Eindhoven's research is part of the three-year European project Flying Forward 2020

9 Feb 2021

Trouw headlines in the newspaper on Monday Feb 8th with the news that Eindhoven is working hard on the autome drone that will deliver pizza to your home. A European laboratory for autonomous flying drones in an urban environment will be set up in Eindhoven (on the HTCE). Rijkswaterstaat has been experimenting with autonomous drones for some time now. It is part of the three-year European project Flying Forward 2020, in which institutions such as the European Space Agency and universities, with the support of companies such as Nokia and Microsoft, are researching the possibilities and problems associated with the use of autonomous drones.

It will be a while before pizzas are delivered by autonomous drones instead of couriers. But employees at the High Tech Campus Eindhoven can expect flying lunches and mail in the coming years. The former Philips research complex will be a European laboratory for autonomous flying drones in an urban environment. "It's about efficiency and safety, but also about the social acceptance of drones"

The research takes place at five locations in Europe. For example, Oulu, Finland, looks at drones under extreme weather conditions, in Milan, at drones in a medical setting. Eindhoven focuses on the use of drones in the city, for example to deliver parcels, but also for inspections or to support emergency services. “This is about efficiency, safety and sustainability of autonomous drones, but also about social acceptance,” says Paul van Son, innovation manager at the Campus.

There is still a lot to be done before the drones really start flying. This year, work is underway on the construction of the digital infrastructure. Van Son: “A digital three-dimensional replica of the High Tech Campus is being made in preparation. This not only contains all the permanent objects on campus, from buildings to trees, but also, for example, information about the flying and non-flying zones and the identification data of all drones. ”

They must not bump into each other or fall from the sky

"Ultimately, we intend to use the experience gained from the campus to expand the project to Eindhoven itself." This is only possible if the drones can safely fly autonomously in a city, because they are obviously not allowed to collide with objects or each other or even fall from the sky.

But the Eindhoven experiment is about more than technology. Autonomous flying drones require completely new legislation and regulations, for example in the field of privacy, but also in the field of traffic rules that must prevent drones from colliding with each other and that the urban airspace will soon turn into one big buzzing swarm of parcel deliverers. “For this we work with Maastricht University, which will eventually make recommendations for the necessary legislation,” says Van Son.

Citizens should not feel watched

Social acceptance is an important part of the research, says Van Son. “Drones in cities can ultimately only be successful if citizens accept them. That means that they should not feel watched or disturbed by their constant presence. ”

Rijkswaterstaat, where the drone2Go project has been running since November, already knows from its own experience how complicated the use of autonomous drones is now legal. Flying with autonomous drones is also being tested there in a practice area on the Waal near Nijmegen. Currently under supervision, but the ultimate goal is to have them fly independently from the control room to their target with the push of a button. The project should actually have started much earlier, but because the drones are such unknown territory, the necessary permits turned out to be very complicated.

Outside urban area

Drone2Go is a collaboration with, among others, the fire brigade and the police. “They are used to investigate incidents on the water, such as lost cargo, drowning people, collisions and oil pollution. But also for inspections of bridges, for example, ”says drone coordinator Ariea Vermeulen.

An important difference with Eindhoven is that the drones of Rijkswaterstaat fly over water outside urban areas. Social acceptance is therefore less of a problem, although some skippers do not like flying over drones. “But because it mainly concerns emergency services, it is easier to explain”, says Vermeulen.

Sometimes it can go wrong

Rijkswaterstaat's experience has taught us that the technology constantly provides surprises. “Drones must be able to recognize obstacles. Manufacturers claim they can. But things sometimes go wrong, and then it just hangs around ”, she cites as an example.

For the time being, Vermeulen expects autonomous drones to be mainly used by emergency services. “Before we start transporting goods, we are really a while ahead. In China they now have autonomous flying drones that transport people, but they are a lot easier when it comes to regulations. But pizza drones in the Netherlands? I don't see that happening that quickly. ”

Written by
Saskia van de Schoot

directeur new business

Saskia van de Schoot
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