We are ready for the drone economy

Allan Jacob

Regulation should not ground its prospects as innovation takes it to new heights

So you’re lost in the desert after your SUV breaks down. Dune-bashing gone awry amid the shifting sands over the weekend. Water and food supplies are running low and the heat is searing. Sweat trickling down your brow, you open your customised ‘survival’ app. Smart move. It beeps in response, followed by a buzz from above. It’s not a bird, it’s not a plane, but a remote-controlled drone with supplies and a medical kit to keep you going before a chopper arrives to airlift you and your buddies to the nearest camp.

If that sounds distant, try imagining a day when a drone will deliver groceries or pizza to your doorstep. Commercial drone ventures are picking up and telecom companies are using them to connect their networks and improve efficiency. Police in different emirates are using these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to track traffic and relay information to control rooms.

Construction and the oil sectors are adept at using these devices for surveillance of their facilities. On Monday, Dubai Silicon Oasis announced a smart surveillance programme using remote controlled drones to scan and secure the area.

The UAE prides in being a smart government and the contours of a drone economy is taking shape. Progress has been swift after His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced his vision for a smart connected city at the Government Summit last year. But the pace of growth in this sunshine sector across the world has been so rapid that regulations have not been able stay in step with the changes.

When online retail Amazon announced plans for drone deliveries a year ago, the US Federal Aviation Authority was not ready with laws that govern the commercial sector. It’s still working on them and the final draft is only expected to be out next year.

The UAE, meanwhile has gone ahead and drafted its own laws to govern the use of drones for both leisure and commercial purposes. The government hopes to kickstart delivery services using drones soon. Prototypes are being tested to deliver Emirates ID cards and driving licences to residents. Finger-printing and eye recognition software will ensure the safety of drones and their cargo, say officials.

The country even launched a competition called Drones for Good Award, that offers a top prize of Dh1 million for the best invention. These developments could drive the drone economy and could be used in critical sectors of the country like health.

Dr. Timothy Amukele of the John Hopkins Universtity School of Medicine in the US has done extensive research on how drones can be used in this sector. He believes these machines have the ability to deliver drugs in a reliable manner which is important in medicine.

Timothy says there are 300-400,000 clinics in the US and most laboratory testing occurs in only a few of these sites. “Many patients on long-term therapy (patients who’ve had organ transplants, or chemotherapy) are in their houses. However, the supplies that they need are mostly in hospitals. That’s why I see drones as filling the need for reliable transportation of biological samples,” says the doctor who conducts research at his labs in Africa.

Drones can help move items in places where there is poor road infrastructure, or to places where only a few goods need to be moved. They cut costs (of petrol, driver, salaries, vehicle maintenance) and also benefit the environment because they are battery operated and can be charged electrically.

Recently, a graduate student from Austria, Stefen Riegebauer, developed a system by which UAVs could deliver defibrillators to heart attack victims before an ambulance gets there.

In retail, the revolution is waiting to happen. If Amazon has its way, its Prime service using an Octocopter drone will deliver Christmas goodies in 30 minutes flat.

But are we ready yet? The lack of a global regulatory framework raises many questions on safety. There are also fears that these machines could be hacked. What about airspace infringement by these machines? How high can they fly without putting airplanes at risk? Aircraft pilots have reported 650 drone sightings in the last 12 months, and experts are concerned.

Early this year, operations at Dubai airport were disrupted when drones strayed over the airspace. The government introduced rules that restricted the use of UAVs near the vicinity. It asked the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority to monitor their use and come up with suggestions to improve safety.

The law applies ”best practices to ensure the optimum use of Dubai’s airspace and prohibits all acts that may endanger aircraft, airports or any aviation services facilities”.

Industry is expected to spend $91 billion over the next 10 years for drone technology, according to the Teal Group, which says the sector is still “largely unregulated and potentially dangerous”.

Then there are piracy issues that are yet to be addressed – who watches who, when or what – and how much can be watched. What constitutes snooping and does not imperil safety.

Regulations that are in the works should cover age, licensing and training for remote operators of these unmanned machines. A legal framework should also be created to punish operators going rogue.

