Media hype or the solution of the future? Colin Bull from SQS looks at drones and explains the much talked about tech behind the flying devices.
CB: In short, a drone is an easy-to-fly, remote controlled platform. Known for their ability to fly and diversity, drones have become popular with both consumers and businesses alike. While consumers use them for leisure activities, businesses across the globe are taking advantage of these flying machines. The entertainment sector, for example, is using them instead of expensive helicopters to access hard to reach places and provide rare footage. In addition, the military use drones as unmanned air vehicles for missions, piloted by humans safely located thousands of miles from the theatre of war, drones are saving lives.
EB: How do drones work?
CB: Most drones are operated by a remote control system which is simple and only has basic controls. On-board sensors and computers keep the drone stable and mean humans only need to control the navigation – perfect for those looking to have a bit of fun with their own unmanned aircraft.
This isn’t quite true for military drones however. Due to their importance and the sheer size of many of these machines – some are as big as a plane – they’re either flown by qualified and fully trained pilots or autonomously through software-controlled flight plans and GPS.
EB: Is there a business case for the use of drones?
CB: Definitely, drones are much more than a consumer toy. A lot of industries are using them to improve work processes and cut costs. In the utilities sector, for example, drones are used to inspect power lines, oil pipelines and carry out facility inspections. Alongside this, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are used in dangerous military situations where manned flight is considered too risky or difficult. This allows much needed aid to be provided safely behind enemy lines and saves the lives of soldiers and civilians alike.
EB: Drones currently receive strong opposition from aviation professionals and regulators – how is this impacting adoption?
CB: While aviation professionals may oppose drones, adoption hasn’t been affected. In fact, more and more drones are being purchased with the consumer market booming.
Besides, it isn’t drones receiving the opposition from the aviation industry, rather the lack of regulation and education surrounding human control. There are currently rules around the use to protect people and vehicles, however the laws prohibiting the use of drones from being flown in restricted airspace, such as airfields, airports and military installations are evolving – which is proving to be a very real concern for the public safety. With newer, self-driving drones now able to be programmed to do almost anything, including delivering a package, pizza or incendiary device, it’s harder to track down the individual behind a drone used for criminal activity.
EB: Do you think one day our skies will be filled with drones – or is this media hype?
CB: It is unlikely autonomous delivery drones will fill the skies in the near future as autonomous ground-based delivery vehicles will balance out the need for airborne drones. However, with the unveiling of personalised passenger drones from China, testing in Dubai and Airbus’ ambitious plans to create commercial drones, passenger drones are a real possibility. This has to be balanced however, the general public tend to oppose any changes in the use of airspace, such as low flight paths and additional runways and so organisations would face strong customer opposition if this was the case.