(Originally featured in NoCamels)
Israel’s government-led initiative to pilot drone deliveries across the country entered its second phase this month with flights conducted and tested in residential areas and over city residents in the northern town of Hadera. The two-week demonstration began last Sunday, and will end this week, with flights being carried out over residential neighborhoods to simulate end-to-end drone deliveries – from the moment the order is placed via an app, up to and including the delivery of the goods to the customer.
Dubbed the NAAMA project (a Hebrew acronym for Urban Aerial Transport), the initiative’s aim is to eventually create a national drone network for commercial delivery, medical transport, and urban air mobility, and ultimately help reduce road congestion and improve air quality.
The program was established last year as a collaboration between the Israeli Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) at the Innovation Authority, the Israeli Ministry of Transport (through the Ayalon Highways company), the Israel Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA) and the Smart Transportation Authority, as well as private Israeli and foreign companies, to promote the use of drone delivery as a service. The Innovation Authority also indicated that the project was meant to facilitate technological breakthroughs while removing regulatory barriers and enabling Israel to become a “beta-site” for drone piloting and operations.
“This second demonstration is a major step toward the consumer world and the consumer market,” says Daniella Partem, head of C4IR at the Innovation Authority. “What we are seeing is very exciting. Drones flying in residential neighborhoods, over homes, malls, schools, buildings, and so on,” simulating deliveries.
“We are looking to create a national drone network, an ecosystem for the delivery of goods, for the public good, in a market that will make the cost of deliveries more competitive,” Partem tells NoCamels in a video interview. It’s building “an autonomous world from scratch.”
In this demo, deliveries were tested at a distance of approximately 10km (6 miles) and with a load of up to 2.5kg (5.5 pounds). The goal, says Partem is to increase the distance range and work with heavier loads so there’s economic viability.
Over the past eighteen months, the Innovation Authority said the stakeholders have been building experience, knowledge and familiarity with the regulatory framework necessary to optimize the use of drones for deliveries of goods and services.
“All the parties are coming together to create a sandbox,” Partem says, adding that not every government project has the ability to build this kind of program. “Usually, there’s a separation between the public offices and the private companies, they each know their own worlds, but everyone has an interest here and there are ongoing conversations with the regulators who are active members of the [Government Steering] Committee,” established last year to support and promote legislation to create a national drone network.
“There’s a strong emphasis on safety, so we are doing everything very gradually, checking everything, stopping where needed, re-starting and so on.”
The first demonstration took place in March 2021 as part of a series of eight demonstrations under the initiative. The test included 20 drones from five different companies flying about 300 sorties a day over open areas in Hadera, with each drone simulating one of a range of tasks including food deliveries, transport of medicine and medical equipment, as well as agricultural services.
The airspace was managed by an autonomous Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) system operated from the Ayalon Highways aerial control center in Tel Aviv – the command and control center of the demonstration. And the drones were monitored using software developed by Airwayz Drones which offers a multi-platform software that can control, manage, and automate the operation of drone fleets of different types for various missions. The solution uses a cloud-based network and decentralized swarm technology to share all flight information and enable operational coordination in real-time.
The second demonstration began last Sunday, with flights being operated by the six different groups of Israeli companies, and joined by the Israeli Police, the National Fire Department and the IDF Home Front Command to test various scenarios where dozens of drones are flying on various missions, and operating in a uniform airspace.
The system will be weighed on its ability to prioritize the various drone flights and clear the airspace when a large aircraft enters or when one of the aircrafts operated by the emergency services organizations enters in case of an emergency.
Partem recounts a moment when an emergency helicopter flew into the airspace and the drones rerouted automatically to allow the aircraft to maneuver.
The six groups of companies that took part in this second demo were Cando, a drone aviation company, and High-Lander Aviation, a company that facilitates advanced autonomous air space command and control to manage a fleet of drones; HarTek Technologies, also a command and control system for operating and managing various types of drones in a managed airspace; Flytech (F.T Technologies), a company that specializes in remotely operating manned aerial platforms for civilian and security applications, and SkyLinX, a company responsible for the development of autonomous airfields in smart cities which, in turn, allows drones to operate commercially; Simplex Interactive, a company that develops command and control solutions for various industries; Airwayz Drones, an artificial intelligence-based system for the smart management of airspaces and fleets of drones; and Blue White Robotics, a developer of autonomous tools and control systems for large swarms of drones on the ground and in the air, designed for both agricultural and urban settings.
Each group of companies worked in various areas of the demonstration. Cando and High-Lander carried out deliveries with companies already operating in commercial shipping such as Ratz Plus, and the Osher Ad retail chain, and will also fly medical supplies to a medical center, demonstrating a wide range of commercial delivery processes. FlyTech and SkyLinX tested flying and landing in urban spaces to deliver aerial shipments and will also demonstrate the safe transfer of documents to the Hadera Municipality. SkyLinx is also cooperating with commercial companies such as Flying Cargo and Nespresso to demonstrate the ability to fly commercial goods. And Blue White Robotics is set to demonstrate its Soteria system, which allows autonomous 24/7 planning, control and monitoring of a large number of drones for different tasks in the same airspace.
The Innovation Authority said this demo was the first time that drone delivery flights were being carried out in urban residential neighborhoods from key takeoff points in the city and in close proximity to businesses, schools and public institutions.
Partem says the next phase of the pilot will likely be fleshed out over the coming weeks as each demonstration is evaluated at length once it ends. The idea is to conduct a demonstration every quarter or so.
“We’re currently operating in a regulatory bubble so maybe in the next stage we will open that up and operate in two cities, with longer distance ranges and heavier loads,” explains Partem.
The long-term goal, she tells NoCamels, is to have the drone network up and running over the next few years.