Flying Forward 2020 (FF2020) is a three-year project funded by the European Union, developing an entire state-of-the-art geospatial Urban Air Mobility (UAM) ecosystem. By deploying and testing this Urban Air Mobility geospatial ecosystem in five living labs, FF2020 will be able to deliver a best-in-class drone infrastructure, autonomous monitoring and last-mile delivery.
High Tech Campus Eindhoven (HTCE) is one of the 12 organisations comprising the FF2020 consortium and is often referred to as the smartest square kilometre in Europe. A campus-based ecosystem of 250 high-tech companies, HTCE is home to more than 12,000 innovators, researchers and engineers that create the technologies and businesses of tomorrow. For this interview, we spoke with Ted van Hoof of HTCE to find out the organisation's specific role in FF2020 and how their implementation approach will contribute to the project's success.
About Ted van Hoof
Ted van Hoof is UAM Project Manager at High Tech Campus Eindhoven and the co-founder of Qualified.technology – an online platform that helps organisations advance their technology development. Previously, he worked at TMC Nanotechnology in Eindhoven. He received his bachelor's degree in Applied Physics at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands and his master's degree at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany, New York.
Can you describe how you became involved with High Tech Campus Eindhoven and the FF2020 project?
The Qualified.technology office is based on HTCE, so we are in close contact with the organisation. Our platform brings together high-tech experts and organisations with a niche area of expertise, which can be mutually beneficial. We received an inquiry from HTCE about finding a partner for Urban Air Mobility project management for FF2020 through our platform, and the prospect of collaborating on a project with the potential for significant impact on this new industry and carrying out drone testing on campus was very enticing. We became convinced that we could make a vast contribution to the project with our in-house expertise. It compelled us to strike a partnership with FF2020 through High Tech Campus Eindhoven. Ever since that time, I have been helping HTCE make the use of autonomous drones on campus a reality.
What is the role of HTCE in the FF2020 project?
HTCE is one of the five FF2020 living labs where we put different elements of Urban Air Mobility into practice by implementing specific use cases to support the HTCE organisation. On High Tech Campus Eindhoven, over 12,000 professionals work on developing new technology and products. The companies that are part of the HTCE ecosystem are managed by the campus' organisation. The goal of our living lab and High Tech Campus Eindhoven is to become a frontrunner in UAM innovations through real-world application in a controlled environment to support campus residents and organisations. To accomplish this, we will test five different use cases on campus.
Can you describe the demonstrations that will take place on HTCE?
The first use case focuses on security, for which drones will be used to conduct surveillance of campus grounds to assist security personnel in safeguarding the premises. Our second use case involves building monitoring. To this end, drones will be used to scan and inspect buildings to assess their condition. With the help of images taken by the drones, HTCE will be able to track the evolution of defects. The other three use cases relate to last-mile delivery – the final step in transporting goods to the end-user. The last-mile deliveries that will be tested on campus are meal deliveries, express shipping, which encompasses picking up packages and dropping them off at a distribution centre, as well as the delivery of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) to the rural part of campus.
These demonstrations allow us to showcase drone technology that is being developed in the Urban Air Mobility ecosystem within the FF2020 consortium and how they connect to different services on HTCE.
Why is High Tech Campus Eindhoven the ideal living lab location?
High Tech Campus Eindhoven is considered to be the smartest square kilometre in Europe, and as such, we are at the heart of innovation in the Netherlands. The innovation goals of HTCE are aligned with the goals established in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs) set by the United Nations, one of which is sustainable cities and communities through new mobility and transport. So, in this context, HTCE is seeking new ways of adopting sustainable and efficient transport methods to achieve its innovation goals. Additionally, HTCE has a well-defined geographical area, and it's situated in the military Controlled Traffic Region (CTR), i.e., controlled airspace to protect military air traffic operations. We have taken all the necessary measures to conduct safe UAM demonstrations on campus, which has allowed us to make satisfactory agreements with the military, enabling us to use the airspace they control for these purposes.
Which results do you aim to achieve through your research?
I believe that Flying Forward 2020 has a broad aim. Our project will perform diverse demonstrations in five living labs across five European Cities (Eindhoven, Milan, Zaragoza, Tartu and Oulu). The results achieved in each living lab will allow the FF2020 tech partners to fine-tune their solutions in order to facilitate the adoption of UAM by our service partners. This will enable them to incorporate drone technology into their day-to-day activities. Thus, our living labs will serve as a testing field to improve technologies developed by our partners and increase their market adoption. Our long-term goal for HTCE is to create a safe structure on campus to experiment with different technologies, ultimately becoming a testing location for organisations looking to do trial runs for developing Urban Air Mobility services and products.
