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Synthetic AIS – a new way for drones to share their live position

Successful publishing of cloud-connected drones through the AIS ground-based transponder network – a new way for drones to share live position

As part of the EOS cooperation, in support of the Swedish Sea Rescue Society’s (SSRS) drone project, Airpelago recently tested and demonstrated publishing the live position of a connected drone as a synthetic AIS target.

AIS is the transponder system used by ships, as well as SAR Helicopters and other aircraft operating in the marine domain. Most AIS traffic is peer to peer, transponder to transponder, but there is also a capability to publish virtual targets, such as AtoN:s (AIS Aids to Navigation) from ground-based AIS stations.

Airpelago, along with Combitech, SAAB Kockums, SSRS, and the Swedish Maritime Administration has created a solution that allows a drone operator flying connected drones with Airpelagos Drone Mission Control ground station software to output identity- and position data to a service that converts the data to the AIS format. This service in turn outputs the data to a ground-based AIS transponder - in the current case the Swedish Maritime Administration’s central AIS-Server that outputs AIS traffic from coastal radio stations.


In the recent test, the SSRS drone was published as a specific AIS target type “SAR Aircraft”. During the test, we could confirm that the drone is visible with the correct position and relevant information on every system we polled, including AIS feedback into Drone Mission Control, The chart display of the Maritime Administration’s AW139 SAR helicopter, the map console of the Swedish Joint Maritime & Air Rescue Coordination Center (JRCC), the Transas Navisailor ECDIS Chart system on an SSRS rescue boat in the area, as well as various apps and web services such as Marine Traffic.


The Synthetic AIS system makes it possible to transmit the position of a drone without the need for physical transponder hardware onboard the drone, which is beneficial for saving weight and power consumption, resulting in a lighter, safer, and cheaper system.

Synthetic AIS technology is important from an operational point of view as it enables precise, standardized, and simple cooperation with ships, rescue boats, rescue coordinators, and SAR aircraft. Using AIS could be an enabler for BVLOS permissions in the maritime domain within EU countries as EASA requires that “…the applicant has awareness of most of the traffic operating in the area in which the operator intends to fly…” (Annex D to AMC1 to Article 11, D.5.3.2 TMPR qualitative criterion), and most aircraft that operate at low altitude over water are equipped with AIS transponders.

Synthetic AIS also provides additional safety as it provides an excellent way to allow drones to be seen by other aircraft in the maritime domain.


The team at Airpelago is incredibly proud to be a key partner in enabling Synthetic AIS for important drone use cases like maritime search and rescue.


Images from the demo.