Mapture’s drone-in-the-box system on the roof of the fire fighting department. Source: Brandweer Twente

It’s been a dream of Dutch drone businesses for a while now: to fly truly autonomous, without a pilot and without any time restrictions. ESA BIC Noordwijk company Mapture.ai is the first in The Netherlands.

Current regulations forbids flying BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight). Right now, flying a drone requires a pilot to see the drone it’s controlling. BVLOS flying has been a wish of businesses and local governments as well, eager to apply autonomous drones to their use cases. Just imagine what’s possible with drones if they can fly without a human controller and without time restrictions, (or even location limits).

From December 31th, 2020, the new regulation went active. But flying BVLOS (let alone flying BVLOS 24/7) still isn’t allowed. So what’s the deal here?

Drone regulation in The Netherlands

Basically the new drone regulations mean that it has become easier to get an exemption to do fly BVLOS and/or truly autonomous.

Mapture.ai, after lots of preparation in anticipation of the new rules, is now allowed to fly their drone-in-a-box system with such a exemption from the ILT (Inspectie Leefomgeving en Transport). This is the supervising authority of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management.

This makes them the first Dutch business to let its drone fly BVLOS, truly autonomous and 24/7. The case? The day and night surveillance and security of the perimeter of the Technology Base in Enschede. The drone can fly itself, acting on triggers from sensors and cameras. The project will start next week.

Founder Niels Klink installing the drone-in-a-box system Source: Mapture.ai

Security and fire department

Originally, Mapture.ai’s drone-in-a-box system was meant for a BVLOS test on the training grounds of the local fire department Brandweer Twente, also located on the campus of Technology Base. While this is still the case, the coordination between Mapture.ai and multiple stakeholders on the campus (Twente Safety Campus, Space 53, Twente Airport and Technology Base) made it possible to let the drone do 24/7 security and surveillance as well.

Two for one

This basically means the drone startup got a two-for-one case. Niels Klink and Bart Slinger, founders of Mapture.ai:

“The case for the fire department lets us fly without us even being there. Until now, we’ve always flown with a pilot or controller next to it. Now it’s time for our solution to finally prove its worth. The great thing is: at the campus we can validate two use cases at the same time: the security of the premises and the deployment of the system as an aid during fire fighting.”

We can validate two use cases at the same time

Niels Klink and Bart Slinger, founders Mapture.ai

New functionalities

It’s not the only case Mapture.ai is looking into.

“Thanks to the current developments of drone regulations, the interest for our system is growing rapidly. Companies are constantly approaching us for cases like a first responder drone, surveillance and/or inspection applications. Next to that, we are currently involved in the Drone2GO project. All these projects make us continuously develop new functionalities.”

The next phase for Mapture is to install another drone-in-a-box system on the newly constructed fire station in the town of Glanerbrug. During the summer period, the drone will be able to autonomously monitor a nearby forest area for wildfires.

Niels and Bart are incubated in the ESA BIC Noordwijk program, where they are developing their drone solution with the help of, among others, GNSS technology.