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The drone industry is taking off

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The drone industry is taking off

A drone, also referred to as unmanned aircraft system (UAS) or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) – is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard. Its flight is controlled either autonomously by onboard computers or by the remote control of a pilot on the ground or in another vehicle. Drones can range in size, capabilities and cost. The world market for this technology has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. This is due to the many positive contributions drone use can offer on the commercial side and for the public good.

The applications of drones include:

  • policing and firefighting
  • monitoring of borders
  • rescue missions
  • regulation of traffic in major cities
  • nonmilitary security work, such as inspection of power or pipelines
  • technical inspection of industrial plants
  • film production (special aerial shots)
  • agricultural crop monitoring
  • tracking poachers in wildlife reserves

New drone applications are developed at an amazing rate: one recent and interesting example of the use of drones for the public good is the ambulance-drone, developed by a Dutch graduate student at the technical university of Delft. It can transport a defibrillator at high speed to assist people suffering a cardiac arrest. The system is still in prototype stage, but looks very promising.

Online company Amazon is testing a drone delivery system, Amazon Prime Air, that would allow small packages to customers in as short a period of time as thirty minutes.

Worldwide there has, however, been increasing public debate about the use of drone technology for recreational and commercial use, including its safety and security risks.

In Belgium, drones are currently only allowed in the Belgian airspace for test flights, scientific purposes and for public benefit. Jacqueline Galant, Belgian Federal Minister of Mobility is working on a Royal Decree that will regulate the use of drones for commercial purposes. Issues that need to be dealt with include: qualifications for drone operators, maximum height at which drones may be used, no-fly areas, authorised applications etc.

At world level, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) recently created a subcommittee, ISO/TC 20/SC 16, on unmanned aerial vehicles, in response to the increasing market demand for drones. Developing and implementing appropriate policies and infrastructure appears to be the most challenging aspect of this technology. Standards can make a significant contribution to the harmonization of specifications in this field.

It is important to recognize the enormous potential of drones and the continuing positive impact drone technology can have on our world. This impact looks set only to grow, as more and more professionals come to realize the benefits drones can bring, and governments continue to put in place pragmatic regulations that integrate these aircraft safely into national airspaces.