Telstra and Thales Developing Drones for Australia

Thales and Telstra partnership for drones

Thales and Telstra join together to make airspace safe. Source.

Telstra and Thales join to make low-altitude airspace safe and effective.

Telstra, Australia’s leading telecommunication company, has announced a partnership with French-based aerospace and defense firm Thales. This partnership aims to manage the low-altitude airspace that is used by manned and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The aim of the Telstra-Thales partnership

The ambition of this partnership is to design a robust digital communications network infrastructure using the expertise of Telstra. This system will underpin the navigation and surveillance ecosystem required to manage the low altitude airspace safely.

Australia’s commercial and general aviation industry already possesses strong technology and regulations in place for the management of the airspace used by passenger aircraft. Commercial and recreational drones and UAVs have increased exponentially in the last few years. These advances require an entirely new way to manage the low-altitude airspace.

Telstra and Thales believe that digital technology introduces many opportunities for managing the complexity of integrating drones in airspace for safe user access. Both companies aim to bring the utmost level of security and safety to low-altitude airspace to enable both recreational drone enthusiasts and commercial UAV operators to have peace of mind while flying their craft.

The newly developed digital communications network infrastructure will also inform general aviation of the locations and intended flight paths of drones.

Low Altitude Airspace Management

Telstra and Thales recently revealed that they have been working on a prototype called Low Altitude Airspace Management (LAAM). This prototype can integrate manned and unmanned traffic. It also includes automated drone flight approvals and dynamic airspace management.  Their partnership will boost the development and growth of new products and innovations in the UAV industry.

The mission is automatically approved by a centralised rules engine. The pilot receives a green light as a message alert, then proceeds with the flight that is tracked in real-time by the platform. Telstra’s fast mobile network provides the secondary source to validate locations. It may also help authorities to find real-time locations using SIM-based location triangulation.

The platform also provides near real-time notifications that help manage dynamic and high-traffic areas. In situations where drone pilots should change their course to make room for the first responders like a rescue helicopter, near real-time notifications are vital. These notifications relay the instructions to the drone efficiently and safely. They can alert pilots of issues such as a current police operation that might require flight restrictions on other drones and UAV. Telstra says that they may use machine learning and artificial intelligence in the future for event-driven policies and regulations.

Thales is very familiar with drone technology and drone management. The firm revealed in last September that it would equip its electronic warfare system deployed on Bushmaster defence vehicles with an anti-UAV solution. Thales also supported research at RMIT University to develop the aerial version of the “dead man brake system” to safely gain control over aircrafts in case pilots become incapacitated.

The Future Partnership

Telstra and Thales are now together exploring the potential of the existing 4G and upcoming 5G technology and Telstra’s IoT (Internet of Things) networks, to enable monitoring of different types of vehicles that use the low-altitude airspace. They foresee a future where drone operators would be able to plan and prepare a flight through a dedicated mobile app, and authorities will be able to dynamically open and close airspace with the help of temporary flight restrictions.

Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) recently issued 10,999 remote pilot licences and 1504 remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) operator certificates. CASA’s RPA lead Luke Gumley says that it is challenging to predict how many licences and certificates will be issued in the future. However, by looking at licensing, based on the current trends, 24,000 remote pilot licences in Australia could be issued by 2023.  Telstra and Thales are seriously considering this increasing figure to develop efficient LAAM.

There are many opportunities for a broad take-up of unmanned aerial vehicles in Australia. Telstra is trying to unlock potential by investigating how they can best leverage 4G and 5G mobile technology and IoT capabilities to create secure and reliable communication, monitoring and navigation of UAVs. The telco is working with Thales on LAAM to make it possible for manned flights and UAVs to operate together safely in the skies.

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.