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The Media Line: Israel Tests Taxi Drones, Ushering in New Era of Technological Development

Israel Tests Taxi Drones, Ushering in New Era of Technological Development 

A fully functional drone ecosystem is on its way to the commercial market as the INDI works jointly with leading companies in Israel to ensure safety, economic viability, as well as gain the public’s approval 

By Debbie Mohnblatt/The Media Line 

Israel Tests Taxi Drones, Ushering in New Era of Technological Development

A fully functional drone ecosystem is on its way to the commercial market as the INDI works jointly with leading companies in Israel to ensure safety, economic viability, as well as gain the public’s approval

By Debbie Mohnblatt/The Media Line

Israel tested a taxi drone for the third time on Wednesday at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, as part of the ongoing development of a drone ecosystem headed up by the Israel National Drone Initiative (INDI). INDI is a joint partnership of the Israel Innovation Authority, the Ministry of Transportation, Ayalon Highways Ltd., and the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel.

The drone in question, the EHang Autonomous Aerial Vehicle or air taxi, is manufactured in China and operated in Israel with an autonomous system created by Dronery Fly from the CondoDrones Team. It can carry up to 550 pounds and fly about 18.6 miles.

Wednesday’s trial at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital demonstrated a complete logistic-medical supply chain based on a fleet of autonomous drones for life-saving missions. The demonstration is relevant to emergency scenarios such as earthquakes, mass casualties, or any situation calling for a temporary aerial response.

Gen. (ret.) Yoely Or, CEO of the Cando group, told The Media Line that by 2025-2026, Israel will see the drone taxis commercialized. By 2030, he expects to see drones that can carry six to eight people take to the skies.

“Its completely going to change our concept of operation for logistics for delivery people, for example,” he said.

The air taxi is one of many components of the complex drone ecosystem that INDI has been putting together for three years already.

Daniella Partem, head of the Israeli Center for the 4th Industrial Revolution (C4IR) at the Israel Innovation Authority, says that the goal is to assemble an ecosystem that is capable of including different types of drones with different uses and purposes.

“One of our main goals is to create an ecosystem that encompasses flying two-and-a-half-kilo carriages but also flying people,” she said.

Ester Skudra is a project manager at Down-Wind, an Israeli company that manufactures drones. She is taking part in the joint effort to create the drone ecosystem and believes that medical uses are just the beginning.

“It can start from the medical things and [move onto carrying] pizza in maybe five years. The sky is not the limit anymore,” she told The Media Line.

The Israeli supermarket chain Rami Levy, has already shown interest in partnering with Cando Drones for grocery deliveries.

“Our vision for joint operations with Cando Drones is to create a system for operating an autonomous drone fleet for the purposes of security and delivery, from the stage of customer order up to delivery and mission completion—all of this in order to provide a solution to the needs that our progress brings,” said a statement issued by Rami Levy.

Promoting competition to ensure safety and progress

INDI is encouraging competitors to work jointly, including drone manufacturers, operators, and air management systems companies.  The initiative currently supports 12 Israeli companies that are participating in the process.

Alon Abelson is CEO and co-founder of High Lander, a participating company that develops unmanned traffic management solutions using Universal Transverse Mercator systems, which project maps by assigning coordinates on a grid system. He says that the diversity of the companies working on the project brings added value to the drone ecosystem initiative.

“I think this is the uniqueness of the ecosystem that were building here. I think the world is big enough for all of us and the reason that we are working side by side and actually testingourselves and trying to understand what is going to be in this [ecosystem] is the next step of aviation,” he told The Media Line.

Bringing in competitors to work jointly in a common sandbox has been one of the most effective safety measures that INDI came up with.

Libby Bahat, head of the Aerial Infrastructure Department at the Israeli Civil Aviation Authority, is in charge of drone regulation and enforcement, among other duties.

The Israeli Civil Aviation Authority “is in charge of safety,” he told The Media Line. “First of all, we want to make all the operations safe, with no danger for the people on the ground, the citizens on the streets, and in the very near future, the people that will be flying the air taxis.”

We are using mainly cellular networks to connect to the drone,” he explained. “So we know we want redundancy. We dont want to rely on one cellular network. We know we cant rely on one GPS system.”

Bahat also spoke of diverse management systems to avoid accidents, for example, a parachute that reduces the energy with which a drone would fall in case of a malfunction.

INDI, together with the companies it is supporting, has done over 20,000 trial flights to learn from them and develop a safe and sustainable ecosystem.

“I think that what you see here is one of the biggest sandboxes of the drone ecosystem in the world,” Partem said, adding that the vast number of tests have been done in diverse locations with diverse conditions and with a diverse range of participants.

We are flying in urban areas, complicated urban areas such as Jerusalem, such as Tel Aviv. I dont think we see that around the world,” she continued. “And one of the main challenges that we took upon ourselves is to create a competitive environment. We want many companies to fly in one area for many usages using many drones at the same time.

To achieve commercial viability, the ecosystem must effectively establish and enact regulations to ensure safety, gain public approval, and establish economic sustainability as its primary objective. But all those matters must be thoroughly addressed to make the dream come true.

One of the main challenges is to create this economically viable service. How it will be cheaper for people to use this technology?” Partem said.

“Another main issue is public acceptancepeople have to believe that this is an efficient technology that will improve their lives,” she added. “Whether its bringing medicine or food or coffee in the morning to their doorstep, it has to be something that people and companies want to use for their benefit.”

In terms of drone manufacturing costs, there is a wide range.

Skudra said that at Down Wind, a drone’s cost can start at $30,000 and above, depending on the customer and its requirements. But she is hopeful to see the prices decrease as the ecosystem grows.

The Air Taxi drones cost $500,000, said Or, adding that their maintenance is very low.

“Its green energy, no fuel. And its [made of] plastic, carbon, materials that if youre a manufacturer that produces lots of things are very its very, very, very cheap,” he said.

PHOTO  – The Media Line’s Debbie Mohnblatt sits in an EHang Autonomous Aerial Vehicle or air taxi, at Hadassah University Hospital-Ein Kerem in Jerusalem on Sept. 13, 2023. (Courtesy Israel National Drone Initiative)


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