ANA Holdings (ANA HD), the parent of All Nippon Airways announced that it is going to invest substantial manpower and money into unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology and is looking to create new innovations and markets for drone technology. Two areas the company has already defined that it will conduct tests in are in inter-island transportation network in Goto City, Japan and a test to improve medical care in Zambia.
Yoshiaki Tsuda, Vice President of ANA’s digital design lab said, “Technology is advancing at a rapid pace and we are always looking for opportunities to harness the latest breakthroughs. ANA HD has built a reputation for leadership in the rapidly developing drone field and we are constantly searching for opportunities to find practical applications for this exciting technology. We’ve always believed in pushing technological boundaries through innovation and it is encouraging to see laboratory breakthroughs result in real-world benefits.” In the first “test” of new UVA concepts and technologies, ANA HD is building a drone base in Goto City, Japan. The drone base is being built in partnership with several other entities including the Goto City government; Autonomous Control Systems Laboratories, Inc. (ACSL); NTT DOCOMO; and PRODUCTION NAP, to establish a logistics network that uses drones for delivery between the remote islands of Goto City.
The Goto Islands are located in Nagasaki prefecture and consists of 63 islands, of which only 11 are inhabited. Because of the distance between islands and the region’s low population density, drones present the most viable means of connecting the islands which each other and the rest of Japan.
The Goto City Unmanned Logistics tests will simplify delivery to and from the islands as well as offer training for those in charge of drone logistics so that residents are able to make the most out of new drone infrastructure. The program offers substantial benefits for local residents, retailers and others.
ANA HD is also working on a UAV test program in Zambia that is being developed with Aerosense Inc. and the National Centre for Global Health and Medicine. The purpose of the test program relates to drone development the medical field and how medical services can be provided quickly to people outside of metropolitan areas.
ANA HD will offer its aviation expertise and technology to partners in Zambia as part of a comprehensive effort to build a sustainable drone transportation network for blood samples.
Rapid blood testing in rural areas is viewed as key in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other devastating diseases. As part of the agreement with the Zambian government, ANA HD has committed to the test program and the use of ANA drones for an 18-month period starting in January 2020.
The Japanese government is now developing legislation and regulations related to UAV and expects to pass legislation in 2021 and then put laws and registration systems in place by 2022.
Business leaders across multiple industries want to see the government define a streamlined system for the registration of drones by companies that will allow for commercial use. Using drones for drug, ecommerce and food and beverage deliveries can be especially effective in many of Japan's sparsely populated areas, but services like delivery have not taken off due to a lack of government involvement.
A Rakuten delivery drone makes a test flight in this photo
Ecommerce companies like Rakuten have already been testing delivery drones in Japan and the company has partnered with Seiyu Supermarkets and found that deliveries can be flown safely to customer’s homes or businesses in non-city areas.
However, Japan bans UAV’s from operating in populated areas without a permit, which requires multiple documents to be filed with information including the make of the drone, the purpose, the date, the route and other details.
In the case of delivery drones, registering and updating drone “routes” on a daily or even hourly basis could be difficult unless an online system is in place, so companies involved in UAV development are hoping that the government will provide technologically advanced systems for registering and flying commercial drones.
The government has said that its goal is to pass legislation in fiscal 2021 that will expand the commercial application of drones, set standards and define qualifications for drone operators who the government wants to certify.