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A mobile network that will control UAV traffic is now being researched. DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung (the company in charge of air traffic control for Germany), Deutsche Telekom, Deutsche Post DHL Group and RWTH Aachen University are to launch a joint research project on drones. At the DFS technology conference, the sides will sign an agreement to research concrete applications of unmanned aircraft. The objective is the safe integration of unmanned aircraft in air traffic. According to, the mobile network could be used In the future for the surveillance and monitoring of unmanned aircrafts beyond the remote pilot’s line of sight.

One goal of this project is to examine if Deutsche Telekom’s mobile network can be used to connect unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to the mobile internet. A prototype for a UAS traffic management system is also to be developed to raise the safety level in uncontrolled airspace and allow flights over larger distances. Finally, the safe and rapid delivery of parcels in urban areas using autonomous aircraft is to be tested, which will open up the chance to offer new logistics services. All those involved are also interested in proving the business case underlying such an overall system.

The first application is going to be the DHL Parcelcopter. DHL has been running its own research project since 2013. During the latest trial, the delivery of urgently needed goods, such as medicines, was tested for the first time.  Customers could use specially modified stations to send and receive shipments. A safe interface between the Parcelcopter and end-customers was successfully trialed, showing that drones can be integrated into logistics processes.

These successes are the foundation for the new cooperation agreement in close collaboration with the authorities, to making deliveries in an urban environment. “We are more than convinced that the Parcelcopter has allowed us to create real added value in the field of logistics and offer people a new kind of access to the flexible and, most importantly, rapid dispatch and delivery of goods,” says Jürgen Gerdes, Management Board Member at the Deutsche Post DHL Group.

Equipping unmanned aircrafts with a mobile communications module will allow them to be located. This module will establish a connection to the mobile network and transmit data generated in the drone, such as GPS coordinates or information about the system. The first trial in Germany showed that a connection can be maintained up to an altitude of several hundred metres. Connecting the UAS poses a technical challenge, however, as the network is designed to work with devices on the ground, not in the air.  

By developing a UAS traffic management system, the position data transmitted through the mobile network can be incorporated in an air situation display. The flow of data can also go in the other direction. Information from existing air traffic control systems can be sent to UAS via this data channel, for weather warnings or information about restricted areas, for example. To improve safety for manned flight operations, researchers are to look for ways to connect the UAS traffic management system to the existing air traffic management systems. The air traffic controllers would then be provided with the information necessary for them to recognise potential conflicts. This would be a sensible solution given the significant rise in unmanned air traffic that DFS has recorded in the last few years and the further increases that are forecast. Estimates show that there are around 400,000 private and commercial UAS in operation in Germany at the moment. DFS forecasts tell that this number will rise to more than one million by 2020. This will require new solutions for the efficient monitoring of flights.

As part of the research project, three different uses of UAS will be examined: fire-fighting, agriculture and logistics. For example, researchers will investigate if drones can be sent to fires at the same time as other fire-fighting vehicles to provide aerial photos even before firefighters arrive on location.