The past year has been a fruitful one for commercial drone use, as public acceptance grows and the boundaries continue to be pushed in what this disruptive technology can do.
Some twelve months ago there was a far greater concern from the general public regarding the risk to both safety and privacy that UAVs could potentially introduce, but a corner has been turned, and it has become much more expected that drones will be used in a number of different ways.
“Public perception seems to be coming on leaps and bounds, and people are now much more comfortable having drones in their lives,” James Brayshaw, Sales Director for Consortiq, says.
There is a more balanced perception of drones now, he adds, which previously was subject to a lot of negative coverage due to irresponsible use by untrained operators that did not understand the regulations surrounding the use of these systems.
There is also a noticeable momentum from larger enterprises that are seeing the benefit of using drones to bolster their varying businesses, although there is still some work to be done in promoting the safety of such systems, particularly in large enterprises that are risk-averse with regards to compromising their commercial interests.
An appetite for drone use is very much evident within many industry types, but there needs to be more work done to promote the benefits of safe UAV use, in order to quash any concerns and shift attitudes towards the promising effects of their use.
One booming area for drones is for public safety use, for example by law enforcement and search and rescue agencies that are being authorised to operate drones in riskier situations.
“As a consequence of this increased acceptance, there is more expansion into different areas, particularly ones that help increase the levels of public safety,” Brayshaw adds. “Where drones can help increase the safety of the public, the potential qualms that some may have with the use of these aircraft are overridden for the sake of the benefits.”
One example of this is the UK Civil Aviation Authority passing a regulation this year authorising blue light services to carry out beyond visual line of sight operations in necessary circumstances. Consortiq was proud to be part of this progressive change in operational regulations when it began training the Police Service of Northern Ireland in BVLOS flying.
There is a requirement for more BVLOS authorisations to be granted by aviation authorities worldwide, as well as permissions to fly over more populated areas, and one way in which industry is encouraging this is by carrying out its own studies and research into how unmanned systems can be utilised further.
“We’re starting to really see the boundaries of these regulations pushed, and through proof of concept studies, the safety of these systems while operating in more risky situations is being demonstrated,” Brayshaw notes. “Over 2018 I think testing the limits of these regulations will continue to expand, and stakeholders will prove their safety cases to show what this technology can do within the parameters of safety that everybody wants to ensure are maintained.”
This is a work in progress, he says, but slowly these stakeholders are working to show what drones can safely do.
Drone training, consultancy and software provider Consortiq has also had a successful 2017 in other ways, as it has witnessed a growth on the international stage – specifically in the booming US market – and its credibility is on the rise as it seeks larger enterprises with which to work.
It also won a coveted prize in November when it was crowned best cloud services provider at the Digital Experience Awards in London for its CQNet drone operations management software, beating a number of highly-respected competitors in the same category.
The company’s move into the US market in the early months of the year was aimed at penetrating a market that has much potential, and as part of this, Consortiq has managed to secure work in support of UAV service providers in that market, and is working to help the telecommunications industry introduce this technology into their operations.
The rollout of the US’ Part 107 authorisation for commercial drone use has really become effective over the past twelve months, although while it was what the industry really needed, and has been welcomed by many of the parties involved, there is still work to be done to expand the breadth of drone operations further.
“Part 107 allowed for a new wave of commercial operations in the US, but it was not enough for just anyone to be contracted by a client, especially when that client is responsible for expensive assets and real estate,” Brayshaw explains.
“What is needed to ensure that risk is mitigated is for operators to prove that they are professional and consider safety to be at the core of their business, and one way of doing this is to train sufficiently to ensure that the work carried out is as proficient as can be.”
Brayshaw expects that the industries that have already adopted drones – namely media, emergency services, energy, and the construction and telecommunications sectors – will continue to expand their use further, while there will also be more demand for UAVs to aid with operations such as pipeline and roof inspection, for example.
“Drones are already used for many of these applications, but I think we will see this become the norm within these industries, and they will be seen as less of a test case and more of a mainstay technology to support the respective operations,” he notes.
Another area that is gaining traction is the development of counter-UAV technology to control the malicious use of drones within the civil airspace, and this growth is expected to boom over 2018.
While education on what operators can do with their systems is essential to ensuring that people are clued up on where and how they can fly, there will always be those who intentionally use technology for harm or to break the law, and systems are being developed that can stop this.
It is a concept that has gained momentum in the military domain, but there will have to be the development of more civil systems, that can neutralise the threat in a softer manner that may be the case in the theatre of war.
In all, 2017 has been a progressive year for the commercial drone sector, although those carrying out the good work will not rest on their laurels. It is expected that in 2018 there will be a continuation of the efforts seen so far, with barriers being broken in the lead up to the ultimate goal of the industry: enhancing current operations in a more cost-effective, safe manner by utilising drones effectively.