Vodafone to enter drone tracking business as part of IoT strategy

Vodafone will enter the global drone tracking business as part of its strategy to enhance its revenue from IoT segment.

Vodafone said it has started trials of the world’s first air traffic control drone tracking and safety technology – powered by 4G Internet of Things (IoT) technology.

Engineers can use Vodafone’s IoT technology to assist in protecting aircrafts from accidents and preventing inadvertent or criminal drone incursions at sensitive locations such as airports, prisons and hospitals.

Vodafone Group Chief Technology Officer Johan Wibergh said: “This tech innovation will ensure the skies stay safe as drones become ubiquitous.”

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Vodafone is considering drone tracking is a big business because civilian drones, which are too small to be tracked by conventional radar, present risk to pilots worldwide.

In addition, some people use drones for criminal purposes such as drug smuggling and delivering contraband to prisoners. Terrorists could use drones to carry lethal explosive payloads to attack locations targeted using GPS.

Industrial IoT platforms is a $16 billion opportunity but fragmentation and technology integration prove challenging, according to ABI Research.

“Adoption of IIoT technology will accelerate in 2018 as manufacturers overcome their fear of the cloud and the acquisitions of Siemens and PTC start to mature,” says Pierce Owen, principal analyst at ABI Research.

By 2050 drones will log more than 250 million flying hours per year over densely populated areas of the European Union, seven times the cumulative annual flying hours of conventional crewed aircraft, as per analysis from the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) project.

The UK-based telecom operator has already tied up with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which is developing new pan-European rules to regulate the operation of drones, for the Vodafone IoT drone tracking and safety technology trials.

Vodafone IoT technology enhances the European Union’s potential to become the centre of global innovation in drone technology in line with the European Commission’s “U-space” vision for innovative and safe drone operations.

Vodafone has developed the world’s first Radio Positioning System (RPS) for drones. This uses a 4G modem and SIM embedded within each drone to enable real-time tracking of each drone (with up to 50 metre accuracy) by drone operators and authorised bodies such as air traffic control.

Vodafone in a preliminary trial in late 2017 — which took place over a 32-kilometre course around the town of Isla Mayor, near Sevilla in Spain — used its 4G network to control 1.3 metre wingspan, 2 kilogram X-UAV drone. The drone transmitted a real-time HD video feed and flight data including speed, RPS location and GPS coordinates.

Vodafone aims to launch drone tracking and safety technology for commercial use from 2019.

Vodafone indicates that it could use RPS technology to boost the functionality of other IoT devices in future – from luggage tags to bicycles. RPS could support, or replace, GPS in some IoT devices, enabling better location tracking, particularly indoors, the creation of smaller devices and enhanced security.

Image source: FT