Drones saving lives

Deutsche Flugsicherung, Deutsche Telekom and DLRG test out the remote control and monitoring of drones

09.10.2017.- Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that transmit data to a ground station via the mobile communications network can save lives – this was demonstrated in a field trial conducted jointly by DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung, Deutsche Telekom and the German Lifesaving Society (DLRG) at a location in Horneburg near Hamburg in northern Germany. The trial simulated a mission to rescue a child from the reed-covered riverbank of the river Elbe. A drone was flown outside the line of sight of its pilot to assist the rescue team. The drone from Microdrones was equipped with a thermal imaging camera and a specially developed mobile radio module. This module allowed the drone to be remotely controlled via the Deutsche Telekom LTE network. Image and position data were transmitted in real time via the mobile communications network to the DLRG mission control centre. In addition, a drone tracker developed jointly by DFS and Deutsche Telekom was put into use. The tracker displays the drone's position on an air situation display.

The field trial was just one part of a research project launched by the two companies in November 2016. The objective of the project is to integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the airspace close to the ground with the aid of the mobile communications network. To bring this about, the two companies developed what is known as a "hook-on device", which is mounted on the drone. This device weighs around 50 grams and contains a GPS module as well as a mobile radio transmitter unit which transmits the drone’s position data via the mobile communications network. At the same time, the firms began work on a prototype of a UAS air traffic management (UTM) system that processes this data and displays the position of the drone on a display screen. Having such a UTM system in place would not only increase safety in uncontrolled airspace but also allow flights to be conducted at a greater distance outside the line of sight of the drone pilot. This in turn would provide the basis for a wide range of future drone applications.

The multi-sensor tracker Phoenix, which was originally developed by DFS to display radar data for air traffic control, was used to create the prototype UTM system. The tracker was adapted to correctly display the movement patterns of drones, which are significantly different to those of conventional aircraft.

The aim is to control UAS in a largely automated manner. To increase the safety of manned air traffic, it would also be possible to link the UTM system to the existing air traffic control system and thus warn tower controllers of possible conflicts with UAS. The UTM system can also provide drone pilots with the current air situation and further information about pertinent subjects such as restricted areas or the weather.
Alexander Paffrath, Deputy Head of the DLRG mission, stated: “Through the targeted use of drones in water rescue, we expect to optimise our deployment options in the medium term. This is why we have been keeping an eye on the topic for about two years now — from both a technical and a legal perspective. This collaboration with DFS and Telekom is a milestone on our journey forward.”

Klaus-Dieter Scheurle, CEO of DFS, stated: “The challenge for DFS is to find a solution for the safe and fair integration of drones into air traffic. With our UTM system, we will continue to improve air traffic safety and at the same time open up new applications for drones. We are making an important contribution to the conflict-free coexistence of manned and unmanned aviation. It is the only way to integrate UAS in Germany.”
Dr Bruno Jacobfeuerborn, CTO Deutsche Telekom, stated: “Deutsche Telekom's mobile communications network provides coverage for most of Germany. It will provide the basis for the safe and efficient use of drones even beyond the line of sight of the drone pilot. In combination with DFS systems, we are thus enabling future commercial operations of UAS.”

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The German Lifesaving Society (Deutsche Lebens-Rettungs-Gesellschaft e. V. (DLRG)) is the world's largest water rescue organisation with around 1.5 million members and sponsors. Since its foundation in 1913, it has set itself the task of protecting people from drowning. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is the society’s patron. The DLRG is the number one provider of training for swimming and lifeguarding in Germany. Between 1950 and 2016, it conducted over 22 million swimming tests and over 4.5 million lifeguarding tests. In over 2,000 divisions, volunteers provide almost eight million hours of voluntary work per year for their fellow citizens. The core tasks of the DLRG are swimming and lifeguard training, education on water hazards as well as the water rescue service. Around 36,000 members provide lifeguard services for bathers and water sports enthusiasts for well over three million hours a year.

DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH, the German air navigation service provider, is a State-owned company under private law with 5,400 employees as at 30 SEP 2017. DFS ensures the safe and punctual flow of air traffic over Germany. Around 2,000 air traffic controllers guide up to 10,000 flights in German airspace every day, about three million movements every year. This makes Germany the country with the highest traffic volume in Europe. The company operates control centres in Langen, Bremen, Karlsruhe and Munich as well as control towers at 16 international airports in Germany. The subsidiary, DFS Aviation Services GmbH, markets and sells products and services related to air navigation services as well as providing air traffic control at nine regional airports in Germany and at London Gatwick Airport in the UK.

With around 165 million mobile customers, 28.5 million fixed network and 18.5 million broadband lines, Deutsche Telekom is one of the world's leading integrated telecommunications companies and is represented in more than 50 countries. In the 2016 financial year, we generated sales of EUR 73.1 billion with around 218,300 employees - about 66 percent of which outside Germany (as at 31 December 2016). To ensure our continued success, we are transforming our traditional telephone company into an entirely new type of service company. The core business, i.e. the supply and distribution of networks and connections, remains our basis. At the same time, we are actively engaged in areas of business in which new growth opportunities are opening up.