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  5. Demonstration Test of Drones Taking Advantage of Quasi-Zenith Satellite System called “Michibiki” Conducted

Demonstration Test of Drones Taking Advantage of Quasi-Zenith Satellite System called “Michibiki” Conducted

Test for pinpoint delivery of products in a dome environment surrounded by structural objects, as the first such initiative in Japan

May 23, 2019

Joint Press Release with the National Space Policy Secretariat of the Cabinet Office, the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization and Rakuten, Inc.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the National Space Policy Secretariat of the Cabinet Office, the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and Rakuten, Inc. jointly conducted a demonstration test of drones to examine pinpoint delivery of products in a dome environment surrounded by structural objects. This test, the first such initiative in Japan, was conducted by sending highly-accurate positioning information to the autonomous flight control systems in the drones from the quasi-zenith satellite system called “Michibiki”, which produces highly-accurate positioning data that complements GPS performance and identifies targets on the scale of a few centimeters.

Having requested NEDO and Rakuten, Inc. to cooperate in conducting the demonstration test, METI and the National Space Policy Secretariat (hereinafter referred to as the “organizers”), in collaboration with Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory Ltd., Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, the Japan Drone Consortium and the Saitama Koen Ryokuchi Kyokai, conducted a demonstration test of drones, simulating pinpoint delivery of products for the distribution industry, i.e., landing drones in a target area of one square meter or less, at Sainokuni Kumagaya Dome which is a sports facility within the Kumagaya Sports & Culture Park in Kumagaya City, Saitama Prefecture. This test, the first such initiative in Japan, was conducted by sending highly-accurate positioning information to the autonomous flight control systems in the drones from the quasi-zenith satellite system called “Michibiki”.

The demonstration test succeeded in landing a drone within about 25cm of the center of the target area. This result revealed that drones can be used for highly-accurate pinpoint delivery of products. Through this test, the organizers confirmed the feasibility of reducing the size of takeoff/landing areas for drones as well as the feasibility of simultaneous operation of multiple drones in the same airspace and they also examined the potential of using “Michibiki,” which began operating on November 1, 2018, for distribution purposes.

The results of the demonstration test will be showcased at a booth titled “Combination of Michibiki and Drones” to be exhibited at the Location Business Japan (LBJ) 2019 from June 12 to 14, 2019, at Makuhari Messe.

Video of the test

1. Overview of the demonstration test

NEDO has been advancing: research and development of criteria for assessing the performance of unmanned aerial vehicles that can be utilized in certain fields, such as distribution, infrastructure inspection and disaster response; and the project for developing a system for public implementation of such vehicles and their flight tests.* Specifically, it has been developing an operation control system, collision-avoidance technologies and activities for international standardization.

Meanwhile, “Michibiki,” the quasi-zenith satellite system which began operation on November 1, 2018, has a variety of characteristics, such as providing highly-accurate positioning data that complements GPS performance and identifies targets on the scale of a few centimeters and high feasibility in certain environments, such as areas surrounded by buildings, thanks to the satellite’s ability to maintain a constant quasi-zenith orbit for longer periods of time, which prevents signals distributed from the satellite from being influenced by objects surrounding a ground-based target.

In response to the request for cooperation by the organizers, NEDO and Rakuten, Inc., in collaboration with Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory Ltd., Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, the Japan Drone Consortium and the Saitama Koen Ryokuchi Kyokai, conducted the demonstration test. This test was conducted using “Tenku,” a drone developed by Rakuten, Inc. exclusively for its Rakuten Drone Project. This demonstration test has significance in terms of the three points below:

  1. Effective utilization of drones in limited airspace
    If highly-accurate positioning systems can be reliably used by flight control systems in drones, this will allow for the operation of a larger number of drones in the same limited airspace in the future.
  2. Removal of floor mats for image recognition
    If drones are equipped with a highly-accurate positioning system which can be used by the flight control system, image recognition systems including floor mats will not be necessary for flight- or landing control.
  3. Minimizing drone port size
    If distribution drones can land accurately in small target areas, drone ports, which are areas used for takeoff and landing of drones, can be smaller, allowing operators to increase efficiency in both constructing such ports and operating their drones.

The demonstration test aimed to examine the flight accuracy of drones by taking advantage of “Michibiki.”
The test was conducted at a dome surrounded by structural objects. The dome has a Teflon-coated ceiling that dampens radio waves and thus provides an environment with a radio-wave intensity weaker than that of surrounding environments. Meanwhile, the dome protects drones from wind, allowing operators to collect appropriate data regarding the positional accuracy of a landing drone. Conventionally, these tests  control the landing positions of drones with a camera or other sensor. This test only utilized the positioning control system of the quasi-zenith satellite system.

Through this test, the organizers confirmed the feasibility of effective utilization of limited airspace and the simplification of landing facilities, e.g., specialized floor mats used for image recognition and drone ports, mentioned above, and they also examined the potential of using “Michibiki” for distribution purpose.

The results used in the demonstration test will be showcased at a booth titled “Combination of Michibiki and Drones” at Location Business Japan (LBJ) 2019 from June 12 to 14, 2019, at Makuhari Messe.

2. Outline of the demonstration test

Period: From March 12 to 19, 2019, including the pretest period
Site: Sainokuni Kumagaya Dome, Kumagaya Sports & Culture Park, Kumagaya City, Saitama Prefecture
Purpose: Confirmation of takeoff and landing accuracy of a drone utilizing highly-precise positioning information from a quasi-zenith satellite system called “Michibiki” with the drone’s autonomous flight control system
Built-in equipment: AQLOC-VCX, a highly-accurate positioning terminal compatible with a quasi-zenith satellite system, which was developed by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation; QZSS L6 as the type of signals that complements GPS performance
Test drone: “Tenku,” a multirotor drone jointly developed by Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory Ltd. and Rakuten, Inc., with specifications of six rotors, 1,200mm total length, 20m/s maximum velocity in the horizontal direction and 3m/s in the vertical direction and 10m/s wind resistance performance.
Major achievements: The organizers conducted the demonstration test at a dome surrounded by structural objects, succeeded in landing the drone at a point within about 25cm on average from the center of the target area, and confirmed the feasibility of highly-accurate drone flights. Through these efforts, they confirmed the feasibility of high-density, simultaneous operation of multiple drones in a limited airspace as well as that of downsizing of takeoff/landing areas for drones. Based on these facts, the organizers examined the potential of using “Michibiki” in distribution.
Organizers: The National Space Policy Secretariat and METI
Cooperators: NEDO, Rakuten, Inc., Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory Ltd., Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, the Japan Drone Consortium and the Saitama Koen Ryokuchi Kyokai

*Note: Outline of the project

Title: Project for Achieving an Energy-Conserving Society in which Robots and Drones Play Important Roles
Period: Scheduled for five years from FY2017 to FY2021
FY2019 budget: 3.6 billion yen

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