€6.3m Irish drone research project aims to make flying couriers a reality

26 Mar 2018

Image: maroke/Shutterstock

A new €6.3m Irish research project will allow for a city skyline filled with drones to move about safely and efficiently.

Amazon and Domino’s Pizza are not the only companies that see the potential benefits that would come with a fleet of autonomous delivery drones. If this concept is to become a reality, though, we will need the technology to make sure the drones don’t collide, and the humans down below are kept safe.

Under current regulations, a drone pilot must keep their drone within a 300-metre circumference at all times and fly no more than 120 metres in the air, unless they get special permission.

Understandably, this means that unless the right technology comes along that would allow for safe travel over larger distances, the delivery service model would not be possible.

Therefore, it should come as welcome news that a team based at Maynooth University has been given €6.3m to develop such a technology with a platform called U-Flyte.

The funding comes from a partnership between Science Foundation Ireland (€1.8m) and industry (€4.5m), with partners including Airbus, Irelandia Aviation, Intel and 15 other relevant companies and agencies with an active interest in the development and deployment of drone technology.

The U-Flyte research team will be led by Dr Tim McCarthy from the Maynooth University Department of Computer Science and the National Centre for Geocomputation, and will look to tackle the current global log jam that exists with current drones.

Testing at Waterford Airport

The programme will see researchers recreate flying environments for drones as digital models, taking into account a wide range of factors such as air traffic, buildings and electricity lines, and then testing them in the real world at Waterford Airport and other selected locations around Ireland.

“U-Flyte is going to play a vital role in helping the development of drone applications, as well as give us essential data, which in turn will contribute greatly to how we teach artificial intelligence, robotics and data science at Maynooth,” McCarthy said.

“The input from our industry stakeholders means we will have access to real-life scenarios and challenges, ensuring more robust modelling and useful applications.”

Meanwhile, Ralph James, director of safety regulation at the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), said: “The IAA is keen to support development of drone technology for the greater public good in Ireland.

“There are already over 8,500 drones on the IAA Irish drone register and, as we prepare ourselves for the future of aviation – which will see drones become a part of everyday life – initiatives like U-Flyte will be invaluable in helping us manage an evolving Irish airspace.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic