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Whether it involves agriculture, logistics or even an industrial accident of the type that occurred at Fukushima: Drones, or “multi-copters”, can be used for a wide variety of applications. The relevant data are transmitted uninterruptedly in real time and can be instantly analyzed and visualized. The opportunities for employing drones in the skies or for other unmanned systems on land or water are virtually unlimited – an array of legal restrictions notwithstanding. Unmanned Systems & Solutions area is always one of a major stop for CeBIT visitors.
Unifly NV is an award-winning spin-off company of VITO (Flemish institute for technological research) specialized in aviation software development. The main mission of the company is to develop software applications that facilitate drone traffic in the very-low-altitude airspace. The focus is on safety for all stakeholders involved.
In brief: the tools inform drone operators where it is safe and legal to fly and enable authorities and other aviation stakeholders to track the drone traffic and manage their airspace. I talk with Jürgen Verstaen, co-founder and Chief Business Development Officer about their system to control the air space in Europe.
Hi Jurgen, let’s start first with your role within the company.
So, my name is Jürgen Verstaen from Unifly – Belgium based company in Antwerp. We are a software company that develops Unmanned Traffic Management or in Europe also known as U-Space. My function within the company – I am a co-founder but also the chief business development officer, responsible for investigating new markets. Today, we focus on several markets and several different groups of users.
What is your target group?
First of all, the end-user, the drone user itself, being recreational or commercial – what we provide him with is information about the environment where he flies in – through our platform. It’s a really straightforward mobile application that will tell you – yes or no: “you can’t fly in certain area”, based upon the location of the smartphone and on certain data, as there is a validation process running behind it.
Then we talk about air space, we talk about static and dynamic air space which relates to time and location. Those are aerial activities that happen every day, hour by hour, published by certain authorities, responsible for regulations and airspace. Legislation is very important in Europe, as all countries have different rules. This makes it not easy for companies coming from outside Europe and even for European companies it is difficult to understand how the rules are put in place.
So, then you come into the picture?
Yes, luckily for us, we come from the heart of Europe so we know which way to go. We want the drone users to be well informed because they are seen today as the bad boys. The commercial users are really focussed on their work, they put a lot of money in their drones and they want to be as efficient as possible so they need to be supported with the right information. We have built a management platform for commercial users so operators can start working, let’s say, day minus one and create their mission from behind their desk.
How does it work?
The operator works in a 4D flight mode. He has a 3D map, the fourth dimension is time. He creates the area where the drones will fly and the system will say: yes you can go, you can fly but you need this or that license, for instance. So you won’t fly because it turns out you don’t have that license or you haven’t uploaded it into the system or you need an extra approval. It’s also possible that the authorities will say “if you want to fly in that area, you need official permission. We can do that also – we create the documents ourselves, based on the local template, and turned automatically into a PDF file that can be sent to a Civil Aviation Authority or an Air Traffic Control Agency. It all depends on “who” is responsible in a particular country for drone flights. It could even be a police department.
What about Air Traffic Control agencies?
Another target group for us are Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSP) – Air Traffic Control agencies and Civil Aviation Authorities, because they want the drones to be registered and ANSPs want to know where the drones are, because they cannot see them on radar screens. They are too small and you cannot put a transponder on drones like they do on genuine aircraft, because then your radar image will be saturated with all those small drones. Then safety is gone again. Our ultimate goal at the end is always safety. That’s the target. We want to create a 100% safety net. Today it doesn’t exist. By providing the information to the authorities and helping them to control it we create that safety net.
When people come to us and they say ‘oh, what is Unifly UTM, what is Unmanned Traffic Management’ – it’s a lot. It’s our core system – with UTM, authorities can visualize and manage drone flights and declare no-fly zones. Drone operators can plan, track and validate their drones and their flights in line with international and local regulations.