South Korea aims to be at the fore­front of the green avi­a­tion move­ment with the goal of Urban Air Mobil­i­ty (UAM) com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion in Seoul by 2025 and dai­ly use of ver­ti­ports and drone hubs from 2030. Drone deliv­ery remains a major and vital ele­ment of this impend­ing rev­o­lu­tion.

For exam­ple, in July, local start­up PABLO AIR, a mem­ber of the Born2Global Cen­tre, announced a col­lab­o­ra­tion with South Korea’s 7‑Eleven, where the coun­try’s first con­ve­nience store drone deliv­ery sta­tion or hub was set-up in the rur­al resort town of Gapyeong.

This hub con­sists of a con­trol tow­er and a heli­pad, which allows one-stop pro­cess­ing, from the tak­ing of deliv­ery orders to the com­ple­tion of the flight. Most impor­tant­ly, PABLO AIR’s drone deliv­ery ser­vice is BVLOS, where flight is con­trolled with a wGCS (Web-based Ground Con­trol Sys­tem) paired with a smart mobil­i­ty inte­grat­ed con­trol sys­tem (PAM­Net, PABLO AIR Mobil­i­ty Net­work).

7‑Eleven Drone Deliv­ery Sta­tion

Cus­tomers can order an item through an app cre­at­ed by com­pa­ny Alliv­ery and have their goods sent to a local deliv­ery hub about 1 km away from the 7‑Eleven store. The drone flight takes 2.5 min­utes. The prod­ucts can then be picked up by the cus­tomer. The deployed drone has a max­i­mum pay­load of 5 kg. For the tri­al, the craft flies at an aver­age speed of 36 km/h.

Drone deliv­ery is avail­able from 10 am to 7 pm from Tues­day to Sat­ur­day every week. Until the end of the year, there is no min­i­mum order amount and trans­porta­tion is free of charge.

Won Hee-ryong, of the Min­istry of Land Infra­struc­ture and Trans­port (MOLIT), com­ment­ed, “We have been steadi­ly prepar­ing for our drone deliv­ery ser­vices for the past two years. We have also imple­ment­ed com­ple­men­tary tech­nolo­gies such as triple com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­works (RF, LTE, and SATCOM) and para­chutes for opti­mal drone safe­ty.”

Kim Young-Joon, CEO of PABLO AIR, added, “Sev­en-Eleven and PABLO AIR are the first com­pa­nies in Korea to pro­vide a com­plete A‑to‑Z ser­vice, from tak­ing app orders to prepar­ing prod­ucts and com­plet­ing deliv­er­ies.”

Kim Young-Joon

In June, the South Kore­an gov­ern­ment promised to ease drone deliv­ery reg­u­la­tions and estab­lish an improved indus­try gov­er­nance plan. To facil­i­tate these changes, PABLO AIR said that it would gath­er data relat­ed from its tri­als and pro­vide this to the gov­ern­ment. The find­ings could act as a blue­print for the future indus­try.

Since July, drones are start­ing tri­als to deliv­er emer­gency med­ical sup­plies as well to more remote areas under the K‑Drone Sys­tem Project con­duct­ed and sup­port­ed by MOLIT.

Last week, The Min­istry of the Inte­ri­or and Safe­ty held a tri­al event in the same region of Gapyeong for drones to bring med­i­cines straight to people’s homes just a few hours after being pre­scribed. Also, there are plans to trans­port blood and organs for trans­plant, first aid kits and vac­cines to remote moun­tain­ous areas reduc­ing the com­pli­cat­ed cold chain require­ments.

While there has been no cas­es of blood deliv­ery to date, a MOLIT offi­cial explained the first tri­al will occur next month. The results will assist the Min­istry to com­pile a guide­line for the devel­op­ment of the drone indus­try, sched­uled to be released in the first half of 2023.

Anoth­er poten­tial appli­ca­tion is “an unob­struct­ed ambu­lance ser­vice” with video and com­mu­ni­ca­tion which can instruct human bystanders in emer­gency sit­u­a­tions to per­form CPR, use the auto­mat­ed defib­ril­la­tor (AED), or deploy the drone to fetch nec­es­sary med­i­cines from near­by phar­ma­cies until the ambu­lance arrives.

