A license to trust

As we enter the ‘age of the drone’, the most important systems we need are those that engender public trust. That’s why Thales’s Secure Remote Identification – or ‘digital license plate for drones’ is such a significant step, says Todd Donovan.

Drones are going to be one of the most transformational technologies of the next decade. The opportunities they already present are huge – and as with any new technology, the next few years will undoubtedly see industries finding countless new uses for them. From the expected, such as aerial camera-work and package delivery; to the essential – getting urgent medical supplies to remote areas or 3D printing of buildings; to the extraordinary – like getting floatation devices to drowning swimmers.

The innovation potential of drones will only be harnessed if we make a huge shift in how we manage the skies. At the moment, almost every airborne craft (and there are only around 20,000 in the skies at any one time) is overseen by a human operator, who help ensure both the safety of the aircraft and the sovereignty of the airspace.

But when there are millions of unmanned vehicles flying every day, having a human operator monitoring each and every one simply won’t be possible. To unlock the potential of the skies, we’ll need smart, digital and autonomous systems that are able to co-ordinate the complex web of users, flight-paths and priorities – and be to able maintain the incredible safety levels expected for our aircraft and airspaces.

Technology and trust are intertwined

Thales’s ECOsystem UTM is leading the way in creating, integrating and implementing the shared technologies and platforms that are needed to make this ‘digitalization of the skies’ a reality. Our approach is underpinned by Thales’s four principles for digitizing the skies:

  • Establishing performance-based global standards for UAS use.
  • Designing with a ‘safety first’ attitude for all airspace users
  • Developing secure, scalable, flexible and integrated ways of managing the skies
  • Ensuring solutions are affordable and accessible

These four principles are critical because as well as the operational challenges the ‘drone age’ will bring, one of the most significant factors to their successful adoption is Trust. Industry, authorities and the general public must know and feel that drone aviation will be managed to the highest possible safety standards – higher even than for traditional aviation.

DroneConnect: ‘A Digital License Plate for drones’

That’s why the success of Thales’s recent Secure Remote Identification tracking trials is such a significant milestone. Leveraging the recent acquisition of Gemalto, a world leader in digital identity management, the tracker called Gemalto DroneConnect uses the same technologies which power the global mobile phone industry. Applied to drones, these technologies allow UAVs to be identified, tracked and controlled in a seamless and secure way from within Thales’s ECOsystem UTM.

The DroneConnect solution combines several elements: a secure tamper-proof ‘black box’ that stores each drone´s unique (or diversified) digital ID, pilot and mission information, and enables encryption-based ‘digital signature’ against data manipulation; a GPS receiver to precisely determine the drone position and movement; an Internet of Things (IoT) Module and an embedded SIM (a eSIM with remote subscription provisioning to connect the drone to communication networks (cellular, WiFi, Bluetooth or SatCom). Together with complementary cutting edge identity services, everything operates through a highly secure link to ground control.

This system, together with our associated UTM services, allows for swift and secure flight authorisation and monitoring. And importantly it means that authorities, users and the general public can trust that:

  • Every drone in the sky is authorised to be there,
  • Every drone in the sky is being securely tracked and monitored in real-time
  • Every drone in the sky is safe from being hacked
  • Every drone in the sky leaves a full record of everything it does

(Note: Of course, there will always be a handful of malicious users who will ignore established systems and protocols. Thales also provides drone detection and counter UAS technologies to deal with them.)

Proven technology, ready to fly

Thales recently successfully trialled DroneConnect at the FAA designated UAS test site at Griffiss International Airport in New York, in partnership with Oneida County and the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research (NUAIR) Alliance. And in the coming months there will be further trials both at this site, as well as Thales UTM trials in France, Hungary, Australia and the UK.

With a unique combination of experience and expertise in air traffic control, on-board systems, mobile communications, identity management and digital security, Thales is uniquely positioned to lead the establishment of a new level of trust in our customer’s airspace enabling the safe, secure and efficient integration of drones in the sky.  

How to know more about Thales ECOsystem UTM?
If you are a civil aviation authority, air navigation service provider or UAS manufacturer, and interested to see live demos or have further discussions on Thales ECOsystem UTM solutions click here to make an appointment.

How to know more about DroneConnect and Cybersecurity for commercial drones?
To learn more about Cybersecurity for the commercial drone industry, please click here