Drones are becoming more common place for applications other than military or recreational use. Whether for delivering medical packages, inspecting roofs or for emergency services, drone use cases and commercial solutions are gaining traction world-wide. However, using this new technology in already populated urban centers poses new challenges that both communities and innovators need to consider, with safety, privacy and efficiency top of mind.
Luckily, innovators are collaborating with regional, provincial, and federal governments to tackle these challenges head on. In 2022, the Living Labs team was excited to support Canadian companies AirMatrix and IN-FLIGHT Data with testing that will move the industry towards safer and more efficient drone operations in urban areas.
AirMatrix precisely maps urban and suburban airspace, allowing cities around the world to one day expand the scope of commercial drone operations. The mapping takes two-dimensional planning principles for urban roadways and streets and applies it to three-dimensional airspace. IN-FLIGHT Data flies drones and holds industry specific expertise in Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, Training & Simulation, In-Service Support, and Artificial Intelligence. Together, they were looking for a real-world environment to conduct their research that could ensure the safety of operations and the quality of collected field data.
Initially unsure what was available for testing, they considered performing software simulations based on publicly available data. They also considered operations in lower density population centres (e.g., villages or hamlets), or urban fringe areas, however these were not the best fit for the products being researched and tested. They needed a large population centre open and willing to consider this new innovation project and found it in Calgary.
As part of the opening of the Point Trotter Autonomous Systems Test area (now the East Shepard RPAS / Drone Operating Area) in 2018, IN-FLIGHT Data was introduced to Calgary’s Living Labs program.
As the project moved forward, access to a real-world urban testing environment became one of several benefits.
“With The City’s Living Labs program, we found committed program leadership and a team who worked with us, reducing red tape, and looking for solutions so we could be successful” says Chris Healy, President, IN-FLIGHT Data Group. “Now, the real-world, high-quality data sets we obtained can be used as the basis for future planning for other projects.”
CHRIS HEALY, PRESIDENT, IN-FLIGHT DATA GROUP
Nothing like this project had ever been done before anywhere, so teams had to stick handle many challenges they came up against. Regulatory oversight, jurisdictional authority, environmental sensitivity, road network interactions, were all lessons learned. Processes were created where none existed and monitored; adjustments were made where required. The project continues, with the goal of one day building a publicly safe commercial drone operational ecosystem in Calgary.
The City’s living lab ecosystem offers innovators like IN-FLIGHT Data and AirMatrix a great way to test and trial their technology outside of the lab, with reduced costs and risks. The City of Calgary’s Living Labs continues to look for ways to break down local barriers to innovation, helping businesses and researchers achieve real world testing to move their idea to the next stage of development in a safe and effective way. Contact LivingLabs@calgary.ca for more information.