A first project with Medical Delivery as theme was chosen for this programme. Research by DroneHub Noord-Nederland has shown that support for the use of (delivery) drones is many times greater when the flight is socially relevant, for example when it concerns a medical application.
Drones can be used to transport high value or high impact medical products quickly, demand dependent and without moving people. For example, imagine how drones could have contributed during the COVID19 crisis. Apart from the COVID19 crisis, this is already of great added value, for example for more remote locations in the earthquake area or for the Wadden Islands. Think of the transport of blood bags, different types of medication, AEDs, test kits, etc. The coronavirus makes the awareness to roll out this type of application even more interesting and relevant.
Working towards autonomous flying
The road to fully autonomous flying for goods and people will present the necessary challenges, such as acceptance among residents and employees, the laws and regulations regarding autonomous flying, not to mention the robustness, reliability and intelligence of such systems.
Carrying out the plan responsibly and in small, safe steps and always securing the steps is essential for this project. In this way, it is possible to scale up step by step to larger drones, longer distances and heavier packages.
As a first step, a series of live demonstrations were organized in 2020 and 2021. In collaboration with Hive.Mobility, these took place at the Zernike Campus Groningen. These demonstrations are seen as a first introduction and to promote awareness of future stakeholders and society as a whole. In 2022 and beyond, the further development of the delivery drone and flying longer distances and out of sight of the pilot will be central. Various pickup and delivery options are also being tested with a box, safe and/or winch. In addition, an operational hydrogen-powered drone will follow in 2022. The aim is to have a drone that can transport heavier cargo by 2023. A control room and registration or activation portal are also part of the test environment.
Within the field labs for autonomous transport, connection with educational and knowledge institutions plays a major role. For example, Noorderpoort, in collaboration with OmniDrones Academy, started a new movement within the Technician Engineering course for future drone experts in September. In close collaboration with OmniDrones Academy, Noorderpoort also offers drone pilot training for both its own students and the business community.
About the five field labs for autonomous transport
Road, air, rail, water and pipe (‘hyperloop’): in the Northern Netherlands, all modalities will have their own field lab for autonomous transport. As a result, the region will become the first real hub for autonomous transport in Europe. Autonomous transport should, among other things, improve the accessibility and quality of life in both urban and rural areas and reduce emissions as well as fuel consumption.
The aim of the field labs is to work towards both certification and the broad use of autonomous transport in daily practice through testing and upscaling. In addition, training and research are also linked to the field labs in order to sustainably safeguard and pass on knowledge and to develop sufficient talent.
The field labs are practice-oriented test locations, where various parties (governments, companies and knowledge institutions) develop, exchange knowledge and test together. Field labs will in any case be established at the new Hive Mobility Center on the Zernike Campus in Groningen (road, air and general affairs), at Groningen Airport Eelde (air), the Eemshaven (water) and the rail route between Buitenpost and De Vork train yard (track). Later, the European Hyperloop Center near Meerstad (tube) will be added as a field lab. There is also exchange between the field labs and the modalities can also test and develop in each other’s field lab. For example, people have already driven on the airstrip of the airport and flew with drones at Zernike and in the Eemshaven.
The use of an NPG subsidy has helped to make these various field labs possible.