The number of drone users has increased significantly in recent years. The technology is becoming popular with people working with visual media and in agriculture, industry, and transport. However, a big breakthrough is expected once autonomous drones enter the market on a large scale. Preparing for that moment, Poland has launched the Central European Drone Demonstrator (CEDD) project that will help to create the necessary conditions for a new drone-based economic sector known as “U-space.” For this to happen, an entirely new regulatory system will have to be created, similar to when the first cars started appearing in our cities at the turn of the 19th century.
The Polish project is part of a larger EU initiative, the European Network of U-space Demonstrators, which was launched in 2018 by the European Commission after the European Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, laid out the case for a U-space economy at a summit in Warsaw in 2016. She argued that for such a new sector of the economy to appear, it would be necessary to create a U-space system that connects all flying drones, making them visible to authorities and citizens alike. With the U-space regulatory framework coming into force in 2023, it is now time for the network to shift its focus from demonstration to implementation.
Drones in Central Eastern Europe
Poland created the CEDD in 2018 to study how drones could best be used by local governments, as well as actors involved with the industry, agriculture, environmental protection, and transport. The skies over the Katowice region serve as an experimental area, where the local U-space ecosystem is developing progressively in accordance with the development of technologies that pave the way for the use of more and more autonomous drones. It is a lucrative undertaking as U-space is an environment that enables and interacts with other advanced technologies such as the Internet of Things, 5G, blockchain technology, and virtual reality.
Per EU guidelines, the geographical areas (drone demonstrators) where the drone technology and regulatory systems are perfected are actively cooperating with demonstrators in other EU countries. In 2018, the CEDD was put on the Three Seas Initiative list of priority projects making its mission one of the most important fields for R&D cooperation in Central Eastern Europe. The drone demonstrator area around Katowice welcomes companies, academics, and local governments from all Central European states to participate in the process of creating a drone ecosystem within the framework of CEDD.
By pooling together resources and knowledge, the Three Seas region will be prepared for a not-so-distant future in which drones are widely used to patrol roads and highways, coordinate rescue operations, and document losses after natural disasters and transport shipments. As autonomous drones become increasingly common, using “air highways” controlled by a central U-space system coordinating collision-free flight between large numbers of drones communicating with each other, the countries that were early adopters of the technology will have a head start.
The CEDD project has the potential of ensuring that this is the case for the countries in Central Eastern Europe. It is up to the region’s entrepreneurs and public officials to seize the opportunity once the EU’s U-space regulatory framework comes into effect in 2023.