AerialTronics – Pilot Results
Basic Pilot Data
Type of company: SME
Country: The Netherlands
- Type of industry: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
- Focus of pilot: PENSAR: computer vision platform
Interview with Timothy van Langeveld, head legal council & regulatory affairs
‘I think the main lesson that we have learned from the pilot is you can’t innovate in a vacuum. We have tried to do it for some time but you need others. You get the best results when you involve others’
Aerialtronics develops autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). UAVs, also known as drones, are large vehicles that can operate either autonomously or in a swarm. The company focuses on specific technologies that allow the drone to operate more independently from an operator and aims to sell the drones for professional and commercial tasks, such as monitoring and small maintenance tasks carried out for instance by police, fire departments or industrial inspection and maintenance companies. In the Autumn of 2017, the company was acquired by Drone Volt, a French manufacturer of commercial drones. With the acquisition of the knowledge base of Aerialtronics, Drone Volt can further develop the drone technology and include specific technologies, in particular in the field of security.Central to the UAVs is the development of technologies allowing these vehicles to operate safely in an urbanized environment. Currently, existing legislation prevents these activities and as such the commercial value of the technology.
- The RRI PRISMA pilot has been endorsed by the head of legal council and regulatory affairs
- Motivation for RRI: learn about new methods and approaches to identify the risks and uncertainties with respect to potential future ethical, legal and social impacts when developing and implementing commercial and professional drones. In the past, the company has faced serious pitfalls in the drone development as a result of ethical, legal and social issues which led to longer lead times, higher costs and endangered competitive position.
Aerialtronics has developed professional drones that are equipped with technology to monitor and survey by drawing on artificial intelligence and big data analytics. The main technology is the Altura Zenith surveillance system which can be extended by data capture modules (audio, video, physical parameters, etc.) and software for the processing and analysis of the data collected.
The technology we focus on in the PRISMA pilot is the PENSAR. The PENSAR is a dual spectrum computer vision platform that is mounted to a drone and operates with the Altura Zenith. The PENSAR can capture images and data and analyse it real-time by making use of reading text or thermal vision. This helps the operator of the drone, for instance to recognize characteristics, read license plates of cars or serial numbers of equipment immediately in the course of performing monitoring tasks. PENSAR is equipped with a special privacy masking tool. This tool automatically and instantly blurs the details of sensitive data such as the privacy of bystanders.
We decided to focus on the PENSAR technology, because it is being sold and has a potential high intrusion on people’s private life.
- Possible areas of application for drones are continuously increasing
- Entry into new markets, such as urban areas
- Industry fragmentation, absence of industry standards in technology
- Regulation needs evidence, public and media are receptive to the issues with drones
- Regulation for emerging and novel, autonomous, AI data driven drone technologies
- High level discussions and international regulation authorities are difficult to access for SMEs
Reflection & Anticipation
- Privacy and social impact analysis: to ensure that the drones and the camera systems are used wisely by commercial operators, the technology is equipped with smart camera’s that automatically blur faces of people and protect the disclosure of other private information. This technology is not fully certified and needs to be included in compliance and regulatory protocols. Within the pilot it has discussed within the company and with stakeholders how to generate data and evidence in order to build a case for regulatory authorities to accept the technology and allow operators to use it in their operations.
- Building legitimacy, connecting stakeholders and industry partners. Individual companies do need to see they have a role in the development of regulation. By building a community of producers and users of drones, bringing together their knowledge and concerns, the company tries to develop a playing field for discussion, and strengthen the legitimacy of the overall sector
- User based and stakeholder inclusive approaches to experimental sites/living labs. The development of living labs and test fields with stakeholders can help to conduct experiments and provide evidence that the new technology does respect ethical, legal and social issues.
- Engage collaborations within industry to develop common interest, set standards. To ensure the industry is committed to hold to the guidelines it necessitates the inclusion of various industry and policy experts and have them jointly collaborate by warranting their ownership and commitment.
- Development of design guidelines for regulatory compliance (safety and ethical requirements), in cooperation with regulators and authorities. The aim is to provide a framework for companies in the drone industry to organise and have a common approach for drone development and operations which can also be easily checked and monitored by local and regional authorities.
The aspects relevant for the RRI uptake by the company have been synthetized in an overall diagram, following the visual approach described in the PRISMA exemplar roadmap. (See download) .
The RRI roadmap developed in PRISMA is a useful starting point for RRI uptake for Aerialtronics. It could be as well helpful for other companies in the field developing specific add-on technologies for drone applications, such as smart camera systems.
Aerialtronics is very active in the short-term activities, developing a framework of reference for drone design and development. The effect of these guidelines is aimed at the longer term to ensure acceptance between commercial drone operators and the governmental authorities.
The smallness of the company in terms of resources and representativeness, puts pressure on the extent the company can live up to meeting the steps as outlined in the roadmap. Yet the drone sector is characterised as an emerging one with many small players and Aerialtronics is, despite its small size, among the major leaders in the sector, and has a strong position in the stakeholder dialogues with governments at EU level to promote further regulation in the field.