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Drones can help save lives at sea

The Swedish Sea Rescue Society, SSRS, thought they could work more efficiently in an offshore accident if they had access to a fleet of autonomous drones. But how to make it work – technically and legally? In a project, developed in collaboration between Ericsson Garage in Gothenburg and SSRS, a solution has been found.

Jonas Wilhelmsson, head of Innovation and Sustainability at Ericsson, Gothenburg

Jonas Wilhelmsson, head of Innovation and Sustainability at Ericson Gothenburg has been a part of the project from the start. He shows a picture listing all the obstacles concerning the drone project. It is a long list, but Jonas Wilhelmsson proudly claims that the project has found a way to overcome them all.

– We have recently demonstrated a solution, and we think our system is ready for commercial use.

The idea of using autonomous drones during sea rescue missions was initiated from SSRS. The initiator has a friend who works at Ericsson, Lindholmen and was present at the opening of Ericsson Garage in Gothenburg a couple of years ago. He got an opportunity to pitch his idea – and it turned out to be a perfect match for Ericsson Garage.

Ericsson Garage is meant to be a practical and creative place for innovation. A place where idea owners can spend time outside their normal responsibilities to focus on an innovation project.

Should there be opportunities to commercialize and scale the idea globally, the project moves to Ericsson One – Ericsson’s global incubation and acceleration unit. This happens to be Jonas Wilhelmsson’s responsibility as well, to qualify early stage ideas and projects for global markets at One. The drone solution is a good example.

Rendered photo from the Swedish Sea Rescue Society

– It’s truly amazing to see how we can combine fast-moving grass-root innovation with the resources of a global accelerator unit. Intrapreneurs get the chance to realize their dreams within Ericsson.

The dream that brought Ericsson Garage and SSRS together was the challenge in how to handle a fleet of autonomous drones spread all over the Swedish coastline, with only a couple of pilots available. That meant that a system that enables one person to manage a whole fleet of autonomous drones over the mobile network, beyond visual line of sight had to be developed. At the same time the project had to find a way of how to receive necessary permissions and send moving pictures to the rescuing crew. All in all – a really complex task.

Ericsson Garage is a pragmatic environment where Ericsson’s assets are explored and further developed to address a real problem – typically in collaboration with eco system partners. There are projects in different areas and industries, also outside Ericsson’s current core business. A key driver is the potential for ICT solutions to disrupt or make a difference. 

– Ericsson Garage at Lindholmen is very active and committed. We are fortunate enough to operate in a dynamic environment with 24,000 engineers and more than 375 companies just around the corner and a diverse pool of talented and curious colleagues in the house. There is no shortage of ideas, Jonas Wilhelmsson says. 

The ability to develop an idea from opportunity into a commercial offering is an exciting possibility and a vital part for Ericsson in general to stay competitive. Around 2,000 people work at Ericsson Gothenburg. It is a cross-section of the company where all the expertise at Ericsson comes together.

– We work in a fantastic place of creativity where we are able to take advantage of all the knowledge and technology within Ericsson. Besides that, we have our own 5G-network, a high-tech test site and close access to all the collaboration areas in Lindholmen Science Park at our doorstep. It is a fantastic possibility, Jonas Wilhelmsson says.

Reflecting over how all this is made possible Jonas Wilhelmsson comments:

– When it comes to innovation, collaboration, openness and sustainability, Gothenburg is a perfect place. The city is big enough to be attractive to global companies, students and skilled professionals – yet small enough to create a good climate for innovation. People know people in different companies, in the city’s various departments, science parks and research facilities at the universities. There are co-working areas, areas where we can come together and use our different expertise to develop ideas. Ideas like the drone project that actually can help save peoples’ lives.