Inmarsat announces satellite-based drone traffic management partnership

The burgeoning maritime commercial drone market could be set to expand even further, with Inmarsat announcing a new collaboration with drone company Altitude Angel to develop and deliver satellite-based flight tracking and management capabilities for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

Maritime use of drones has been trialled extensively over the last twelve months, being tested for package deliveries to vessels by a number of companies, while also being applied by classification societies to conduct remote inspections in hard to reach locations.

Inmarsat and its new partner will work on further developing Altitude Angel’s existing GuardianUTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) platform, to jointly develop a ‘Pop-Up UTM’ capability that can be deployed anywhere it is required to manage Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) UAV flights, without the need for ground-based communications infrastructure.

By utilising Inmarsat’s global network of satellites and leveraging its experience in Air Traffic Management (ATM) communications, Altitude Angel’s Pop-Up UTM could be accessed rapidly and deployed worldwide, allowing drones to operate where terrestrial communications networks are not accessible.

From the maritime perspective, these capabilities could prove useful in supporting drone deliveries to vessels many kilometres from shore and out of the range of GSM services.

Singapore-based start-up F-drones completed what is thought to be the first commercial BVLOS (Beyond-Visual-Line-of-Sight) drone delivery in the port city in April this year, having become the first company to receive authorisation from the local aviation authority to conduct drone deliveries of this type to ships. That delivery was performed 2.7km from shore, though F-drones’ ultimate goal is to support deliveries of up to 100km in the future.

“Inmarsat is excited to partner with Altitude Angel on this ground-breaking technology, which allows UAV flights to operate quickly, efficiently and safely,” said Anthony Spouncer, Inmarsat Aviation’s Senior Director of UAVs & UTM.

“Inmarsat is uniquely positioned to act as a catalyst for the safe and rapid growth of the Unmanned Aerial Systems sector due to our state-of-the-art global satellite network, decades of experience in keeping aircraft safe through communications, navigation and surveillance services, and relationships with Air Traffic Management providers worldwide. We also bring first-hand experience of working with international aid organisations to deliver emergency communications in remote areas.”

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Rob O'Dwyer

Rob is Chief Network Officer and one of the founders of Smart Maritime Network. He also serves as Chairman of the Smart Maritime Council. Rob has worked in the maritime technology sector since 2005, managing editorial for a range of leading publications in the transport and logistics sector. Get in touch by email by clicking here, or on LinkedIn by clicking here.

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