Technology 7 min read

The Latest Update on Drone Technology and Regulation

A diverse group of drone developers in the lab | Gorodenkoff |

A diverse group of drone developers in the lab | Gorodenkoff |

With applications ranging from racing to photography to automation, drone technology has rapidly evolved. Of course, as with any new tech, its growth has been kept in check by regulatory framework.

Whether perpetuated by Disney or common folklore, you might think that elephants are afraid of mice. They’re not. However, there are some small creatures that they do fear.

Indeed, it seems that elephants are scared by creatures much smaller than mice: honeybees.

Installing beehives on fences has been shown to be effective in keeping elephants from damaging crops. What’s more, elephants don’t like drones that sound like bees. Aside from the obvious benefits to farmers, the elephants themselves could benefit from this revelation.

Because elephants fear buzzing UAVs, drones could help them avoid poachers and territorial conflicts with local farming communities.

Wildlife protection and research is one of an expanding list of drone applications, which seem to be only limited by imagination–and regulations.

List of Current Drone Applications

Drones are no longer viewed as just a military device or even a recreational gadget.

These flying and remotely-piloted little machines are also becoming more and more autonomous, precise, and smart to suit a wide array of industrial and commercial (civilian) uses.

In full swing, the civilian drone field is leading to the emergence of a new dynamic commercial ecosystem promising to create jobs and boost growth.

Currently, mainly centered on aerial imagery, the drone market is moving towards providing services covering a wide range of fields.

These include:

  • Utility operations: maintenance and inspection (power lines, pipelines), natural and industrial disaster relief, and search and rescue operations.
  • Monitoring operations: transportation networks (railways) and large energy systems construction sites, and human-inaccessible sites and infrastructures.
  • Environmental conservation: wildlife protection, waste management, animal counting surveillance (anti-shark drones), identification of species.
  • Agriculture: precision agriculture, farmland monitoring (disease detection), inspection of irrigation systems, pesticides and fertilizers spraying.
  • 3D Mapping (cartography).
  • Film-making and photography: Professionals and amateurs aerial imagery, for documenting purposes, commercials, TV coverage, weddings and social gatherings, and more.

Drones Will be Delivering Your Amazon Orders Sooner Than you Think

Traditional delivery systems can be rife with technical issues.

One of the main challenges in that area is what’s known as the “last-mile” logistics. This refers to the path that separates the fulfillment center from the home. It’s exactly at this stage that drones are destined to revolutionize the delivery business.

Amazon has such a vision for drones that would see “flying packages” delivered anywhere fast. Additionally, Amazon also hopes to use drones for mobile recharging of electric cars.

In the near future, drones will deliver packages directly into the customer’s hand.

Aside from Amazon and other corporate drone delivery models, drones can be used to deliver a wide range of products when time is critically important. Going further, drones can be a solution where conditions don’t allow for traditional delivery means.

For example, in some regions of the world where road networks are under-developed, drones could be used for speedy delivery of blood samples, transplant organs, medicine, and other life-saving supplies.

What is the Future of Commercial Drones?

There are differing projections, but many market reports suggest that the drone market will continue to have double-digit growth rates in the coming years.

This growth is due to many factors coming together. Some of them are: diversification of funding programs, technological innovation, an increasing commercial demand for drone data, and more flexible regulations.

Over the next couple years, the drone market is expected to increase threefold. Per Markets and Markets report, the global UAV market should reach $49 billion by 2023 (up from 17 billion last year) with a compound annual growth rate of over 18%.

In fact, the drone market will be so big and overarching that it will create a spin-off anti-drone business. Tech solutions to counter drones could become a $1 billion market. You’ve probably already seen “NO DRONE” signs on beaches and near airports. The technology goes far past just a kind suggestion.

Within the drone market, according to the firm Oliver Wyman, data collection and exploitation will represent the majority of commercial applications.

Big Data and Drones

In the coming years, drones will be increasingly used as a fast and efficient data collection tool.

This is thanks to the development and integration of different types of cameras and advanced sensors. Sensor types include laser (lidar), multispectral imaging cameras (for agriculture), and thermal imaging (utility inspection and firefighting).

This array of cameras and sensors will generate mountains of data. This will then need to be classified and analyzed to generate value.

Read More: Data Scientist is America’s Best Career for the Third Year Running

Data scientists, who are already a rare asset, will become even more sought after as drone data gathering continues to grow.

Drone Taxis

Apart from the typical UAV applications (aerial imaging and data collection), new, rather unusual drone uses are already under serious consideration.

Believe it or not, unmanned, flying taxis are already in development and testing stages around the world.

Flying taxis were a mere futuristic concept a few years ago (we’re still waiting for the flying DeLorean!), but not anymore.

Due to debut last summer, the EHang 184 ran through tests in Dubai.

Then, just last month, EHang released footage of the first manned test of its taxi drone. What’s more, the company showed the vehicle perform in various weather and flight scenarios.

In September 2017, the German firm Volocopter also conducted its first public test flight in Dubai. Afterward, the Volocopter went to Las Vegas and was a “flying” highlight of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2018).

Read More: Four of the Best CES 2018 Robots and Their Incredible Capabilities

Drone Regulations are Stiff yet Evolving

Drone technology has made huge strides in recent years. This includes advancements in autonomy, safety, and performance.

Drones are, where needed, smaller and more economical than in previous years. With increasing autonomy and technical capabilities, drones can perform well even when supervision is impossible. This allows them to be applied in more various tasks than ever.

On the other hand, in the early 2000s, the word “drone” didn’t signify much to most people. Since then, that vague concept has taken shape, drone popularity and adoption by the general public is increasing.

Read More: Drones Help Utilities Cope and Restore Service post-Natural Disasters

Nevertheless, technological progress and public adoption are only two factors that affect the drone industry and its future.

Regulations are also a key factor that could make or break the drone market.

As soon as a drone leaves the ground, it becomes an aircraft and should abide by the rules that govern airspaces.

In the air, just like regular airplanes, drones must imperatively comply with a set of air traffic regulations that in the case of America, is by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Though not keeping up with the growth of the industry, the FAA’s drone regulatory framework is evolving.

Regulations make sure new technologies have a certain level of efficiency and reliability. They can ensure the safety of people and property both in the air and on the ground.

Before performing any flight (never above 400 feet!), drones must be registered.

Drone pilots need a certificate, which they obtain after passing a test at one of the Airman Knowledge Testing Centers approved by the FAA.

The “line of sight rules” are an exampled of a major restriction that could hinder the development and growth of the drone industry. This one policy hinders the design, production, and use of drones.

Operators need to keep their drones within their line of sight constantly. These rules might be the biggest hurdle for drone delivery and other uses requiring flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS operations).

The “line of sight” rules also apply to recreational drone use, though amateur operators enjoy less strict rules than professional ones.

Are you a drone pilot (pro or amateur)? What do you like to change or improve whether with regards to drone technology or regulations?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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