Russia announces testing of country-wide drone control network, paving way for commercial boom

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has announced that it will begin testing a vast drone control network that will run across the nation.

The network, which is based on the country’s extensive existing satellite system, will allow small UAVs to safely operate in massive numbers within Russian airspace.

Once established, it will likely lead to an explosion in the commercial use of drones in the country, with drone deliveries in particular becoming viable on an unprecedented scale.

The announcement was made at Navitech 2017 in Moscow yesterday by experts from Russian Space Systems, a space hardware company owned by Roscosmos. Outlining the details of the system, they said that testing would begin this year, but did not provide a precise date for its start.

Each drone in the network will follow a route determined by the system, with ground-based infrastructure continuously receiving real-time data about its location and flight parameters.

This will immediately be processed and disseminated across the network, to ensure that large numbers of drones can be safely flown at any time, without interfering with both each other and traditional airspace traffic.

The network will not require the establishment of major new infrastructure, as all data will be transmitted through a combination of existing systems: FM transmitters, the country’s established cellular communication systems and GLONASS, Russia’s global satellite navigation system, which has provided 100% coverage of the country since 2011.

The system will also provide real-time data about no-fly zones, allowing routes to be adjusted immediately in response to changing information, and will offer a “platform of integrated applications” to UAV operators, content providers and insurance companies.

Roscosmos believes that the system will significantly reduce operating costs for drone owners by limiting the risks involved with running a commercial drone operation, as well as creating the conditions for new industries to emerge.

Among the industries the space agency expects to blossom through the adoption of the network are drone insurance, cloud software that would increase the capabilities of drones and what it calls “convenient services” – a term that likely refers to drone deliveries.

If the platform does deliver on this hope, it is likely Russia would become the first country with an extensive drone delivery network, realising a dream that was first brought to prominence by Amazon back in 2013. However, the US-based company is unlikely to become the main player in the Russian market, having as yet shown little interest in the country for its Prime Air operations.

As with many countries, drone deliveries are currently a rare occurrence in Russia, with notable exceptions including DoDo Pizza, a Syktyvkar-based company that began delivering pizzas to local residents back in 2014.

DJI presents vision of the urban future with drone-friendly skybridge

DJI, the world’s largest small drone company, has commissioned plans for a futuristic skybridge from which its employees will be able to observe and pilot drones.

The plans are some of the first to include drone operation and observation in the urban infrastructure, and offer a glimpse of what architecture designed for a drone-filled world could look like.

Designed by architecture studio Preliminary Research Office, the pedestrian bridge is designed to connect the two skyscrapers that will serve as its new headquarters in Shenzhen, China. The two-storey skybridge will connect one skyscraper on its 28th floor, and the other on its 28th and 29th floors.

Made from a series of intersecting cones, the structure features drone observation spaces over two different floors, a viewing deck providing views of the surrounding city and a number of meeting spaces.

Located immediately north of Hong Kong, Shenzhen is a major hub for hardware development and manufacturing, and has been home to DJI since its founding in 2006.

The dramatic growth of the company, fuelled in part by the success of its consumer-friendly Phantom line, as well as the more commercially targeted Inspire range, has required it to move to for larger premises in recent years. The release of these rendering and supporting plans from Preliminary Research Office suggests that that expansion is now going further.

In addition, it indicates that DJI is keen to have its own outdoor space to demonstrate and potentially test new drones, which are surprisingly rare sight in the Chinese city, despite it being known as the Silicon Valley of China.

Images courtesy of Preliminary Research Office via ArchDaily

As drones become more widespread both as a consumer product for entertainment purposes and as a commercial tool for activities including photography, surveillance and building inspections, they are likely to become more common sight in cities where they are allowed to fly. This will require the creation of suitable launching, landing and piloting spaces, with this design providing one of the first depictions of what such spaces could look like.

It could also add to the growing body of work associated with the development of delivery drones, which in developed nations look set to be pioneered by companies including Amazon. While considerable work has been undertaken to develop drones fit for the task, comparatively little has been done to develop supporting infrastructure and architecture.

Neither DJI nor Preliminary Research Office have provided any timeline for the skybridge as yet, however assuming the company likes the design, we could see the project realised within a relatively short timescale.