Japanese airline ANA Wingcopter drone delivery

Japanese drone delivery gets a boost from ANRA

The Japanese drone delivery industry is getting a big boost.

The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (known as NEDO), is Japan’s largest public management organization promoting both research and development as well as deployment of industrial, energy and environmental technologies. And this quarter, NEDO — which is based in Tokyo, Japan — is leading a project to develop a drone traffic management system for multiple drone operators to fly in the same airspace safely.

The project is intended to help develop systems to ensure that Japan’s National Airspace System can safely integrate with drones. The idea: make sure manned aircraft and drones can coordinate and negotiate airspace use in order to prevent collisions between manned and unmanned aircraft. The tests are primarily being conducted in Wakkanai, which is a city located in Sōya Subprefecture, Hokkaido, Japan, among the most northernmost cities in the country.

To conduct the project, NEDO will lean on integrated airspace, mission management and delivery systems company ANRA Technology to deploy its airspace management and drone delivery software platform for live drone flights. ANRA is known for its delivery software, which can managing orders and inventory, and then safely operate the drone within its own Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) network, which is hosted and deployed in secure cloud infrastructure based in Tokyo.  

Japanese drone delivery ANRA Technologies UTM
Photo courtesy of ANRA.

NEDO will also lean on partners including BIRD INITIATIVE, NEC Corporation and All Nippon Airways (ANA). Those players will participate in demonstrations that include drone-based logistics, infrastructure inspection and disaster response use cases.

One standout demonstration is set to include a project run by ANA in cooperation with Municipal Wakkanai Hospital and Ein Pharmacy to mail a prescription drug delivery using a drone to remote disconnected areas. ANA, which is primarily known as a Japanese airline, began testing drone delivery earlier this year alongside drone delivery company Wingcopter. The early 2021 tests ran between Fukuejima and Hisakajima in Goto City, Nagasaki Prefecture and also involved the delivery of medical supplies.

A key component of this Japanese drone delivery project is the use of automatic negotiation AI technology, which is being researched and developed with RIKEN and Industrial Technology Research Institute, and digital twin technology, which is being researched with the National Institute of Informatics.

This is not NEDO’s first foray into drones, though. Over the past few years, NEDO has been conducting R&D on integrated traffic management to create a blueprint for a nationwide traffic management system. This test should be an interesting extension as NEDO leverages ANRA’s SmartSkies airspace and delivery management software platforms.

Unmanned traffic management (UTM) is crucial to enabling wide scale drone deliveries to ensure that drones can communicate with each other. ANRA’s delivery software incorporates not only enable safe flight routing for the drone, but can also provide tracking and status updates to the customer on its mobile app. Its software is hardware-agnostic, meaning that any drone — whether it’s an off-the-shelf DJI drone or a custom-built drone — can fly via the software and theoretically conduct drone deliveries or carry passengers as an unmanned vehicle (assuming the drone itself is capable of carrying those payloads).

As far as next steps on the Japanese drone delivery tests, ANRA and the other participants are set to share the results and its key findings with all relevant stakeholders over the next few months.

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