Can drones benefit society? This airspace management system plans to unleash potential

  • The societal benefits of drones are extensive and transformative.
  • These versatile, affordable and easy-to-fly devices can transport medical supplies, enhance agriculture, automate dangerous jobs and map fragile ecosystems.
  • Israel is a leader in developing sophisticated uncrewed air traffic management systems for complex scenarios and this is unlocking the full potential of drones.

While initially developed for military and reconnaissance purposes, and recently also associated with recreational use, drone technology holds immense potential to solve global challenges in healthcare, food security, climate, work safety, biodiversity and more.

A drone initiative in Rwanda, for example, is transforming healthcare by transporting medical supplies to remote areas, facilitating emergency response and reducing maternal mortality. In India, drones enhance agriculture through land mapping, precision farming, agrochemical spraying and crop assessment. These versatile applications represent a paradigm shift in agricultural management.

Drones are also being considered to automate dangerous jobs, such as firefighting, in various parts of the world. By replacing human workers in dirty and dangerous roles, we can protect lives, improve efficiency and create opportunities for safer, more meaningful employment. This shift is a matter of technological progress and a moral imperative.

Globally, drones are deployed to map and monitor delicate ecosystems, empowering researchers and conservationists to identify threats and swiftly implement conservation measures.

As drone operations scale, eliminating the need for a human operator per drone and the need to deploy unmanned traffic management systems with a minimal number of skilled air traffic controllers, becomes crucial. Automation is essential to handle increased drone operations efficiently and safely. Automated systems can process vast amounts of data, make real-time decisions and optimize routes for streamlined and scalable traffic management.

To realize the full potential of drone technology safely and effectively, airspace management is critical. In Israel, one of the pioneering countries at the forefront of drone applications, the Israel Innovation Authority, C4IR Israel, Ayalon Highways, the Ministry of Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel (CAAI) launched the Israel National Drone Initiative (INDI) in 2019 to promote the use of drones for the betterment of society. The INDI aims to seamlessly integrate drone and airspace management technologies necessary for drones to operate safely.

Airspace management is critical to safely and effectively realizing drone technology’s full potential. The INDI promotes the use of drones for societal benefit, showcasing all necessary technologies. The project has contributed to Israel becoming one of the first countries to implement uncrewed air traffic management systems in complex scenarios.

INDI offers three lessons for fostering drone innovation:

1. Establish a flexible regulatory sandbox for safe testing and responsible innovation

Such frameworks should prioritize safety, compliance and adaptability, ensuring that innovations can evolve responsibly within a controlled setting. INDI has conducted over 23,000 drone flights, providing a testing ground for various use cases and collaborations. These applications span a wide range, from emergency response systems to cargo transportation and public services. INDI, for example, has partnered with the Blood Bank in Israel to secure regulatory approval for drone-based blood product transport. Additionally, INDI has executed medical supply deliveries to major hospitals, including a crucial drone connection between the two Hadassah medical campuses in metropolitan Jerusalem.

2. Foster public-private collaboration, essential for pooling resources and expertise to address challenges

Israel’s success with INDI is a testament to the power of pioneering partnerships between government entities and industry stakeholders. For the private sector, these collaborations provide opportunities to enhance products and technologies, while testing new operations and business models.

For the public sector, they accelerate the pace of innovation, which is crucial since public entities are expected to be an early adopter of drone technology and its associated benefits. This experience underscores how effective partnerships can drive innovation and redefine industry standards.

3. Engage in international collaboration to share knowledge, align standards and sustain innovation

Technology does not understand geographical barriers. Hence, it benefits from active engagement in international collaboration. INDI has collaborated with leading aviation regulators, organizations and global leaders. This includes the USA’s FAA, Europe’s EASA and Eurocontrol and standards development organizations, such as ASTM, C4IR and The World Economic Forum, with the AVIATE: Advanced Air Mobility initiative. It has also taken part in presentations at UN technology forums and enjoyed visits by global leaders, such as the director general of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Israel’s experience highlights how effective partnerships can drive innovation and redefine industry standards in this nascent field.

This article is republished from World Economic Forum under a Creative Commons license.

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