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Reimagining Urban Skies, Israeli Drone Network Draws Interest From Brazil, India

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

A drone flight test in Hadera. Photo: Israel Innovation Authority / Aviv Bar-Zohar

Israel will soon be flying drones to deliver medicine and food from the skies above multiple cities simultaneously, as part of a government-led national pilot already drawing interest from partners around the world.

Coming off a recent test phase in the northern Israeli city of Hadera, the Israel National Drone Initiative has been approached by companies hailing from Brazil and India, said Daniella Partem, who leads the project at the Israel Innovation Authority.

“It’s a sign of how far we have come with this project and how interesting it is on an international scale, and how interested Israel is in implementing new technologies and creating the leading pilot sites for drone delivery in urban areas,” Partem told The Algemeiner.

The Hadera tests included multiple drone flights over malls, high schools, kindergartens and housing in and around the city. As part of the two-week exercise, flights were carried out to simulate end-to-end drone deliveries — from the moment an order is placed via an app, to the arrival of the goods like cosmetics, food and medicine directly to residents’ doorstep.

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Partem, who heads the Israeli Center for the Forth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) as part of a collaboration with the World Economic Forum (WEF), recalled moments during the dry run when airplanes or helicopters sailed through the Hadera airspace.

“Amazingly, you could see how the drones autonomously or automatically just moved to the side to let it pass by,” she said. “That was a major success for us to see that the system is working. The drones are reacting, communicating and dealing with real life challenges.”

The flights were operated by six different state-funded companies, and supported in part by more than $7 million in government funds. 700 flights were operated in the project’s first phase, and by the end of the second phase, 6,300 flights had taken off above Israeli skies.

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 demo’s command and control center.

“Managing a smart aerial space with multiple drones flying simultaneously over the heart of the city of Hadera, controlled from the Savidor metropolitan traffic control center in Tel Aviv, demonstrates the technological feasibility of operating multiple drones right from the moment that customers order goods all the way to home delivery of those goods,” commented Itamar Ben-Meir, CEO of Ayalon Highways.

Eventually, the goal is to create a national drone network that would help deliver essentials like medicines, reduce road congestion, and even improve air pollution. Behind the initiative is a public-private partnership involving the Israel Innovation Authority, the Ayalon Highways company, the Israel Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA) and the Smart Transportation Authority.

“We are probably creating one of the most progressive pilot sites in the world for drone delivery, technologically and regulatory. We are trying to combine technology and regulation in order for us to create a new ecosystem,” Partem said. “While flying drones for medical supplies from one hospital site to another is nice and economically viable, in particular for COVID-19 exams, the understanding is that if we want to create a network, we need to have many drones flying in many urban areas at the same time.”

Partem said the October test phase would aim to fly over multiple cities at once, like Hadera, Tel Aviv or Jerusalem — hopefully involving more partners and their drones, encouraging interested firms to continue creating a market for the technology.

“From what we know, there isn’t such a pilot site around the world, like in Israel, in terms of the drones that are flying in the same urban space, the amount of companies and the number of flights a day,” Parten explained.

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