Drone flight control system to be developed, tests to continue through FY 2019

16 June 2017

An R&D project to build a management system designed to ensure the safe flight of unmanned aerial drones is set to begin in the current 2017 fiscal year ending next March in a robot testing zone being developed by the Fukushima prefectural government, according to an announcement on June 15 by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).

Under the three-year project in the Fukushima Robot Test Field, which will straddle Minamisoma city and Namie town, five major companies in the air traffic control, telecommunications and logistics sectors will jointly undertake tests to demonstrate the management of multiple drones in flight until fiscal 2019. NEDO, affiliated with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), is orchestrating the METI-commissioned project.

The companies involved are Hitachi Ltd., NTT Data Corp., NTT Docomo Inc. and Rakuten Inc. as well as NEC Corp., which is acting as coordinator. They are seeking to establish a system allowing the safe and efficient operation of multiple drones in the same airspace within the same time frame. Such flying vehicles are expected to find a broad range of applications, including the home delivery of merchandise, surveys at construction sites and disaster response. The companies aim to combine high-tech expertise on remote-controlled long-distance flights, avoidance of midair collisions and other tasks for more effective use of drones in business and public services.

Fiscal 2017 will be devoted to the design of a management system, fiscal 2018 to test operations of the system in Minamisoma, and fiscal 2019 to the simultaneous flight of a dozen or so drones above facilities and in adjacent airspace. "We will undertake the project in a united manner involving all parties concerned in Japan to put the results of our R&D to practical use in society," NEDO Chairman Kazuo Furukawa told a press conference in Tokyo.

NEDO is looking to establish partnerships with companies in the prefecture for such purposes as the procurement of drone components. If the project produces successful outcomes, the Robot Test Field is expected to be more widely used as an R&D base.

(Translated by Kyodo News)