EIT Digital launches cloud platform for drone services
(Credit: EIT Digital)

EIT Digital launches cloud platform for drone services

EIT Digital, a European open innovation organization with hundreds of members across the business and research communities, is launching the ‘Cloud4Drones’ platform to service the needs of professional drone operators.

EIT Digital invests heavily in several industries to bring digital technologies and entrepreneurial talent to the European market. Later this year it will launch its Cloud4Drones platform, tailored for commercial drone operators who want to store and analyse aerial data while developing new cloud-enabled services.

The Cloud4Drones platform will exploit the ubiquitous connectivity of mobile networks to provide a cloud-based solution that enables the live use of drone data. With it, drone operators, engineers and researchers can work simultaneously on projects ranging from infrastructure inspection to agricultural surveys.

Drones are bringing speed, safety and efficiency to a host of established industries. Goldman Sachs estimates that the global commercial drone market – the fastest-growing sector in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – will exceed $20 billion by 2021. This includes not only rapidly evolving hardware but the many software solutions focused on analytics and data management.

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Bandwidth aggregation techniques

The Cloud4Drones platform will harness technology related to bandwidth aggregation that has been developed by the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA).

These techniques allow the platform to overcome traditional constraints when sending data through networks, with images, videos and commands seamlessly transferring between drones, networks and the cloud. This technology will allow real-time monitoring of a commercial drone project’s execution, as well as advanced capabilities such as 3D reconstruction and video analytics.

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Digitalization of drone services

The Cloud4Drones platform is being developed as part of EIT Digital’s exploration into cloud platform innovation with Italian technology company Reply. Maurizio Griva, innovation activity leader and IoT solution manager at Reply sees the platform as a stepping stone toward more autonomous drone services.

“Our Innovation Activity is the first step towards the evolution of drones as autonomous or self-driving drones,” he said. “The digitalization of drone services and their connection to cloud computing is the essential first step for the adoption of this technology.”

“This will be possible only if the drones are connected to a mobile network, covering today almost all of the European soil and thus providing the communication channel everywhere.”

Grivia suggests that the unique connection between drone, network and cloud platform will help operators expand their services. “Our way of building drone applications by exploiting the connection with mobile networks will be new. Unlike existing approaches, it will allow an inspector or domain expert to support operations without needing to be in the field, instead providing feedback and advice while the drone is in flight.”

“This is an improvement in terms of efficiency and cost reduction, particularly where infrastructure is spread out in wide areas and difficult to reach – like dams in the mountains or offshore structures.”

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Infrastructure inspections

Grivia also explains that the Cloud4Drones platform will be particularly useful to operators performing infrastructure inspections, one of the commercial drone sectors seeing the most activity as the industry starts to get off the ground.

He points out that the Cloud4Drones platform will “support inspections by drones in all the phases of operations.”

In the planning phase, he says, it will aid drone operators to plan optimized missions involving several drones and targets at a time. “Mission planning will be oriented to reduce deployment and flight costs, all the while fulfilling measurement requirements and taking into account safety, visibility and communication constraints, drone autonomy and payload. During and after the drone flight the dashboard displays data gathered: video, images, the results of their processing and any detected anomalies.”