The New Energy Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) held a press briefing on the "Safe and Secure Drone Infrastructure and Technology Development" project on site and online on April 13. Although the industrial use of drones, such as in agriculture and construction, has advanced in recent years, this project has focused on the design and development of standard drones that can ensure safety and reliability for government procurement. This helps meet the operational needs for drones in the government, public sector, and elsewhere, such as surveying water damage and other types of damage during disasters like earthquakes that have become increasingly common in recent years, and inspecting and monitoring infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and power facilities. As a result, they have been able to develop a mini drone with adequate safety and high reliability, which was why the press briefing was organized.
At the briefing, the staff outlined the project and explained the outcomes of the technology developed. It was attended by NEDO’s Akinori Kanaya (Director, Robotics and AI Department), Satoshi Washiya (President and COO, Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory (ACSL)), Satoshi Kawasaki (Head, Next-Generation Mobility Policy Team, Industrial Machinery Division, Manufacturing Industries Bureau at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI)), and Grid Sky Way’s Narihito Kamimoto (Chief Executive Officer). NEDO’s Kanaya first described the project outline.
According to him, NEDO allocated a budget of 1.61 billion yen over the two-year period from FY2020 to FY2021 for this project. Research and development items have been divided into consignment and grant projects. The consignment project involves "standard machine design and development of drones and standard infrastructure design and development of flight controllers for government procurement." The project content includes standard machine design and development of easy-to-use drones with high-performance aerial photography functions, standard infrastructure design, development of flight controllers with high flight performance and steering, API release, and development and implementation of technology for high security. The contractors are ACSL, Yamaha Motor Company, and NTT Docomo.
The grant project involves "support for the design and development of principal drone components as well as for the construction of mass production systems." The project content includes support for designing and developing principal components for higher performance and for constructing systems that are safe and secure at all stages, from mass production to support and disposal. The developers are Yamaha Motor Company, Xacti, and Advanced Simulation Technology of Mechanics R&D (ASTOM). The consignment project will conclude on July 31 this year and the grant project, on November 30.
Next, ACSL’s Washiya introduced their drone that is under development. The mini drone developed is a compact aerial photography drone that weighs 1.7 kg, is 65 cm wide, has IP43 certification (dustproof and waterproof), and has a flight time of 30 minutes. Its features include broad extensibility with a one-touch camera and standard communication protocols, security measures for flight data, photography data, communication, and excellent maneuverability. The standard camera for aerial photography is compatible with 4K video (20 million pixels), and visible light + infrared and multispectral cameras can be attached. Kanaya said that he expects it to be launched in the market promptly after the project’s end in FY2021. In addition, he indicated that they expect the cultivation of a business ecosystem, including the provision of value-added services using the API of the flight controller to be released after the project’s end as well as of high-performance parts that use the interface of the principal components.
Kamimoto stated there are 470,000 electric power facilities in Japan. Because of the variety of these facilities, they must be approached closely and monitored with drones. There are high expectations from the infrastructure side, as drones are ideal for monitoring power lines from end to end. Kawakami indicated that robust security is required in the use of drones by the government and public sector.
In this project, ventures and large corporations worked together to tackle challenges, which paved the way for achievement of the desired results. The goal is for the developed drone to be widely used by the government and public sector, to promote the development of private-sector drones using this project’s results, and to provide domestic drones that can be sold internationally. Price was a key point, so competitive pricing was considered a necessary part of commercialization. Washiya said they plan to begin commercialization in the fall and that they want to meet all expectations.
This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd.(https://sci-news.co.jp/). Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.