When you think of drones, do you visualize a couple of idiots standing at the fence surrounding an airport runway, intent on disturbing international aviation by maneuvering their illegal drone into the flight path? Or does a digital Peeping Tom come to mind? There are negative stereotypes for sure, however the positives far outweigh these, and we are just at the start of a whole new era.
Across the world, various companies and start-ups are developing, building, and trialing drones in all kinds of fields, from medical shipment deliveries, to offshore marine part shipment
transports, to NGO food deliveries in difficult to access locations, to e-Commerce last-mile deliveries, to “sniffer” drones able to detect e.g. sulfur fumes, to initiatives such as American
start-up, Telelift, looking to bring the internet to remote and disaster regions in Kenya/Botswana/Senegal/ by employing a drone as a “flying cellphone tower”, to the London Fire Brigade
experimenting with drone usage in a water rescue exercise, all the way through to the latest crisis: using drones to cope with Covid-19 challenges. Just a few examples of what would seem to be a
never-ending list of uses, and a far cry from simply producing an impressive social-media landscape video.
There is no denying the negative aspects of drones – from unreliable machines that may fall from the sky or drop their cargo, injuring civilians, to invasive, distracting and dangerous photography efforts such as the drone that crashed near to Marcel Hirscher a couple of years ago as he participated in a down-hill ski race, all the way to possible terrorist activities – and, of course, the examples mentioned at the start. Clear regulations are required to ensure legal practices, safety, and environmental issues such as acceptable noise levels, for example. Countries and even individual states within those countries are all at different levels of maturity when it comes to current drone regulations. A look at https://uavcoach.com/drone-laws/ shows just how complex and varied the situation is, and it is ever-evolving as technologies improve and drone companies push for more specific requirements.
Among the security concerns, are also political ones regarding the question “who makes the drones?”. The U.S. Department of Defense, for example, given their concerns over Chinese-made drone systems, recently launched the Defense Innovation Unit initiative, aimed at ensuring access to American-made commercial drones.
Corona Combat Drone!
On 26AUG20, during the first day of the recent STAT Media Group Cargo Drone Virtual Summit, Prashant Pillai, Co-Founder of Indian Robotics Solutions, described how his company’s drones were being employed in the fight against the spread of Covid-19 in Delhi. The multi-purpose drone with a capacity of 10 liters that can be used to spray disinfectants on the streets, is also equipped with a thermal camera, night vision camera, loudspeaker, and portable medical box, and can thus be flown up to people’s balconies where it will take their temperature (in just 15 seconds), and they are then instructed via loudspeaker as to what to do in case of a suspected Covid-19 case. The medical box can carry Covid-19 tests, essentials, or medicines. People can be treated without the need for human contact or putting others at risk. In addition, the drones can easily and quickly cover distances and locations otherwise difficult to navigate by road.
Bigger, better, stronger, longer…
Just as the regulations surrounding drones are manifold, so are the variations in size, features and capabilities of the many different drones and unmanned aircraft types being developed around the world. From tiny nano-drones weighing less than 250 grams all the way through to unmanned aircraft capable of carrying a couple of tons of cargo. Drone companies are constantly looking to improve the load and distance that a drone can carry / cover, since the further a cargo drone can fly unaided, the greater the benefit in CO2 reduction compared to conventional delivery methods, aside from the huge savings in delivery time. As Yeshwanth Reddy, Co-Founder of F-drones, speaking at the STAT Media Group cargo drone summit on 26AUG20, said, “drones are faster, cheaper and greener”, talking of up to 80% savings in costs/time and carbon footprint when employing drones to carry cargo. His company, for example, is looking to improve from current maritime drones able to carry 5 kgs up to 50 km across the water, to focus on types able to carry 100 kgs 100 kms – a goal that is achievable by the end of 2021, but that is hampered by current local restrictions regulating drones to carry less than 25 kgs.
Not all drones fly…
Pliant Energy Systems has built a stingray like C-Ray amphibious drone that is intended as a less destructive and invasive method of deep ocean nodule mining for metals such as nickel, copper, cobalt, and zinc. As demand for these metals, which are used in the production of electric vehicle batteries, solar panels, and smartphones, increases, environmentalists and mining companies are at loggerheads regarding their sourcing and extraction. The ISA (International Seabed Authority – consisting of 168 member countries) will be agreeing on a Mining Codex this October – perhaps the C-Ray which moves across the seabed in a rippling motion, will be adopted as best-practice for the future.
Growing drone interest
STAT Media Group recently held a 3-day cargo drone virtual summit 26-28AUG20, bringing together experts from across the industry. It followed on from an earlier webinar (CFG reported) in July, and – given the huge interest in the topic – will not be the last.
We are at the start of a new era. The next 10 years will see rapid development in the implementation of drones in a whole host of fields.
The technology is mostly already there, the regulations are following. One of the key factors requiring work now, is public acceptance and education regarding drone applications, use and presence.
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