Mean­while, drones can be applied to dis­as­ter relief in high-risk envi­ron­ments with chem­i­cal or bio­log­i­cal haz­ards to enable health­care relat­ed res­cue oper­a­tions.

The image demon­strates the nec­es­sary infra­struc­ture for drone imple­men­ta­tion in Korea includ­ing dif­fer­ent fly­ing heights for each cat­e­go­ry of urban air mobil­i­ty (UAM), an unmanned traf­fic man­age­ment (UTM) cen­ter, remote IDs for each UAM, an unmanned air­craft sys­tem (UAS) oper­a­tor and geofenc­ing to cre­ate a no-fly zone. (Cred­it: KIAST)

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the drone indus­try is still high­ly reg­u­lat­ed due to an already con­gest­ed air space as well as major con­cerns like col­li­sion acci­dents, hack­ing and safe­ty issues regard­ing radio wave inter­fer­ence. Won Hee-ryong con­tin­ued, “We will push for dras­tic reform of the cur­rent reg­u­la­tions to fos­ter a con­ducive envi­ron­ment for firms in the indus­try.”

South Korea aims to cre­ate a sim­i­lar drone super­high­way as pro­posed in the UK. This is an auto­mat­ed air cor­ri­dor to reduce the work of man­ag­ing all unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cles (UAVs) while also remov­ing the risks of indi­vid­ual oper­a­tor col­li­sions.

The UK 165-mile Sky­way project which could cost up to USD14.2 mil­lion, will use a series of high-pow­ered, ground-based sen­sors that can cen­tral­ly direct all over­head traf­fic. Con­se­quent­ly, UK drone oper­a­tors can for­go equip­ping drones with nav­i­ga­tion­al sen­sors to max­imise UAVs pay­load, range, and effi­cien­cy.

South Korea’s Air­ports Cor­po­ra­tion (KAC) and Han­com inSpace have been select­ed by MOLIT to tri­al a sim­i­lar opti­mised ‘drone road’ that com­mu­ni­cates as well as resolves any phys­i­cal obsta­cles, while iden­ti­fy­ing and then pre­vent­ing any poten­tial col­li­sions over the city cen­tre of Seoul. The esti­mat­ed cost to suc­cess­ful­ly achieve this is around 268 mil­lion won.

Mean­while, the South Kore­an Insti­tute of Avi­a­tion Safe­ty and Tech­nol­o­gy (KIAST) has select­ed dif­fer­ent indus­tries to par­tic­i­pate in the K‑Drone Sys­tem Demon­stra­tion Sup­port Project to enhance safe­ty and encour­age busi­ness expan­sion.

South Kore­an Red Cross Using Drone (image: Kore­an Red Cross)

In the med­ical indus­try, the Kore­an Red Cross locat­ed in the North Chungcheong Province and a near­by hos­pi­tal were select­ed to demon­strate the fea­si­bil­i­ty of emer­gency med­ical sup­plies like vital anti­dotes and blood deliv­ery with drones. Addi­tion­al­ly, Pablo Air­lines, will part­ner with Incheon Inter­na­tion­al Air­port Cor­po­ra­tion to ver­i­fy the demon­stra­tion of long-dis­tance mar­itime emer­gency med­i­cine trans­porta­tion.

Asked what improve­ments were need­ed for Korea’s med­ical drone indus­try, a MOLIT offi­cial said, “Tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ment, trans­porta­tion sys­tem con­struc­tion, safe­ty ver­i­fi­ca­tion and expan­sion of the deliv­ery indus­try, are all cur­rent­ly being reviewed through the demon­stra­tion projects which are expect­ed to help the indus­tri­al­i­sa­tion of drones in Korea.”

As a high­ly reg­u­lat­ed field, com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of the med­ical indus­try could pave the way for oth­er indus­tries to com­mer­cial­ly use drones in South Korea. The country’s drone mar­ket is expect­ed to dou­ble from 372.6 mil­lion won in 2020 to 602.9 mil­lion won in 2024, accord­ing to MOLIT.

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(Top image and first two: Pablo Air)