Drones are coming – or rather – they’re here and they’re taking over.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, more commonly known as drones, took over Dubai Media City at the Drones for Good event, where Nokia showcased its Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Traffic Management (UTM) system.  Although the solution, which is best described as tracking and management for drones, is still in its concept phase, it could position Nokia to lead this new segment of the transportation industry. The company sold its mobile device business to Microsoft in 2014 and bought Alcatel-Lucent which doubled its size. “Nokia, who’s traditionally strong in the mobile broadband domain, is acquiring Alcatel-Lucent’s assets which gives us the scale to massively invest in R&D, 5G and IoT”, explained Joachim Wuilmet, Head of Marketing and Corporate Affairs Middle East & Africa. As a leaner, stronger organization, Research and Development efforts like UTM are possible but is it comprehensive enough to set the standard?

How it works

UTM provides centralized monitoring and control of UAVs. “We are basically bringing Nokia’s expertise into LTE. We work with the commercial operators like du and Etisalat. And, with public safety being such an important issue we’re seeing governments around the world consider having their own dedicated LTE network. We work with them too”, said Wuilmet. “Collecting data, transferring it, making sense out of it and finally making a decision out of it – that makes smart cities and the use of drones safer. It’s actually about safety”, he continued. Drones are equipped with LTE dongles, GPS and access modules which collect and transfer data for computing. Real time data processing gives operators the information required to monitor airspace, view and control drone flight paths and establish dynamic no-flight zones.

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It’s a practical approach to making business decisions. For example on New Year’s Eve in Dubai there was a fire at The Address Hotel. Let’s assume that a lot of people were flying drones overhead to photograph the fireworks display. A fire in the vicinity, created a safety risk. If UTM was live the Fire Department could’ve deployed it to declare and manage a no-fly zone – making safety the top priority.

The use of drones is a growing phenomenon and Nokia understands the need for drone air traffic control. Wuilmet suggests that UAVs be regulated  similarly to the way personal automobiles are today. Like cars, every drone will be registered and tagged with an NFC chip that stores information about its owner like name, address and phone number. During a demo, Sebastian Babiarz, UAS Research Nokia Networks MBB Radio LTE, touched his Samsung Galaxy smartphone to the NFC chip on a nearby drone which automatically opened the UTM app. I watched as he used it to manage the drone in flight. Then, he redirected my attention to a monitor displaying the UTM interface, a GUI intended for use by the system administrator. It showed the drone, its flight path and the information stored on its NFC chip. “All of these pieces work together – its not just us. We need regulators” Babiarz commented. Agencies like the GCAA, which is the sole authority for the control and regulation of civil aviation in the UAE, would be an ideal partner to make UTM an official protocol.

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Nokia has always been about connecting people and has now undertaken the challenge of connecting things to facilitate a safer drone ecosystem. The Internet of Things is expected to reach 50 billion connected things by 2025. Drones – whether delivering groceries or transporting people – will be a prominent part of that future. The UTM system shows how Nokia is innovating and preparing for this industry trend. Are you ready?

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