A Comprehensive Exploration of Unmanned Aerial Innovation
An interview with: Štěpán Alexa, CEO Upvision
The drone industry is accelerating at an unparalleled pace, proving indispensable across diverse sectors, including agriculture, construction, delivery, and public safety. More promise is yet to be harnessed with the rise of new applications and breakthroughs. In this enlightening discourse, we are joined by Štěpán Alexa, the CEO of Upvision, whose eclectic career spans spans software engineering and digital transformation, telecommunications and aerospace sectors.
Under Alexa’s leadership, Upvision has successfully integrated commercial unmanned aerial systems with IT enablers, proffering professional solutions ranging from enterprise applications and creative products for media to UAS technology advancements.
We further delve into Upvision’s recent assimilation into the CSG Aerospace group, a division of the CZECHOSLOVAK GROUP conglomerate, which fuses various Czech and Slovak aerospace companies. In the ensuing conversation, we shed light on Alexa and his team’s expectations from this amalgamation, forthcoming ventures, and the potential implications this strategic alignment holds for unmanned aerial systems and the wider aerospace sector.
What significant advantages do you foresee the acquisition of UpVision will impart to the Czechoslovak Group?
Fundamentally, I anticipate three distinct results. Firstly, the simplification of access to potential clientele: possessing a wider reach and a well-established array of contracts within the aerospace sector, the group will provide an indispensable platform for market visibility. Secondly, the potential for market synergies through the amalgamation of product offerings: this entails a cooperative presentation of solutions and products provided by UpVision and the other members of the CSG Aerospace group. Lastly, the acceleration of research and development: this emphasizes the focus on high-value-added technologies and innovative concepts that require deployment within relatively succinct timeframes. Our aspiration is not merely to keep pace with the swiftly evolving drone industry, but indeed to be the trailblazers, setting the trends both for the technologies themselves and the supportive systems.
In relation to drones themselves, safety continues to be of paramount importance. The business viability for drones is dependent on the feasibility of flying beyond the line of sight and over densely populated areas, where people are in motion—capabilities that are currently unattainable. The focus of current technological advancements, including AI, sensors, and other technologies, is to overcome these hurdles and yield a system that can be certified for operation in such circumstances.
Regarding service systems, the trends mirror the drone side but from a distinctive perspective. These trends involve managing operations over an area where multiple drones are operational in the same airspace alongside other types of traffic, whether civilian or general aviation. It is crucial to ensure safe and rapid decision-making within this congested space for complex problems and situations, both in-flight and ground-based.
Public acceptance is crucial in this regard. Despite possessing advanced technology, progress will be hindered unless we can transparently demonstrate how personal integrity, privacy, and non-disruption are preserved. The new drone legislation enacted last year by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) provides a clarified framework for essential services and their procedures. As the guidelines for operator authorities continue to evolve, we are on the cusp of a future where executing flights beyond the line of sight becomes a reality. This is genuinely thrilling for business development, and we see a significant opportunity for our company’s growth trajectory to take on a fascinating dynamic.
What synergistic strategies do you plan to implement for integrating products and offering joint solutions?
The initial step, which we are actively engaged in with our colleagues, involves sharing information. This includes familiarizing ourselves with each other within the group and understanding the assets, products, expertise, and clientele possessed by each entity. This process of information sharing and mutual learning is ongoing, both formally and informally, and we perceive it as the first stride towards operational and commercial integration. At the Aerospace group level, a clearly defined strategy is emerging, which is then segmented into individual companies and how they contribute to the group’s collective objective. It is imperative for us to more comprehensively integrate ourselves into this process.
The secondary aspect, which is already in motion, involves cooperation on specific opportunities. This includes commercial and marketing collaborations, such as drone protection or air defense systems.
The third facet revolves around joint innovative projects. We aim to develop shared technology concepts targeting future sales and marketing products within the long-term strategy, in collaboration with other group members. These shared concepts will amplify our collective capacity to anticipate and respond to market trends and customer needs.
What are the plans for strengthening UpVision’s personnel capacity and sales network?
Our focus is on augmenting our workforce primarily to increase the number of technical specialists capable of taking our systems beyond. We aim to reinforce our competency center for the development of aerospace intelligence and airspace access solutions. We plan to establish this center in Ostrava within the next two years.
In the given context, we perceive Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a dual natured phenomenon. The essence of this matter lies in the opportunity to effectively harness the power of AI in order to achieve desired results and effectively manage tasks, which is not a trivial undertaking. On the other hand, the potential lies within routine operations where AI has the ability to surpass human personnel (both pilots and ground control staff). AI will likely handle complex and rapid decision-making in congested airspace. However, this also poses certain risks, as AI can be misused for subversive activities like signal disruption and data manipulation, thereby compromising the safety of operations.
As for sales, our strategy is predicated on a partner model rather than constructing a large sales force. This strategy allows us to effectively leverage resources and concentrate on delivering innovative and high-quality solutions to our clients.
What is your vision and strategy for Upvision post-integration with CSG?
Our trajectory is articulated around the fundamental requirements that we anticipate will drive the market towards viable drone operation scalability. Foremost, our goal is to significantly simplify operational life for drone operators across both the civilian and defense sectors. We’re committed to streamlining the entire flight lifecycle, from inception and planning to execution and maintenance. Our strategy hinges on minimizing manual intervention, reducing operation time via algorithmic control through our dedicated application. This will facilitate automation of drone control and maintenance based on system-driven data, enabling operators to focus on mission execution without the necessity of intricate flight safety knowledge or comprehensive control infrastructure management. We foresee a parallel with civil aviation, replacing traditional air traffic, where emerge serious digitization initiatives as well.
