U-Traffic: the drones future connectivity with 5G

Simlabs
6 min readFeb 4, 2021

Simlabs has been developing U-traffic, an innovative and safer unmanned air traffic management system. We have carried out a study of the geofencing system for the airfield control area, which is easy to scale to other critical objects where regulation is required.

The number of unmanned aerial vehicles is growing rapidly around the world. According to one of E&Y recent studies, by 2035, the UAV
market only in Russia alone will have reached about $40 billion, and the annual market potential may be worth at least $1 billion.

Drones are successfully used in the oil and gas industry, manufacturing,
transportation, search and rescue missions, agriculture, entertainment and healthcare. However, the latter has acquired unprecedented relevance in
connection with the new challenges that humanity has faced over the past year. Unmanned technologies will take a special place in ensuring biological safety, for instance, to provide contactless delivery of goods and medical products (medicines, vaccines, PPE), and monitoring of crowded places.

Nowadays, it is obvious that, the rapid growth of technologies and a surge in demand for them are transforming the traditional use of airspace.

Digital transformation in the sky

More than a century ago, Louis Bleriot’s cross-Channel flight was the first international flight by a heavier-than-air machine. Years later, strict principles of air traffic management (ATM) were formed within the framework of the international concept “Communication Navigation
Surveillance (CNS/ATM)”. Safety first turned into the slogan of world civil aviation, and aviation communication, navigation and surveillance became the three pillars of air traffic safety. However, after 100 years of manned aviation, the new era of digital airspace has come. Drones are bursting into the sky, and they need to coexist safely and flexibly in a common airspace.

Along with manned aircraft, specialized control systems — UTM (unmanned traffic management) — are being developed to regulate the movement of unmanned aircraft. The main aim of UTM is inseparable from the principles of ensuring safe and cost-effective flights. The UTM system by Simlabs is designed to track compliance with the rules by all
users. It can provide additional tools to help avoid conflicts and collisions on the ground and in the air. At the core of the UTM is a set of technical, technological and regulatory solutions. One of them is the creation of digital geographic and information zones with varying levels of airspace availability for drones (geofencing) giving the ability to identify the aircraft, and its positioning.

5G: an outside perspective

The ATM system using GNSS satellite positioning technologies has resource constraints leading to unavailability to share the current manned air traffic with UAV. Numerous studies around the world have shown that existing CNS/ATM solutions are not enough to regulate unmanned air traffic.

The unmanned air traffic contributes to the entry of telecommunications into the technologically advanced, but still conservative civil aviation. The thriving infrastructure of the telecom giants is the new blood for air traffic 3.0.

According to Andrey Morozov, CEO of Simlabs, UTM developer, the use of cellular technologies along with GNSS has a number of key advantages. First of all, drones remote identification and position detection independently from the UAV, and the quality of the GNSS signal based on information received by the base stations of the cellular network.

The principle of U-Traffic by Simlabs is to use a SIM card as a kind of micro-board transponder. The advanced ground-based telecommunication infrastructure is able to determine accurately coordinates and the trajectory of a drone using proven approaches similar to the real-time operation of multilateration surveillance systems (MLAT) in civil aviation.

4G UAV surveillance

‘Our UTM application uses information from the cellular network about the location of the SIM card. It works on any network, but the prospective 5G network is more beneficial due to high positioning accuracy, lower signal latency, which makes it possible in the future, for example, beyond visual line of sight control (BVLOS) and automatic collision avoidance with other drones (Detect&Avoid).

As a result of the research it became clear that the unmanned air traffic management system (UTM) can be deployed on the basis of the existing ground-based 4G cellular infrastructure. And the new 5G technology of cellular communication, which will be put into operation in the next few years, is able to improve significantly the quality of objects positioning (78m-4G, 38m — 5G), and the response time of the system (5G up to 5–1.6 ms),’ Andrey Morozov claimed.

Fly like a bird

Drones safe integration into a common airspace faces a number of regulatory and bureaucratic challenges. Simlabs’ approach to the creation of an unmanned traffic control system consists of several phases. It is supposed to start with the introduction of geofencing — the allocation of geographic zones with different levels of access to the airspace.

‘We propose automatic geofencing based on up-to-date information about restricted areas from ATM, and local administrations, along with simplified registration of UAVs via a SIM card. This opens up new horizons for drones to go further in the airspace compared to unequipped UAVs, making easier the procedure for civil liability insurance, as well as potentially reducing its cost. The cybersecurity of the solution should also be noted. The UAV is vulnerable to jammers and hacker attacks (spoofing and jamming), when the drone equipment uses GNSS signal coming from satellites (GPS / GLONASS, and other satellite navigation systems), whereas reliability and security of the communication channel with the geofencing module is ensured using 5G Network Slicing technology,’ explains A. Morozov.

The UAV is vulnerable to jammers and hacker attacks (spoofing and jamming)

According to Simlabs, at the stage of the drone registration, which is mandatory under the current legislation, or its import into the Russian Federation, it is planned to equip the unmanned aircraft with a non-removable SIM card or eSIM GSM communication module of 4G/5G networks to connect to the geofencing service. Another option is that the user buys an external geofencing module with a prepaid tariff for UAVs, and a subscription to a geofencing service, which is to be installed on board. The device is registered trough a phone number that is tied to a SIM card.

The airspace legal borderline

Unmanned air traffic based on 4G/5G cellular technologies gives unseen opportunities for economic growth. But how to ensure flexible interaction with ATM systems and safe coexistence with manned aircraft in a common airspace and legal environment?

The airspace of controlled areas, such as the airfields and other critical objects, is covered with 4G/5G networks. As conceived by the U-Traffic designers, the 4G/5G provider networks are able to receive operational data on no-flight zones for drones. When a drone appears in a 4G/5G coverage field near a critical object, remote identification of the aircraft (Remote ID) is provided by using information from the cellular network. The UAV identifier is then directed to the loaded flight plan sharing the relevant data with government, ANSP and airspace users. When approaching the border of the controlled area (critical object), the 4G/5G network provider will automatically send a message to the pilot about a potential violation of the restricted zone.

If the drone has not changed the direction of movement, the 4G/5G network provider immediately notifies the ATC unit of a particular airfield (operator of a critical facility) about it. When the UAV continues to move, the 4G/5G network provider sends a command to finish the track. As a result, the UAV automatically stops further movement.

The first phase of U-Traffic development has been completed. The next step means to create a sustainable pilot geofencing system enabling the operational principles of geographical information regarding UAV flights through a web service and an application for remote pilots and business. This will allow to implement UTM functions and manage the customer’s drone fleet.

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