Written October 17, 2022 at 9:30
Drone flight is prohibited or very restricted in urban areas. To change the rules, the European research program Sesar on air traffic control funds the R&D project TindAIR (Tactical instrumental deconfliction and in flight resolution) to secure drone control systems in traffic. Launched in 2020 and ending at the end of the year, this ground control platform project is carried out by 11 companies and research laboratories in France, Italy, Spain and the UK, benefiting from a European grant of 3.2 million euros per year. a budget of 4 million
The TindAIR project is led by the Toulouse-based company Innov’ATM, founded in 2014, which designs solutions for optimizing air transport at airports and planning drone missions for large accounts such as SNCF. She was the one who designed the algorithms: “We already had an operational platform to handle drone mission requests for the French authorities, as well as trajectory monitoring and conflict detection services, and we adapted them to the specific nature of drone flights”, explains Stéphane Bascobert, president of Innov’ATM.
Tests under real conditions
Each partner brings its expertise to the project. The Spanish company Pildo Labs designed the plane’s electronic box, which collects flight data, including position, and sends it to the traffic management platform. Collins Aerospace has adapted its aircraft radio link system for safe drone control. The French aerospace research center Onera and the British company Skyports, which has built a “vertiport” in Cergy-Pontoise (Val-d’Oise), have operated various multi-rotor or fixed-wing drones. The Spanish company Tecnalia has added the prototype of its Umiles-Next air taxi, which weighs 600 kg. Finally, Skybirdsview, Issnova, Cira and Airbus Protect wrote flight scenarios, use cases and safety plans.
The partners first conducted simulation flights on the Onera air transport systems evaluation infrastructure. The consortium then carried out 30 real-world traffic tests from July to September, including 10 in the urban areas of Bordeaux and Toulouse, 10 in the suburban area of Lavaur (Tarn) and 10 at a rural Onera site, 40 kilometers south of Toulouse. The missions had a maximum of seven aircraft, including helicopters and various drones from 5 to 600 kg.
“We suffered no errors during the tests: there was no illegal approach or non-compliance with the separation minima, welcomes Stéphane Bascobert. These demonstrations projected us into the world of tomorrow, where drones will develop freely in dedicated corridors and where minimum separation distances will be imposed .”
The platform provides a picture of air traffic updated every second and predicts the plane’s trajectory two minutes in advance. Engineers have defined protection zones around the drones so that an operator has time to react. “If there is a risk of collision, the algorithm defines alternative trajectories to avoid conflict by minimizing the deviation time,” explains Valentin Courchelle, engineer at Innov’ATM. The software offers four manoeuvres: change of trajectory, altitude, speed or standby.
The algorithm also studies the priority, for example for medical transport. It offers alternative routes to a human supervisor who provides instructions to drone operators and pilots. If the supervisor does not respond, the system only informs the pilots. “But we have to go further in automation, because we cannot put a supervisor for every 100 drones tomorrow, otherwise the economic model will collapse! warns Stéphane Bascobert.
The partners are therefore thinking of a TindAIR 2 project, which will introduce more automation and complexity by studying urban or longer flights, crossed with air traffic. It will also be necessary to design lighter communication boxes for the drones. This project would bring together 17 partners and would require 10 million euros over three years, including 7 million in grants. It will be proposed for the Sesar 3 programme. In the meantime, the recordings of the tests will be analyzed to make a report to the management of Sesar 2 at the end of the year. This assessment will include cyber security requirements and an examination of the social acceptability of drones.
Responsible: Stéphane Bascobert, Chairman of Innov’ATM
Budget: 4 million euros
Effective: 30 people