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Safe flight management for drones with the cloud

It probably won't be too long before things get pretty crowded in the skies: According to a statistic from industry news website, drohnen-journal.de, by 2017 there were already between 20,000 and 25,000 professional drones in Germany’s airspace. Another study by Allianz’s industrial insurance group AGCS, showed that by next year around 4.3 million amateur pilots and 2.7 million commercial drones will be on the move worldwide. And aircraft manufacturer Airbus expects that by 2025 there will be more than 19,000 drone flights above Paris – per hour.

In order for unmanned air traffic to remain safe and for the aircraft to find their way to their destination unharmed, their flight plans have to be accurate down to the last detail: "The aim is to calculate the exact route, energy consumption and weather data – and to be able to react in real time to the latest changes such as weather changes immediately during the flight," says Michael Anger. The aviation engineer founded the company in 2017  – together with his colleague and trained commercial pilot Christoph Schlettig. The start-up is located in the Business Incubation Center of the European Space Agency ESA in Oberpfaffenhofen.

open-telekom-cloud-referenz-unisphere Founder of Unisphere: the trained commercial pilot Christoph Schlettig (left) and aviation engineer Michael Anger

Experience and expertise in flight management

Unisphere specializes in flight management and consulting for drones, air taxis and high-flying drones, also known as High-Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS) or pseudo satellites. The 10-strong team includes employees who participated in the first circumnavigation of the world with a solar airplane in 2016 – the project initiator and pilot at the time, Bertrand Piccard, is Unisphere’s patron.  

The Bavarian company develops flight plans for customers who use smaller drones for commercial purposes – for example as a delivery service to quickly supply hospitals with blood reserves. Unisphere's Flight Management Platform is open to all types of drones, and is highly scalable and certified. With their platform, the founders calculate parameters such as flight time or energy consumption, taking into account current weather conditions on the route. Customers receive a certified, digital flight plan.   

"To gain acceptance, automated flying drones must offer at the very least the safety level that is standard in aviation today," says Christoph Schlettig. "Risk assessments and certifications are therefore essential. Every single drone and every flight needs a valid flight plan."

Computationally-intensive flight management – a case for the cloud

This can be a challenge – especially when flight plans need to be changed at short notice. "All eventualities must be taken into account. For example, a destination airport might request an aircraft to circle for another five minutes and the planned landing time is delayed accordingly," says Michael Anger. "Then all the data has to be recalculated in real time during the flight."

open-telekom-cloud-referenz-unisphere-2 Everything that flies autonomous or radio controlled – Unisphere specializes in drones, air taxis, and High-Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS)

Unisphere relies on resources from the Open Telekom Cloud, Telekom's public cloud offering, for its compute-intensive and business-critical processes. "Calculations or rescheduling during the flight require maximum availability and must be completed within a few seconds. From our point of view, the Open Telekom Cloud is the ideal technical basis for this," says Schlettig. The necessary computing resources can be retrieved from the cloud as required and switched off again – a major advantage over proprietary hardware.

Memory and computing power as required from the cloud

Unisphere uses the high-performance Object Storage Service (OBS) to store, for example, historical and current weather data from satellites. The start-up requires an extraordinary amount of memory for this. The company uses virtual machines with fast processors to process current weather data. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) ensures secure data transfer. "We call up all these resources from the Open Telekom Cloud as required. This gives us the opportunity to create both highly dynamic and also more static computing clusters," says co-founder Anger.

When choosing Telekom as its cloud partner, its data center location in Germany and the processing in multiple-certified data centers played a major role for the start-up. The other important factor was the service provided by the Bonn-based provider. Christoph Schlettig: "A dedicated Deutsche Telekom contact person is available to answer all our questions. As a start-up, we have the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with cloud technology and make optimal use of the Open Telekom Cloud’s potential for our purposes – and we learn new things every day.”


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