Ready for take-off
Ahead of next month’s UK Drone Show, Tayla Ansell looks at some of the applications of drone technology and the rules governing their use
Drones sound like something from the future, but the staging of the UK’s first drone show on December 5-6 shows how the technology has matured and now offers opportunities for businesses to deliver new services or improve existing ones.
So what business applications are there for drones? One of the first sectors to make use of drones was the photography and media industry, but drone usage has since branched out into other areas including agriculture, surveying, 3D mapping, search and rescue and much more.
DroneX, an exhibitor at the inaugural UK Drone Show (see below), is a Bristol-based high tech start-up specialising in the design and construction of custom-made UAV systems for commercial, industrial and scientific use. Marketing executive Anna Babarczi says that the most common applications to date have been aerial photography and video, but there are signs that this is changing.
“We are receiving more and more requests to develop systems for mapping and infrastructure maintenance. This clearly shows that there is an increasing market for observations and utilising data gathering,” she said.
One application many expect to grow in the future is delivery. Amazon has been working on a drone delivery system for a couple of years in the hope that one day it will be able to deliver packages to customers using small unmanned aerial vehicles (SUAVs). The technology exists for what Amazon calls ‘Prime Air’, but there are still hurdles on the regulatory side and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has yet to approve the launch of a drone delivery service in the US.
Also exhibiting at the UK Drone Show is Eye Sky Group, providers of a range of professional UAV/drone services, including real estate marketing, mapping, GIS and surveying, agriculture and superyacht marketing. Founder and CEO James Marchant doesn’t expect drone deliveries to become commonplace any time soon. He said: “I think it will take a little bit of time, I don’t think it’s going to be next year. There’s a lot to get over, such as battery power. You could use a bigger battery to fly longer but then the bigger battery is going to be heavier so you can’t fly as long. It doesn’t matter how big you make the battery, the flight time tends to always be the same, about half an hour.”
For now, aerial deliveries might be pie in the sky, but there is no doubt that other industries are already benefiting from their capabilities.
Babarczi of DroneX said: “Drones are absolutely game changing. They are shifting the whole landscape of how we will operate businesses in the future. Drones can be adapted to almost every industry. They can improve business flexibility, efficiency and cost-effectiveness. In addition, they have large safety and environmental benefits. For instance, in the telecommunications sector cell tower inspections and maintenance are usually performed by a technician climbing the mast. This is costly, time-consuming and dangerous. Drones reduce risk, lower cost and simplify such inspections.”
Marchant of Eye Sky Group cites the benefits its real estate marketing service offers estate agents, pointing out that filming by drones enables potential buyers to see aerial videos, ground videos and internal tours without visiting a property. He said that in a couple of instances drone footage alone had led to a sale, saving the estate agent the time and cost of showing potential buyers around a property.
At the moment, anyone in the UK can buy and operate a drone as long as it weighs less than 20kg and is not being used for commercial purposes. The few rules given by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are that your drone must be visible to you at all times; doesn’t go higher than 400 feet; and doesn’t fly within 50 metres of people, vehicles, buildings or structures, or over congested areas or large gatherings.
However, the rules are different for commercial applications. Flying drones for any form of commercial gain is known as Aerial Work, and this requires a Permit For Aerial Work (PFAW) from the CAA. To receive a permit from the CAA you must demonstrate that you are ‘sufficiently competent’.
This can be done by taking an approved course with a training provider, after which the business will have to write an operational manual and submit it to the CAA for approval.
Bjarne Pedersen, director of drone training school UAVAir, said: “As with any tool used by a business, training is paramount from both a legal and health and safety point of view, but even more so because without proper knowledge and training it will be difficult to complete a job as intended.”
UAVAir, the brainchild of four senior airline pilots and two of the country’s most widely respected drone operators, Cloud12 and UAViate, opened in September.
The increasing use of drones has raised concerns around privacy, physical safety and illegal activities. In the US, a man was detained for trying to fly a drone near the White House; a woman in Seattle was knocked unconscious after a drone landed on her after crashing into a building; and drones have been detected attempting to deliver contraband into prisons.
In response to such problems, the US transport secretary recently made an urgent call for a national register of drones for public safety and to create a culture of accountability and responsibility. The House of Lords EU Committee has also called for the compulsory registration of all commercial and civilian drones.
“Although small drones are considered harmless, they can in fact pose a real threat to other air users, such as major airlines, which is why anybody wishing to use drones must have a good understanding of the world of aviation. The rules and regulations are in place to protect the general public from being injured by drones falling out of the sky and, in the worst case, to protect against a drone bringing down a major airliner full of people going on holiday,” explained Pederson of UAVAir.
He added: “As a professional organisation, we encourage rules and regulations to protect the industry, and of course the public, against drones being operated in a way that can endanger other people or property. The tricky question is how to do this in a way that will still allow the industry to grow, without restricting it so much that it becomes impossible to utilise this new and exciting technology.”
UK Drone Show
The UK Drone Show is set to take place at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham on December 5-6. It will be the largest consumer drone event ever to take place in the UK and a great opportunity for businesses to find out more about the commercial applications of small unmanned aerial vehicles. The event features an exhibition of drones, UAV gadgets and specialist software; demonstrations of the latest technology; and expert speakers who will provide an insight into the future of drones.
Show project manager Oliver O’Brien said: “Some industries started using drones a few years ago, but suddenly more and more businesses are realising the advantages and jumping on the bandwagon. We predict the use of commercial drone technology is going to continue to increase throughout 2016, especially with DJI, the world’s largest consumer drone manufacturer, reportedly being valued at $10 billion.
“In the business arena, drones are definitely the next big thing for most industries. The UK Drone Show is the best place for companies to explore their options and discover just how UAV technology can be integrated into their business.”