Asset Management, drones, Partner Solutions, QLD, Technology

Drone Zone: Global, Local Players Collaborate on RPAS

The Queensland Government is partnering with global giants such as Boeing and Shell along with small to medium enterprises to develop remotely piloted aircraft systems – innovative partnerships that have sky-high potential for local industries.

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The Queensland Government provided the Advance Queensland funding in a first-of-its kind partnership with global aerospace giant The Boeing Company, in conjunction with Boeing subsidiary Insitu Pacific, Shell’s QGC project, Telstra, and locally-based small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) providing industry and technical expertise.

“The project aims to capitalise on the capabilities inherent in drones to carry out remote-monitoring and inspection of key infrastructure and data analysis to allow for better decision-making,” said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

“Drone technology has the capability of introducing greater efficiencies in a range of Queensland industries and we want to make sure our state develops an industry that delivers jobs as part of this process.”

The Advance Queensland Platform Technology Program is being used to develop a world-first remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) focused on airspace access on a broad scale, and to support key resource industries in the Surat Basin.

Since the funding investment was announced, Boeing, with the support of local Queensland businesses, has designed, built and completed preliminary field tests for a prototype unmanned aerial system (UAS) situational awareness system, along with a networked common operating picture system that is capable of transmitting aircraft data over Telstra’s cellular network to provide a remote air picture for RPAS pilots.

According to Queensland Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy Leeanne Enoch, the pace at which the project is progressing is not so much surprising as it is exciting.

“In less than a year, Boeing and its partners have produced and tested a UAS situational awareness system and developed a networked common operating picture streamed via the cellular network,” said Minister Enoch.

“This provides remote pilots with enhanced situational awareness of airspace in geographically remote operations. This progress cements Queensland’s reputation as Australia’s leading player in developing civilian UAS technologies and of growing new innovative technology in Queensland.”

Act global, think local

Boeing has fostered close partnerships with Queensland SMEs to leverage local capabilities to deliver a highly technical and innovative project. By drawing on the capabilities of big enterprises such as The Boeing Company, investment by the Queensland Government is multiplied both in matched investment and in the ability to deliver flow-on benefits for Queensland SMEs, for example, access to potential international export opportunities as part of Boeing’s global supply chain.

For many industries, there is great opportunity for the application of drone technology, and this is just the start of the journey in the potential application of this technology within Queensland’s resources industry. It is a world-first on this scale.

“The current emphasis is on developing, refining and testing the technologies needed to do the job, and they are making good progress,” said Minister Enoch.

“Safe airspace access is the biggest barrier to the application of RPAS on a broad scale, and the project has already created the ability to generate a networked localised air picture that will provide an operator with unprecedented operational awareness of an airspace.

“The potential opportunities for broad scale application of this technology will be a big feather in the cap for the industry here, and will help position Queensland at the forefront of the civilian application of RPAS globally.”

Adding value to established industries

One of the advantages of the project is developing a greater understanding of how RPAS technologies can add genuine value to a range of industry sectors such as infrastructure construction and maintenance.

The project is seeking to demonstrate a compelling case for the value of these technologies to these industry sectors, while clearly proving to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and other airspace users the ability to safely operate RPAS aircrafts at extended ranges.

The global market for remotely piloted aircrafts was valued at $US10.1 billion in 2015 and is expected to account for $US14.9 billion by 2020. This is a big market, and Queensland wants to position itself to secure some of that market.

A prototype system has been developed, tested and proven in a laboratory environment, and has now moved into a field testing phase in western Queensland. Based on the success of these early tests, additional units are being sourced leveraging Queensland SMEs, in order to broaden the scope of field testing.

The project team is on track to export the Queensland-developed system by the end of 2017.

“This expected international export of the first batch of prototype systems will be a major win for Queensland and the local SMEs involved in their production,” said Minister Enoch.

“This project highlights the global export opportunities and significant flow-on benefits for Queensland businesses that can be realised when government invests in strategic partnership opportunities for major enterprises, such as Boeing, to work with local SMEs.”

Benefits extending further afield

The project could ultimately lead to benefits for other industries, including agriculture, mining, energy, telecommunications, search and rescue, and environmental management.

Industry engagement and fostering SME innovation is a key driver for the Queensland Government’s $1 million in support for the project through the Advance Queensland Platform Technology Program – part of the $405 million whole-of-government Advance Queensland initiative, which sets out to transform Queensland into a knowledge-based economy and help create jobs of the future.

The Advance Queensland Platform Technology Program aims to develop platform technologies – groups of technologies which form a base to take the next technological leap, such as remotely piloted aircraft, big data and the Internet of Things – in areas where Queensland has a deep scientific knowledge and emerging industry strengths.

“As a government, we see aerospace definitely as one of our emerging key industries,” said Minister Enoch. “Our vision is that by 2026, Queensland’s aerospace industry will be recognised as the leader in Australasia and Southeast Asia for aerospace innovation, manufacturing, maintenance, repair and overhaul, as well as training for military and civil markets.”

Currently, the focus is on deploying this system in the Surat Basin to support the expansion of RPAS operations across Queensland’s natural gas resources industry. This includes integration of the system into fixed infrastructure with QGC and
Telstra, creating further jobs and growth within the local economy of Queensland regions.

“The global growth of RPAS and UAS technology presents a great opportunity for Queensland, and the state is naturally well positioned, with large open areas, to further support development of these technologies,” said Minister Enoch.

“This project creates potential for growth of new technology industries within Queensland, and provides opportunities to export locally developed technology into new global markets.”

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