How will the results of the demonstrations on High Tech Campus Eindhoven contribute to the FF2020 project outcomes?
What we are trying to achieve with FF2020 is to help advance UAM solutions to support the development of smarter, more resilient and sustainable cities. Our role as a living lab is to test UAM innovations on campus to foster the adoption of drone technologies in cities and ecosystems. The results of our research will help advance our technology. With this knowledge, we can make recommendations to the European Commission on a more adaptive and lenient approach to regulation and legislation for safe and faster implementation of Urban Air Mobility in cities.
Can you describe the toughest challenge you had to overcome during the preparation of the demonstrations?
The preparations for these demonstrations have been a massive entrepreneurial undertaking. We are supporting our FF2020 partners in aligning and testing different systems from various stakeholders who are in the process of creating an interoperable UAM ecosystem of technologies and policies. The challenge and complexity lie in making sure we help align the needs and requirements of our partners and stakeholders in a safe way to prevent casualties or drones colliding with each other or into buildings.
What other challenges can arise during the testing phase of autonomous drone operations on High Tech Campus Eindhoven?
We have made all the necessary arrangements to prepare for safe testing of technologies and operations of autonomous drones on campus. Still, trials in real-world environments can always result in unforeseen circumstances that we cannot control ahead of time. Weather is an excellent example of a factor that lies beyond our control. If we must deal with rain and windy days when we conduct our demonstrations, it can lead to unexpected disruptions of operations. Another possible disruption is connectivity issues due to jamming factors in urban areas. In the end, we will have to consider outside factors that can interfere with drone testing on campus.
Based on the experience you have gained preparing for the demonstrations, what do you believe could be improved to successfully manage Urban Air Mobility on HTCE in the long term?
Widening the scope of regulation and legislation is necessary because it is very strict at this moment. An excellent example of a rule that needs to be adjusted is that concerning BVLOS flights (i.e., beyond the visual line of sight flights in which remote pilots fly drones without maintaining the aircraft within view at all times. BVLOS flights would allow operators to carry out more than one flight, resulting in long-distance operations for greater efficiency and economic value). Right now, BVLOS flights are technically feasible, but they are in violation of the law, so it requires us to work with many operators in order to carry out drone operations. If restrictions on current rules and regulations are eased on this type of flight, we can work towards a fully autonomous Urban Air Mobility ecosystem.
How do you think Flying Forward 2020 will add value to European citizens and industries?
HTCE is the first living lab in this research and innovation project to perform tests and demonstrations. It is also one of the first sites in Europe to experiment with Urban Air Mobility and experience multiple drones flying autonomously to perform specific tasks. At this point, any knowledge we gain from these tests will contribute to making a step forward that will benefit others in this field. The use cases on HTCE will help improve UAM solutions so that European citizens can see drones flying safely above them within the next decade or so. Additionally, they will be able to experience the benefits of Urban Air Mobility, such as the quick delivery of medical supplies and reduced vehicle emissions, to name a couple.
What other contributions do you wish to make to High Tech Campus Eindhoven residents and partners through Flying Forward 2020?
I believe social acceptance of drone operations is critical to FF2020 and UAM. We want campus residents to react to drone operations on HTCE positively. The campus setting is tranquil and peaceful, and we don't want residents to feel that drones flying over their heads are disrupting this relaxed atmosphere around them. These aircraft will be flying at an altitude between 50 and 100 metres; will residents view them as a workplace interference? So, we will reach out to campus residents to find out if they are willing to adopt drones as a helpful and productive tool to provide certain services, such as delivering a pizza, or if they're a nuisance in their eyes.
On the other hand, we can also add value to our service partners and their operations. For instance, drones can be used to do surveillance at night for security or building inspection purposes, which would be cost-beneficial to their daily operations in the long run.
What is the most important personal lesson you've learned during the preparation of the demonstrations on HTCE?
The Urban Air Mobility and U-space concepts were new to us, so we had to start from scratch. It required us to learn and build our expertise in this industry with no prior knowledge. After almost a year of preparation, it is exhilarating to have our first testing day at the end of March for FF2020. For the first time, drone operations will take place on HTCE. We will start with some simple test flights, which we will gradually build up over the coming months into a fully autonomous drone ecosystem in which multiple drones are simultaneously operated. It can be somewhat scary, but at the same time, we are well-prepared, so I'm also greatly looking forward to those days.