UNICEF Innovation Fund Graduate: Dronfies Labs
The UNICEF Innovation Fund is proud to see portfolio member, Dronfies, graduate. They’ve come a long way – from numerous product iterations to deep diving into understanding their ecosystem better, strengthening their business model, and gearing up to take their solution to market. They’re now ready to collaborate at a larger scale – as they find new pathways to work with partners, investors, and the open source community.
Dronfies, with funding from UNICEF’s Innovation Fund, has built an open source Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) System known as PortableUTM for the authorization and access to airspace for professional drone operations in Uruguay. The UTM solution is designed to comply with NASA/FAA service supplier specifications that allows safe and compliant integration of drones into the airspace.
This comprehensive solution also provides support to specific workflows of the Uruguayan Civil Aviation Authority (DINACIA), allowing airspace users to easily request authorization for flying. The same approach could be followed for any other Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the world.
By design, the solution supports the deployment of the UTM in personal computers, and links with drones using portable devices, making it easy to deploy the solution in poorly connected areas. Dronfies’ solution is a digital public good that allows for drone delivery operations and emergency response deployments.
Due to the difficulties travelling during the COVID-19 Pandemic, we shifted our focus from the UNICEF Drone Corridors countries to Uruguay and conducted a number of stakeholder consultations with Civil Aviation Authorities(CAA) and Commercial Drone Operators. This led us to modelling our UTM to support user registration and flight volume reservation as well as making it compatible with popular drones such as DJI & Pixhawk for integrations.
We released the first version to the Uruguayan CAA and a group of commercial operators at the six month mark of the UNICEF investment period and worked alongside our stakeholders on a trial basis requesting authorization and a report of operations in real use-cases. This included photogrammetry flights, inspections, and drone deliveries. The relevance of the support of each use case and the feedback about the use of the system was surveyed after each test following conversations with the users.
Over the last six months, we incorporated user feedback and continuously improved the solution, releasing new versions each month. While this iteration process was slow, our team was delighted when the Uruguayan Civil Aviation Authority approved the UTM system as the official way for requesting authorization for any commercial drone operation in the country.
We’re thrilled to share that PortableUTM is the only open source UTM solution based on standards. In addition, it is only used by a Civil Aviation Authority in the market, and we look forward to working with governments around the world to scale our solution in a transparent and effective manner. We’re already seeing results of working in the open, as various companies from different countries have expressed interest to partner with our team for the implementation of PortableUTM and for adapting our solution to local aviation authority requirements.
PortableUTM has become a new business offering for Dronfies Labs, and we’ve aligned with a wider strategy of providing software and hardware development capabilities to the drone ecosystem. However, it is important to recognise that developing a business model around the solution has not been easy as the UTM ecosystem is fairly nascent.
Future collaborators and Next Steps
We are interested in collaborating with companies around the world that have contact with local civil aviation authorities or are part of regulatory discussion groups. We also are looking for drone technology companies that are facing compliance issues related to regulations of risk management for proven use cases of drones. We would like to help these companies achieve success in their enterprise drone applications.
In 2021 we aim to build partnerships around the world for supporting the scale-up of drone operations in areas like Urban Air Mobility, Emergency Response, Security and Surveillance and Agriculture. We are ready to deploy our solutions for UTM and Fleet Management, integrate these solutions to third-party software and drones, or to implement the solutions in enterprise and government agencies. We also aim to consolidate as the key UTM supplier in our country and explore other opportunities in the region.
Working with the UNICEF Innovation Fund
UNICEF Innovation has a comprehensive set of resources for implementing innovation, that includes UX design, business mentorship and communication support. The open source mentorship has also allowed us to take our first steps in developing a digital public good and helped us to make meaningful developments in this area.