TEPCO Group, Zenrin and Rakuten Examining Drone Highways for Drone Logistics

16 July 2018

TEPCO Ventures, Zenrin and Rakuten announced today that they have begun examining the utilization of drone highways, or the airspace above infrastructure such as power transmission lines, for drone logistics. The three companies also announced that they safely carried out the world's first demonstration test utilizing a drone highway on July 27.

TEPCO Ventures, a wholly owned subsidiary of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., and map publisher Zenrin formed an alliance on March 29, 2017 to confirm the use of drone highways for safe drone-based deliveries. The concept, which is attracting increasing interest, is a focus of the "2018 Roadmap for the Industrial Revolution of the Sky," which was approved by the Public-Private Conference on Infrastructure Creation for Drones in Japan in June 2018.

To develop a drone highway, TEPCO and Zenrin have been studying how to combine data on TEPCO's infrastructure, such as transmission lines and towers, substations and utility poles, with Zenrin's three-dimensional maps of the sky, which are currently under development. Going forward, several test courses will be set up in eastern Japan's Kanto Region during 2018 to demonstrate the practical use of drone highways.

Internet services company Rakuten, which has been operating a drone-based delivery service called Rakuten Drone, has joined the initiative. The first demonstration test, conducted in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, Japan, on June 27, successfully achieved the world's first drone-based delivery using a power line route for the flight path.

Going forward, TEPCO Ventures, Zenrin and Rakuten will conduct further demonstration tests to confirm the practicality of using drone highways for drone logistics.

Initiative Overview

(1) Three-dimensional rendering of power transmission towers and development of geo-fences and monitoring application (Zenrin)

  • A technology for creating three-dimensional renderings of power transmission towers is being developed and adopted.
  • Equipment for automatically detecting a drone's proximity to power transmission towers and transmission lines (geo-fences) is being developed and implemented.
  • In addition, a monitoring application to display in real-time the status of inflight drones and geo-fence profiles is being developed.

(2) Installation of weather observation instruments (TEPCO Ventures)

  • Weather observation instruments were installed along the drone highway to ascertain weather conditions in real time.
  • Drone flights were operated in accordance with weather conditions ascertained with the observation instruments.
  • Drone flights will be made even safer by analyzing big data obtained from observation instruments.

(3) Flying the drone highway (TEPCO Ventures, Zenrin and Rakuten)

  • Rakuten Drone, an autonomous drone-based delivery service, flew one way on a drone highway for approximately 3km (June 27, 2018)
  • The drone successfully delivered boxed lunches to local residents while maintaining a safe distance from power transmission infrastructure.
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