Ministry has devoted some resources to promoting harmonization, but the larger issue is a standard that would apply throughout the EU and beyond to adjacent states.

On the issue of safety, the German ministry is focusing on the unmanned aviation management system, UTM, which is most likely to be supported by frequencies and infrastructure commonly used by mobile phone communications. These dual requirements of aviation safety and telecommunications support could place the German ministry, with its dual focus, in a pivotal role in helping to evolve European standards.

Drone ID

We have to be attentive and listen to the real concerns of the public, commented Anil Nanduri from Intel. Their first inclination when they have a concern about a drone is to call local law enforcement. How do they know that this is an authorized operation, safe, compliant and approved, he asked. Law enforcement doesn’t have the information needed. It has to be easily integrated into the infrastructure. 

One idea was to create a “license plate” process for drones. But, how do you read that license plate from a drone that is flying? In the U.S., he commented, a task force is working on the problem. One solution is a Bluetooth beacon that would identify the drone. It is an open standard with information available at www.opendroneid.org.

According to the site, the information (messages) sent is divided into static and dynamic data. The static data is broadcast less frequently than dynamic data. These messages are “connectionless advertisements” (or advisories) that do not require any acknowledgement from the receiver. Data packets include static information, like the drone registration number and flight information, along with dynamic data such as latitude/longitude and vector of the drone.

Using Bluetooth 4.2, the signal has a range limit of 200 to 400 meters. Bluetooth 5 has a longer range of up to four times that of Bluetooth 4.2. In the Open Drone ID Bluetooth Broadcast specification, the drone is required to implement both BT5 and BT4 approaches using BT5 hardware. This is to ensure basic receivers, like current cell phones, will work as well as new ground-based and new phone receivers that will be able to take full advantage of the range improvements with newer Bluetooth standards as they evolve.

Nanduri acknowledged this was not the only solution, but noted the goal of this and any other solution had to be a harmonized approach that enabled the manufacturing and implementation of a solution to be easy and cost-effective.

Confronting Regulations

It is no surprise that Claudia Schmidt, a member of the European Parliament, would note that commercial drones received a huge amount of hype in recent years, but the segment has not taken off as expected. Regulations have played a role, she said. 

Along with the need to develop the technology, software and other tools, scaling commercial drone operations will require crossing borders. You cannot cross borders if you have regulations at a national level or regulations that have not been harmonized at an international level, she pointed out.

Dr. Andreas Lamprecht, AirMap Deutschland GmbH, noted AirMap had started in the U.S. and has since become active in Europe. Their goal, he explained, is to simplify the process of discovering the airspace around an operation, learn about the rules that must be followed, make a flight plan (and see what attributes are associated with the flight plan), then obtain authorization. 

The last step can be as simple as not asking for authorization because there are no rules that apply, he continued. Or, if you are seeking permission to fly over people, fly at night, or fly beyond visual line of sight, it can be “a thousand-page safety dossier you have to produce in order to prove to the regulators that what you are doing is still safe.” He pointed out that while operators will take every step to plan and operate safely, it is still very easy to be out of compliance with some safety rule. “There are many things that are important to know and hard to know, so making this process easier is what our mission is about.” 

Lamprecht described the Swiss process where regulators took an approach that allowed operations to push limits gradually in order to develop safety rules. Developing some expertise on drone safety and through working groups and other interactions, Lamprecht suggested it is possible to derive standards and safety scenarios that would be usable by everyone. 

“The opportunities in commercial business in drones are unimaginable,” commented Joe Schamuhn, Yunec Europe GmbH. “Just take the number of possible centers times the number of platforms times the number of industries, then you can imagine what drones can do. But, today I think we stand in front of more obstacles than opportunities.” He included social acceptance of drones as one obstacle. The public sees the threat and not the benefit of drones, he continued, and the industry needs to do a better job at public relations.

A second obstacle, surprisingly, is acceptance in the industry. One challenge has been getting acceptance from stakeholders who do not believe the cost savings are enough, nor that there is an end-to-end solution. Today’s commercial operation involves the hardware, you have to have a pilot, you have to find software that does the job, you have to find connectivity to upload the data, and you need expertise in the office for post-processing steps, he noted.

Describing a project with Ford Motor Company, he said an end-to-end solution does not exist. “We have to evaluate pilots, we have to train them, we have to comply not only with the safety rules of the air space, but also the internal safety rules.”

The third obstacle, said Schamuhn, is “we have no standardized regulation.” Without standardized regulations, users cannot develop applications that can be repeated 5,000 times, he pointed out. “We can execute five times or one time.” He offered the example of a project for a 24-hour, seven-day inspection program at a chemical plant. One official may understand and approve, while another does not. And this is multiplied not only within Germany, where there are a number of regulating bodies, but also across the European Union with its 28 states. Some countries are easy, others are not. As a manufacturer, Yunec needs to be able to develop a use-case it can sell and implement globally, he added. 

“There is another obstacle when we go to UTM airspace management, [and] that’s connectivity,” Schamuhn concluded. He pointed out that solutions using the LTE cell phone technology have problems where there are coverage issues. Infrastructure will be needed. “I believe that as industries always try to optimize themselves, the opportunities will overwhelm the obstacles, and when we work together with the regulators and the government, the manufacturers and the users, we can find solutions. But, we don’t have 40 years to do that.”

Patrick Gandil, director general of the French Civil Aviation Directorate, added, “We want people to operate easily, but most important is safety.” He reminded attendees that drones, in general, have a flawless safety record. “I’m not personally aware of any major incident ever with a drone.” He went on to urge a balanced approach to safety.

Safety in the U.S. has been the number one priority, from the concepts of collision avoidance to return-to-home when there is a loss of communications, added Intel’s Nanduri. He highlighted some of the technological supports, including redundancy in the flight controllers, and pointed out it is a new way of thinking about how the automation of drones is developed. When it comes to safety, there are many environments where many of the constraints present in urban operations or other settings do not need to apply. “The concept of where safety is [in its development] will always be relevant. We’ll always work to make it safer.” He suggested the end-to-end application and risk management are what needs to be examined. He offered the U.S. Integration Pilot Program as an example of how that safety framework is being developed.

The European Drone Summit for 2019 is scheduled for September 16th in Stuttgart, Germany.

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