Nov 26, 2020

Vodafone, Ericsson trial sky corridors for delivery drones

Harry Menear
2 min
The technological breakthrough could allow operators to use fully automated drone fleets for medical, commercial and industrial deliveries
The technological breakthrough could allow operators to use fully automated drone fleets for medical, commercial and industrial deliveries...

Delivery drones have been hovering at the edge of the public imagination for a number of years now. So far, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for drone fleet developers has been finding ways for drones to continue working safely when they fly out of sight of their operators. 

Tackling the Beyond Visual Line of Sight issue has been a sticking point for companies looking to deploy autonomous fleets over the past few years, as drone technologies like Unmanned Traffic Management still have some way to go before they can be left alone to operate in populated areas in good conscience. 

“Controlling a drone Beyond Visual Line of Sight isn’t easy. Most drones use proprietary protocols, which are set and don’t allow for flexible mobile control,” wrote Fredrik Flyrin, Innovation Program Manager at Ericsson, in a recent article. The issue is getting drones enough data to successfully navigate their environments without supervision, which can go very wrong very quickly if the drone strays outside of its network coverage. 

Thanks to a new trial conducted by Ericsson and Vodafone, mobile networks may be able to play a pivotal role in drone adoption for commercial and industrial purposes. Using Vodafone’s own network, the two firms conducted a proof of concept trial in Andover, Germany earlier this month which used secure flight path corridors to keep delivery drones within reach of their networks. “Non-mobile network drone range is limited to line of sight operation. Using mobile networks for drone delivery will significantly expand the flying or delivery range, including beyond line of sight use,” said Ericsson in a press statement. 

The trial saw Ericsson and Vodafone use network data traffic in order to guide drones away from areas of poor network coverage or overloaded cell towers. As a result, the drones were guaranteed coverage from departure to destination. 

Erik Ekudden, Chief Technology Officer, Ericsson, said: “Drones are immensely powerful tools for many businesses. We are still only scratching the surface of the possibilities they will open up, which makes our collaboration with Vodafone all the more exciting. Smarter network capabilities on our reliable mobile network will enable key industries such as healthcare, construction, and agriculture to accelerate site deployment, reduce health and safety hazards, and save lives."

He adds: “With this technology, service providers can expand their cellular IoT services for enterprises, confidently meet regulatory measures. This is another milestone in Ericsson's partnership with Vodafone, as we continue to evolve our network and meet the diverse needs of fundamental industries.” 

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Jun 9, 2021

Digital transformation stumbles at the UK North-South divide

3 min
New data from Pulsant points to the UK’s digital divide mapping closely to the geographical divide between the affluent, digitalised South, and the North. 

Since the dawn of Thatcherite Britain in the 1980’s, the division between the country’s North and South has grown into a social and economic gulf. Through the concerted efforts of Tory governance - and compounded by the neoliberal policies of the Blaire era - London has become the economic, cultural and social heart of the UK, much to the detriment of other industrial and population hubs, particularly in the North of England and Scotland. 

In his 2014 essay, Thatcher’s Legacy Still Looms Large: The North-South divide in Britain’s electoral support, Ed Fieldhouse, the principal investigator of the British Election Study, and a professor at the University of Manchester, noted that during the economic turmoil of the 1970s and the deep recession of the  early 1980s, “the North of Britain was hardest hit by economic restructuring and deindustrialisation.” 

He adds: “The Conservative Party under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher became associated with neo-Liberal economic policies  that many regarded as the solution to Britain’s economic problems. Others saw them as legitimising the mass unemployment of the era. Not surprisingly those favouring market based approaches were disproportionately likely to live in the South of Britain whilst the rest of the country favoured redistribution and government intervention.” Those policies, which spurred economic growth in the South (particularly in London), and stemmed it in the rest of the country, continue to shape the UK’s socio-political and economic makeup today. 

Now, new research from Pulsant suggests that the UK’s North-South divide is extending into the age of digital transformation as well, something that could have dire consequences for the future of the nation as it makes its way into a post-Brexit future on one withered, shaky leg. 

According to Pulsant’s survey of business and IT leaders throughout the UK, 61% of organisations in the South East and London say their location is advantageous to their digital transformation ambitions compared to just 41% in the rest of England. 

“There is a clear regional divide emerging across the country as organisations strive for digital agility. The South East has better access to infrastructure, leadership and skills to drive change,” commented Pulsant CTO Simon Michie on Wednesday. 

While digital transformation is recognised as essential to organisations on both sides of the divide (with 75% in the North saying transformation is ‘very important’ compared to 71% in the South) enterprises in the North of England say that a lack of specialist skills caused by the mass migration of talent to London is a huge barrier to success. “Lack of specialist skills is cited as the biggest barrier to digital transformation with 40% in the region saying this is the case. The majority in the North (69%) say location is a barrier to accessing talent compared to 51% in the South. Just under half (49%) in the North say they require niche skill sets that are not currently available, compared to just 35% in the South,” notes the report. 

However, Michie also revealed that the North “has the biggest appetite for digital transformation which has been spurred on by the pandemic, but businesses in the region are struggling to keep up with the rest of the country. Various barriers are putting transformation efforts at risk and businesses in the region will need to focus on identifying where external skills, support and expertise are required to help them future-proof and reach their digital potential.”

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