Nordic states launch joint drone development initiative

Nordic Drone Initiative backed by 16 public and privately owned organisations in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark to probe the efficient use of airspace for drones

Four Nordic states have joined forces in a far-reaching joint initiative to drive the development of drone transports for goods and passengers.

The Nordic Drone Initiative (NDI) will probe the efficient use of airspace for drones. It will help accelerate the introduction of drone-based mobility, including their deployment as air-taxis and for autonomous courier services. 

The shared objective in the inter-state NDI will lead to a pooling of capabilities and resources to develop sustainable drone-based transport services across the Nordic region.

The green and technology-focused nature of the project makes it an ideal platform for Nordic cooperation, said Tor Skoglund, ‎senior research project manager at the Gothenburg-based RISE Research Institutes of Sweden.

“The Nordic region enjoys many commonalities,” said Skoglund. “We have very similar conditions not just in climate but also within key infrastructure, markets and regulatory areas. Together, we can position the Nordic region at the forefront of developments by enabling companies to produce sustainable transport solutions using drones.”

RISE, the Swedish state-owned research institute tasked with promoting innovation in universities and private companies, regards the NDI project as an opportunity for Nordic governments to gain a strong international foothold in drone transportation.

The RISE-coordinated project is being co-financed by Nordic Innovation (NI), an inter-governmental agency for cooperation in the region that operates under the jurisdiction of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The NDI functions as one element of the NI’s  Nordic Smart Mobility and Connectivity programme,.

The pan-Nordic funding consortium behind the NDI comprises 16 public and privately owned partner organisations from Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark.

The NDI’s Swedish partners include electric drone manufacturer Katla Aero, autonomous drone developer Flypulse, Kista Science City, remotely piloted aircraft system innovator Mainbase, local government-owned economic development organisation Region Östergötland and LFV Aviation, a supplier of smart air navigation systems.

The Finnish partners in NDI are state research agency VTT, digital project management consultants Bell Rock Advisors, Robots Expert and Business Tampere.

Norwegian participation in the NDI involves research group NORCE, smart technology firm Nordic Edge, and autonomous aircraft operators UAS Norway and Drone Nord. Smart green solutions innovator Gate21 is currently the only Danish partner co-financing the project.

The NDI’s wider project group includes Norwegian and Finnish state-run air navigation service companies ANS Avinor and ANS Finland. The NDI will also collaborate with the Nordic Network for Electric Aviation to develop electric aircraft capable of operating short- and long-haul transports.

Nordic Innovation’s funding role in the NDI is doubly significant given the agency’s sharpening focus on boosting tech innovation and investment across the region.

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The NDI underlines the Nordics’ intent to become a world leader in the development of practical drone technologies in the digital age, said Skoglund.

“There is growing interest in the development and operation of drones that can transport passengers and make package goods deliveries,” he added. “The NDI will be run as a two-year project with five overarching goals to assess how drones can add value to the transport sector while benefiting business, the environment and society.”

The first of the NDI’s five objectives incorporates the mapping of the Nordic ecosystem for drones while identifying opportunities offered by drone technology.

The NDI will develop climate-specific drone technology for Nordic weather conditions. It will propose rule changes to Nordic governments to cater for drone transports and larger-scale operations with vertical take-off and landing requirements. The organisation will also serve as a valuable cross-border platform for continued research and innovation in remote drone development.

RISE scaled up the level of its participation in drone-linked projects in 2019 when it conducted a beyond-visual-line-of-sight aerial food delivery trial using autonomous aircraft. The trial tested drone safety and efficiency in deliveries made between restaurants on the outskirts of Linköping city and the University of Linköping campus.

“Although the trial was made over a relatively short linear distance, it established an important milestone – it showed that fossil-free aerial transports can be performed by drones,” said Andreas Gising, a senior research engineer at RISE.

The deployment of autonomous drones in multi-tasking roles has become increasingly common since 2018. Swedish operator Everdrone secured a landmark life-saving medical support agreement in May 2020 to deliver 80,000 automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to the scenes of cardiac arrest events in the Gothenburg area.

Everdrone’s AED delivery operation was coordinated in partnership with medical group Karolinska Institutet’s Centre for Resuscitation Science and SOS Alarm Sverige, the publicly owned company that operates Sweden’s emergency 112 service.

“The life-saving mission required that we combine advanced drone platforms and our operating expertise in a regulatory space,” said Mats Sällström, CEO of Everdrone. “This was a first in the Nordic region.”

The Nordics’ drone and electric aircraft developments are happening against a backdrop of Sweden committing to make all domestic flights fossil fuel-free by 2030, while in neighbouring Norway, the government wants all domestic flights to be 100% electric by 2040.

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