Number Plates for Drones?

Personalised number plates for cars have been around for decades and, let’s face it, you either love them or hate them. But what about number plates for drones?

DRONE 1

That’s what the Danish government and a university are working on at the moment. And, before you go rushing out to reserve your own special, cherished number, you need to know that the number plates they’re working on are electronic and a bit like a transponder on a full size aircraft.

The University of Southern Denmark (SDU) in Odense and the Danish Transport and Construction Agency both realise that if the economics benefits of drones are to be maximised then they have to be safe and accountable.

Drone with electronic number plate

An SDU drone with a “number plate” attached.

“If the commercial drone industry is to be a success, it requires the population’s confidence in secure and lawful operation. Solutions must be simple, cheap and easy to implement in order to be successful. I think that the drone number plate will live up to all these demands,” says Brad Beach, Leader of SDU’s drone centre.

The introduction of drone number plates will allow the authorities to identify airborne drones as well as to monitor drone activity online. Two different models are being worked on: One is a small GPS that sends its position via the mobile network to a server when the drone is airborne, the other will send direct radio communication to a scanner on the ground.

An electronic drone number plate

A drone “number plate” developed by the University of Southern Denmark

SDU has already carried out the first test flights at their local airport – Hans Christian Andersen Airport in Odense. The next tests will be in the hands of ten professional drone operators. Their aircraft will be fitted with electronic number plates and they’ll put them through their paces for a whole month. The university will then analyse the results before producing a report for the DTCA at the end of the year. It’s hoped that the research will contribute to the forthcoming drone legislation, both in Denmark and Europe.

The drone industry has been undergoing rapid growth in recent years and, according to the European Commission, in 2050 the growth will translate into 150,000 jobs and a revenue of 15 billion euros (£10.6 billion) in Europe.

“At the moment we are seeing a strong growth in the proliferation and possible application of drones. This development greatly challenges the regulations for the use of drones that originate from a time when today’s usage of drones was not even dreamt of. Consequently, there is a need to adapt and introduce up-to-date regulations so that new possibilities inherent in drones can be best used while simultaneously ensuring public acceptance of drones,” says Per Schmock, Head of Division at the DTCA.

“We will see continued growth in the use of drones. With electronic ID/number plates it will be far easier to ensure that drones operating in urban areas are authorised and that they are operating in accordance with regulations.”

Heliguy number plate

Of course for a system like this to work it would have to be made compulsory. With the proliferation of hobby and consumer drones how do you ensure that all remotely piloted aircraft are tagged? Attaching a number plate to new ones won’t be too difficult but ensuring that existing ones like the DJI Phantom or Inspire 1 are electronically labelled will be a tricky one to sort out. It’ll also be interesting to see if these tests are too late to influence the European Union drone regulation proposals which are due before the end of the year.

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