In June 2020, a consortium of nine partners coordinated by the University of Southern Denmark has launched the EU-funded Drones4Safety project with the aim of increasing safety and security in European civil transport. Drones4Safety proposes an innovative solution that replaces the direct human involvement in railway and bridge inspections with a cooperative, autonomous and continuously operating drone system. Energy harvesting, artificial intelligence and a swarm system are the key aspects of this project.
In the light of the drone’s technology evolution, the European Union has fostered researches and investments with the scope of using drone applications to ensure greater safety, security and sustainability. Drones4Safety is one of the most ambitious projects in this sense. Promoted within the Horizon2020 Framework Programme, it addresses infrastructures managers, public services suppliers, drone operators, and citizens. Overall, the purpose of Drone4Safety is to ensure an accurate, autonomous and continuous inspection of transportation infrastructures, thus enhancing safety and security of both cargo and passengers.
Currently, helicopters, aerial platforms or human operators conduct the inspections of railways and bridges with very limited functionality. The system proposed by Drones4Safety will overcome these limits by developing artificial intelligence algorithms for drones. Therefore, they will be able to detect infrastructure components and automatically recognize possible defects or anomalies through satellites and sensory data. Once the drone detects fault, it will report it to the drone operator via a cloud service system, which will not only collect information but also send data back for scheduling the drone missions. To increase efficiently, a swarm-like collaborative drone system will ensure the inspection of different sides of the targeted infrastructure.
The energy harvesting from high-voltage and railway cables will ensure the long-endurance of the operations. “One of the main challenges is also to see how we can recharge the drones along this operation” remarks Emad Samuel Malki Ebeid, Project coordinator and Associate Professor at University of Denmark “We made a preliminary analysis and we found out that 70% of bridges in Europe are within a three kilometers distance from high voltage cables. So, you can imagine the drone of the future flying autonomously near a bridge and, when the battery is low, finding the nearest high voltage cable, connecting, recharging and then coming back to inspect the bridge.”
The Drones4Safety consortium is well balanced in terms of equipment, facilities and intellectual resources as it brings together leading industrials, researches and academic experts. The team, coordinated by the University of Southern Denmark (Denmark), is composed by: Aarhus University (Denmark), Fraunhofer (Germany), EUCENTRE (Italy), DELAIR (France), NEAT (Italy), ARIC GmbH (Germany), Deep Blue (Italy), Eurocontrol (Belgium).
Drones4Safety intends to increase safety and security in the European civil transport with a time- and cost-saving method. It also aims at improving the feasibility of inspections, moreover in case of lack of physical access or excessive risk to inspectors. Eventually, self-charging energy system represents a more sustainable solution to reduce the CO2 emission produced by fuel-driven helicopters.
The project will produce both software services and a hardware drone system for transport operators to use. It is estimated that Drones4Safety will open a new business market and generate economic growth. Moreover, it will secure a competitive advantage to the European industry to take leadership in using drones in various applications.