Drones, Air Taxis, Seaplanes: development and impact of innovative technologies with Di-PEGASUS

Drones, Air Taxis, Seaplanes: development and impact of innovative technologies with Di-PEGASUS

New technologies for flying and managing fleets of drones, air taxis, and seaplanes will be developed by the Di-PEGASUS project, alongside a platform to assess the feasibility and impact of innovations. In Emilia Romagna, a case study coordinated by Deep Blue.



Latest update: by the end of this year, after the initial tests started in 2022 in California and Texas, Amazon will also fly its drones in Italy and Great Britain. However, Bezos’s giant  will not stand as the sole provider of air-delivered home services in Europe (even though its drones may achieve the distinction of being the first certified by EASA, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency).Other companies, in Italy as well as in Ireland, Iceland, and Finland are already leveraging Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) for goods delivery. Yet, there are still few companies that have bet on this business.

“Expanding these operations on a larger scale necessitates a leap: we need to refine the drone technology, not just of the remote-controlled aircraft but also the logistic framework. I’m referring to systems capable of orchestrating the flight of hundreds of drones simultaneously, streamlining fleet management, facilitating battery recharges, and thereby optimizing the deployment of diverse drones to meet transportation needs, – says Marco Ducci, a drone safety and regulation specialist, CEO of EuroUSC Italia (offering UAS consulting and services), and manager at Deep Blue (a frontrunner in drone initiatives).



Although the use of remote-controlled aircraft for home deliveries is still limited and unstructured, to reach the target set by the European Green Deal, namely to be climate-neutral by 2050, Europe is aiming to enhance cargo transport via electric drones. Transport is indeed an important item in the European CO2 emissions balance, accounting for 25%. Not just cargo, but also passenger transport. For this reason, another goal of Europe is to develop an on-demand and multimodal transport system, integrating different modes of transfer, from the most innovative like air taxis (Urban Air Mobility) to the more traditional but to be “recovered” like seaplanes.

Funded under the Horizon Europe research and innovation program, Di-PEGASUS (DIgital comPEtitive next Generation Aviation technologies for SUStainable business models, products, and services) is a project aimed at the future of European transport. “The main purpose is to develop a series of technologies to improve the performance of drones, air taxis, and seaplanes and their dedicated management systems,” explains Ducci, project coordinator as CEO of EuroUSC Italia. “The other goal is to set up a platform, a webpage that will be online in 2026, which will allow for the analysis of socio-economic-environmental impacts and the cost-benefit ratio to develop a business model of the proposed technologies.” Who will it serve? Many people: designers, manufacturers, operators, suppliers, investors, and legislators.

“The work will be carried forward adopting two approaches,” specifies the CEO of EuroUSC Italia. “Bottom-up because we will involve the end-users of the products in focus group activities to identify requirements and conduct evaluations on the technologies and the platform; top-down because we will take into account the presence of similar technologies on the market and the existing regulatory constraints.”



Regrettably, reports on the use of drone fleets for military operations, particularly for simultaneous assaults, are on the rise, with recent updates from the conflict zone in Ukraine and Russia. However, drone swarms are mainly used for civilian, social, and humanitarian purposes, for example to distribute aid and medical supplies, map, and monitor vast areas. “To function at their best, drones must communicate effectively with each other to coordinate activities and avoid collisions” explains Sara Molinari, engineer at EuroUSC Italy overseeing the technical part of the project – ” among the technological innovations under study are also artificial intelligence algorithms to control the behavior of swarms. Simultaneously, we will study new interfaces (Human Machine Interface) to optimise the control of the latest generation of drones by human operators”.

The Di-PEGASUS consortium, encompassing 14 partners, is also focused on innovative solutions  for the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) of aircraft such as air taxis, by developing new sensor systems to ensure the highest level of safety even in case of poor visibility, unavailability of the satellite navigation system, or failures of various systems. The technological development will  advance in parallel with updates to terrestrial infrastructure, like airports and air navigation facilities, improving the management and maintenance of fleets. “Regarding fleet maintenance, we are studying innovative anti-icing and anti-biofouling solutions (when the surfaces of seaplanes come into contact with water and are covered with microorganisms, algae, and animals that can damage them),” adds Molinari. “Currently, chemical agents are employed to cleanse aircraft and seaplanes of ice and biological matter, which can degrade the exteriors and pose environmental risks. Our proposal, a more cost-effective and eco-friendly alternative, involves the use of ultrasound technology“.



To test and validate the proposed technologies, three case studies coordinated by EuroUSC Italy will be conducted, which will define the objectives, i.e., which technologies to evaluate and how. “One of the use cases will be conducted in Italy under the supervision of Deep Blue and in collaboration with another project partner, the Institute of Transport and Logistics of Emilia Romagna,” explains Ducci. The focus of the Italian “pilot” will be precisely the transport of goods using fleets of autonomous drones from suburban to metropolitan areas, in an attempt to lighten a massive but often inefficient road traffic.

Projections indicate that a drone delivery service could reduce the expenses of conventional services,such as those reliant on vans, by as much as 90% of the previous cost. “But more important than the economic advantage is the environmental one since the remotely piloted aircraft will be zero-emission,” specifies Molinari. “And looking forward, they could deliver various types of products, from food to vaccines, medicines, and even defibrillators or organs”.

The other two use cases will take place in Greece and France. The first will test technologies and infrastructures related to seaplanes, which are a regular means of transport, especially in the western part of the country; the second will focus on air taxis, with France – Paris in particular – investing heavily in Urban Air Mobility (in 2021, a center was inaugurated at Pontoise-Cormeilles airport to test new air mobility vehicles).

“For each case study,  our aim extends beyond validating the efficacy of the technologies. to validate the technologies themselves,– remarks Ducci – we will develop a solid business framework, by studying how these technological innovations could enter and position themselves in the market. In this regard, we will involve interested stakeholders to identify together the requirements and objectives of each product and try to solve any critical issues”.

Get in touch with us