The legally required risk assessment for most commercial drone flights in Germany is to be simplified with a new type of digital data service based on mobile phone data. The German mobile communications provider Vodafone and the Viennese start-up company Dimetor presented the new service DroNet on Monday, which can use anonymous movement data from the mobile network to assess the risk of a drone flight route.

According to the provisions of German aviation law, drone flights over longer distances and thus beyond the pilot’s range of vision must be approved in advance. On the one hand, it is checked how many people are below the defined flight route. The risk check also includes checking whether the drone would have to fly through a dead zone.

data in real time

Vodafone explained that it currently takes several weeks until such an approval process is completed with the answers to these questions. Providing the data and checking the answers has so far been very time-consuming. With the help of DroNet, it can now be determined in real time how many SIM cards are dialed into the mobile network at Vodafone below the flight route. From this it can be extrapolated how many people are in this area in total. In the system, however, you can also see how strong and uninterrupted the mobile phone coverage is – i.e. how reliable the ability to control the drone is, even over longer distances.

On the one hand, the service is aimed at applicants who, for example, operate the drones as logistics or industrial companies. The data can also be called up by the authorities via an interface, for example the Federal Aviation Authority. “We want to help speed up the approval process for drone flights in Germany and support drone operators in getting their drones into the air faster,” said Michael Reinartz, Head of Innovation at Vodafone Germany.

450,000 drones by 2025

Mobile phone providers such as Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom or Telefónica see commercial drone flying as a new business area with excellent prospects, because the flying objects are dependent on a mobile phone connection over longer distances. Hobby drones are usually controlled via a WiFi connection. According to estimates by the Association of Unmanned Aviation, the number of drones in Germany’s airspace will increase to around 450,000 by 2025.

Deutsche Telekom announced the “Drone4Parcel5G” research project at the end of February. For this purpose, a drone test site will be set up in Rüthen (Soest district) with a fifth-generation (5G) local mobile network. The operation of autonomous delivery flights with parcel drones based on 5G is to be tested on the 5G campus network in order to be able to relieve road traffic and minimize delivery times in the future.

Telefónica is also experimenting with 5G-controlled drones. Among other things, this involves the task of monitoring outdoor facilities that are difficult to access, such as electricity pylons, bridges, power plants or ports.