Leonardo intensifies research into drone integration

Italian aerospace, defence and security company Leonardo has revealed that it is working on a research project where drone technology will be safely integrated in busy airspaces alongside other airborne operations.

Called Super Sumeri, the research has already seen Leonardo and its partners testing the technologies that will enable airborne logistics operations and innovative drone-based services.

Included in the tests – which Leonardo says were conducted in the past few weeks – was risk analysis and social acceptance scenarios involving the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in an urban context.

“During the first of the two planned trials, a flight test campaign used a UAS with vertical take-off and distributed electric propulsion to verify the maturity of specific key technologies able to provide a high level of operational safety,” Leonardo said in a statement.

“Three operational scenarios were examined: the identification and classification of non-cooperative air systems (air conflict detection), navigation support through alternatives to satellite guidance, and the management of multiple air operations.

“For the first scenario, so-called air conflict detection, the drones were fitted with synthetic vision systems working in the visible light spectrum. These systems process video streams using innovative artificial intelligence algorithms supported by machine learning applications.

“The activities safely recreated potential interactions and conflicts with fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft on different collision trajectories to assess the technologies’ performance and the possibility of generating alerts for remote pilots.

“The second scenario looked at alternatives to satellite navigation. It used positioning systems based on the processing of video streams generated by cameras in the visible spectrum and innovative radio beacons with very low power, consumption and environmental impact.

“These technologies help provide alternative positioning data to increase the safety of operations through a network of very low altitude airways and corridors equipped with reference signal transmitters to direct the drone’s navigation.

“Finally, the third use case evaluated aspects of managing multiple UAS in simultaneous flight. One specific focus was on security as an enabler in the business sector, particularly for logistics applications, to ensure scalability and cost reduction.”

The project is being funded by the Italian National Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC), through the tender entitled ‘Development of Concept of Operations (CONOPS) for Urban Delivery with Drones in Smart Cities Contexts’.

Leonardo added that upon completion, the test results will provide a series of recommendations that will be studied and processed for the subsequent phases of the ‘Super Sumeri’ project, thus offering a tangible contribution to ENAC’s ‘AAM National Strategic Plan (2021-2030) for the development of Advanced Air Mobility in Italy’.

Leonardo is the main coordinator in a partnership involving Telespazio (Leonardo 67 percent and Thales 33 percent) and FlyingBasket.

It will also focus on testing activities to assess technological enablers for Beyond Visual Line of Flight (BVLOS) operations with remotely piloted systems weighing over 100kg at take-off and platforms.

“The drone-based urban logistics ecosystem is increasingly taking shape,” Leonardo says.

“Very soon, we will be living in ever more complex cities where new mobility solutions play a central role in improving the accessibility and mobility of metropolitan areas and regions and the quality of the environment, life and safety of their people.

“With this in mind, important trials took place under the ‘Super Sumeri’ research project, devised by Leonardo as part of a broader development path seeking to validate the factors that will enable innovative drone-based logistics operations and services in the field of advanced air mobility.”

The future, as envisioned by Leonardo, also includes safe and sustainable urban air mobility, with drones flying around our cities transporting goods, with zero emissions and at greater speed and efficiency.


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