Could you elaborate on the role of UpVision in advancing unmanned aviation in the Czech Republic?
UpVision has been instrumental in this progression, making active contributions as part of the Unmanned Industry Alliance, which now comprises dozens of members. We were at the forefront of this alliance’s foundation and have since played a pivotal role in its growth. This entity facilitates the promotion of unmanned aviation and provides essential input for developing the regulatory framework, operational procedures, and multi-entity cooperation within large-scale or general aviation.
Could you discuss the innovative aspects of your open-source framework that make it uniquely suited for low-level flight traffic management?
Certainly. Our open-source framework is specifically designed to cater to the unique demands of low-level flight traffic management. It incorporates various innovative aspects that address the distinct challenges encountered in such environments, including congested airspace, limited decision-making time, and decision-making complexity.
One of the key features of our framework is the Unambiguous Identification Capability, which plays a crucial role in ensuring precise drone identification. We have implemented robust support systems such as geofencing and virtual zones, which enable administrators and operators to effectively monitor and manage drone activities. Additionally, our framework supports operators in managing flight envelopes and allows for dynamic reconfiguration, facilitating on-the-fly adjustments during the flight.
Furthermore, our framework incorporates Conformance Monitoring, which involves advanced algorithms that proactively anticipate risky situations by analyzing and understanding the operational characteristics of different types of drones. This monitoring capability helps ensure compliance with regulations and enhances overall safety measures.
Another significant advantage of our framework is its integration flexibility. It has been designed to be open and easily integrable with third-party drone control applications and flight path management systems. This allows for seamless collaboration and interoperability, empowering users to leverage existing tools and technologies within the framework.
By encompassing these innovative aspects, our open-source framework provides a comprehensive and tailored solution for low-level flight traffic management. It effectively addresses the challenges associated with congested airspace, limited decision-making time, and decision-making complexity, making it uniquely suited for this specific domain.
How does your solution interface with existing flight navigation systems and simplify operations for service providers and corporate customers?
Our framework offers a simplified approach by allowing drone operators to focus on optimizing mission execution while our system takes care of ensuring safety and interacting with ground and navigation infrastructure. Integration with existing flight navigation systems primarily involves the exchange of positional data, airspace zones, and flight plans, including crucial information such as the drone’s current location, altitude, course, and speed. This data enables precise positioning and facilitates comparison with other air traffic, ensuring compliance with designated flight plans. Moreover, we provide drone traffic data to managers overseeing critical infrastructure, enhancing their awareness of operations within their controlled zones.
Could you expound on the role of blockchain technology in your system and how it bolsters overall functionality and operational security?
Blockchain technology plays a critical role in ensuring the authenticity of positional information and the integrity of the operational data. It also simplifies data interaction and sharing between unfamiliar entities, facilitated by smart contracts. In case of data manipulation incidents such as spoofing, signal interference, or cyber attacks, blockchain technology serves as a tool, ensuring that once the data is stored, it cannot be altered.
Could you share the strategic rationale for opening a branch in Ostrava, and how it will contribute to Upvision’s development?
Our decision to establish a branch in Ostrava aligns with our objectives for cross-border collaboration in drone traffic management. We have a robust partnership with the Technical University of Ostrava, and the proximity to students offers a logistical advantage. The main objective is to establish a competence center for the development of unmanned systems, which forms important part of our solution.
How do you plan on leveraging the expertise and experience of other companies within CSG Aerospace for further innovation and the development of Upvision?
We have identified three synergistic domains within CSG Aerospace: the development of Air Traffic Management (ATM) systems for civilian aviation operations, air defense and Counter-UAV, and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), specifically the utilization of drones in defense systems.
Do drones have the potential to redefine the dynamics of warfare and defense?
While we must exercise caution when making such assertions, drones undoubtedly play a significant role in defense operations. They have become integral components of advanced defense systems, offering unique added value. However, one of the notable challenges in drone operations is the necessity for a decent number of supporting operations which is costly and sometimes also risky. Therefore we aim to find solutions that enable automated symbiotic teaming between various drones and other parts of the system.
This enlightening dialogue with Mr. Alexa at UpVision illuminates his firm commitment to revolutionizing the landscape of unmanned aviation. He had made it clear that their topmost priority is to simplify drone operations and streamline flight processes for both civilian and defense sectors. Their merger with CSG has unfolded new horizons for potential synergies within the group, which are bound to fortify their already innovative solutions.
The groundbreaking integration of technologies such as their open-source framework and blockchain in their system bears testimony to UpVision’s dedication to ensuring the safety, authenticity, and reliability of drone operations. The recent decision to expand their reach to Ostrava exhibits their long-term vision for fostering cross-border collaboration in drone traffic management, coupled with leveraging the academic expertise of the Technical University of Ostrava.
As they steer through the challenges and exploit the opportunities within this burgeoning industry, UpVision stands out as a beacon of innovation. Their determination to redefine drone operations promises a future of improved efficiency and safety across multiple sectors. Their approach and strategy certainly warrant attention and admiration in the realm of unmanned aviation.
Interview by: Katerina Urbanova, EIC @ ACE
Photo credit: Katerina Urbanova, Upvision