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Automated Flight Control System for Drone Swarms

Drones can be useful in different applications, such as in goods delivery and transport operations, surveillance in different environments or to reach places that are difficult to access in emergency situations, for example. However, flight safety concerns have limited their use to date and it is often illegal to use them in certain public areas. It is estimated that by 2035 there will be around 400,000 drones flying in Europe, so the big challenge in this regard will be to safely manage drone traffic in cities and other areas sensitive to congestion.

Creating new procedures to improve massive drone traffic is the objective of LABYRINTH, a European research project coordinated by the Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) in Spain, in which 13 international entities participate in the fields of R&D. + i, transport, emergencies and auxiliary services. With these applications for swarm drones, the researchers hope to improve civil transport by road, train, sea and air, making it safer, more efficient and sustainable.

“The main objective of the project is to include a certain degree of automation, so that an operator can control a small fleet of up to 10 drones managing a single ground station,” says LABYRINTH coordinator Luis E. Moreno, Robotics researcher UC3M Lab. “The idea is for the operator to indicate what mission to do (for example, monitor traffic in a certain area) and for the system to automatically convert that mission into a set of routes that each drone has to execute, calculating alternatives when it is necessary automatically ”, he explains. In addition to route planning and control, there are two other technological areas that are being worked on: communications through 5G networks (so that the drones are connected at all times) and the computer security behind the entire system. .

Researchers have already developed a first collision avoidance and trajectory planning strategy for swarms of drones intended for three-dimensional environments. The strategy is detailed in the academic journal Sensors. To this end, they first designed a 3D model that simulates an urban environment, where they established take-off and landing zones, and later they tested a planning algorithm that was in charge of calculating optimal and fluid routes for a set of drones. Finally, they implemented different measures (flights at different heights, distance control, etc.) to achieve a strategy that would avoid possible collisions.

Coordinating the air traffic of drones is a need that is becoming more and more evident and in which institutions from all over the world are working. For example, NASA in the United States has conducted various investigations, including test flights in urban areas. (Photo: NASA / Maria Werries)

The LABYRINTH project researchers develop these technologies within the framework of U-Space, a new European drone air traffic management system led by the SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) initiative. This new framework is designed to integrate low-level drone operations, below 120 meters (400 feet), safely and efficiently into European airspace.

“Air traffic controllers use ATM (Air Traffic Management) systems to manage the flow of commercial aircraft safely. Similarly, it is essential to develop a UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) that allows drones to share the airspace among themselves and with the rest of the aircraft ”, explains another of the scientists participating in this project, Francisco Valera, member of the NETCOM (Networks and Communications Services) of the UC3M. This research group has also recently presented, together with Telefónica I + D and the IMDEA Networks Institute, an experimental study on the use of cellular technologies in drone networks in the academic journal Sensors.

The applications envisaged in the framework of the LABYRINTH project concern very different environments in the case of Spain. For example, it works together with the General Directorate of Traffic (DGT) in the use of swarms of drones to improve road transport, analyzing aspects such as speed control, the measurement of the distance between vehicles, the identification of license plates and monitoring and support in case of accidents. In airports, in another initiative carried out with the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA), it is intended to use them to control unauthorized access, runway inspection or as a deterrent against birds. And in the case of emergency management in mass concentration scenarios (such as concerts or sporting events), it collaborates together with SAMUR-Civil Protection of Madrid in pre-emergency surveillance operations (identification of escape routes, medical assistance points or dangerous zones, calculation of street capacity) and in assistance in medical operations (faster route to the incident, transport of specialized material or medicines).

LABYRINTH (Ensuring drone traffic control and safety) is a project funded by the H2020 Program of the European Union (GA 861696) that is coordinated by UC3M. This R & D & I consortium is made up of 13 research centers and industrial partners from 5 countries (Germany, Austria, Belgium, Spain and Italy). The institutions that participate in Spain, in addition to UC3M, are the General Directorate of Traffic (DGT), the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA), the Sámur-Civil Protection of Madrid and the companies Expace on Board Systems, Inncome, PONS Road Safety and Telefonica I + D. In addition, the Port Authority of the Western Ligurian Sea (Italy), the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the German Institute for Standardization (DIN), the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) and the European Organization for Safety are part of the project. of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL). (Source: UC3M)

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