The drone economy is upon us and its potential is enormous. But let’s lay the ground rules before deploying these gadgets for the good.



CAMCOPTER® S-100 assisted in the rescue of over 8,800 refugees in the Mediterranean


In five months of operation, the NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) saved over 8.800 lives in the Mediterranean. By spotting and monitoring distressed vessels, Schiebel’s Unmanned Air System CAMCOPTER® S-100 assisted in the rescue and contributed significantly to the success of the mission.

Thousands of refugees have tragically drowned while crossing the world’s deadliest border. Already back in 2014, MOAS and Schiebel rescued more than 2.800 men, women and children. This year in May the NGO´s Phoenix, a 40-meter long ship, on which the CAMCOPTER® S-100 is stationed, set sail again until the end of September 2015. Under the guidance and coordination of Rome’s Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre it was possible to save over 11.600 lives since the start of the operation in 2014.

The S-100 proved to be a huge asset during the operation as it can locate refugee boats by day and night, even in rough sea conditions and at long distance. The camera of the unmanned helicopter delivers daylight and infrared video in real time to the MOAS team. Due to the high quality of the footage, it is not only possible to locate a small ship even at miles away but also to identify whether it is a fishing boat or a ship in danger.

Operated by Schiebel staff and largely sponsored by Schiebel, the unmanned helicopter serves to considerably extend the reach of the vessel beyond horizon to increase the area of influence. “Schiebel has been supportive from the very beginning in 2014, helping MOAS to become the first civilian organization to use these high-tech helicopters for a great humanitarian purpose. Besides giving us a subsidized rate from the start, Schiebel has generously offered completely free use for the CAMCOPTER® S-100 in part of 2015,” said Martin Xuereb, the MOAS director.

MOAS has significantly reduced the death toll. Even after the end of this year’s Mediterranean mission, the NGO will continue to monitor the situation closely and plans to resume its operation next year. Schiebel has provided support since the start of the project and would be happy to join forces again to prevent deaths at sea whenever possible.


‘Coalition of UAS Professionals’ Created to Represent the Voice of Small Business within the Unmanned Aerial Systems Industry

coalitionof uas professionals
Denver, CO – The Coalition of UAS Professionals (UAS Coalition) was founded to serve as the voice of small business within the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) industry. Primed for dramatic growth, much of the multi-billion dollar UAS market will be driven by small to mid-sized organizations. The UAS Coalition provides a suite of free online tools to help these burgeoning companies excel in the quickly evolving UAV arena. In addition, the 501(c)3 non-profit provides members a venue to discuss developments that specifically impact growing businesses, as well as a means to work collectively for the overall good of the UAS industry.

UAS Coalition resources include legislative/regulatory tracking (at both state and federal levels), small business support, continuing education, and a repository of white papers from subject matter experts and market leaders (e.g. How to obtain the best UAV insurance, Marketing your UAS company in a digital world, FAA 333 exemption trends, etc.). In addition, the UAS Coalition has a number of online discussion forums to allow members to share best practices, experience, and new ideas for the good of the industry. To help direct its efforts, the UAS Coalition conducts quarterly surveys to gain perspective about what’s top of mind with UAS operators, businesses and key industry stakeholders. Finally, the UAS Coalition works proactively to help manage the public image of “drones” onto the good work being accomplished around the country.

“The ability to stay up-to-date on rules, regulations and bills that affect the UAS industry will be essential as this market matures,” said UAS Coalition Executive Director Nathan Ruff. “We provide a way to easily keep current and knowledgeable about pending and enacted UAS legislation, along with the regulations that these new laws create. Our members are recognized as operating at the pinnacle of professionalism through safe, legal, and responsible flying, which is the only way the UAS industry will be able to realize its tremendous potential.”

UAS Coalition members represent commercial operators from a wide range of industries, such as GIS/surveying and mapping, precision agriculture, forensic aerial imaging and investigation, oil and gas, mining, emergency services, commercial/residential real estate, utilities, wildlife management and protection, cinematography, and more.

The UAS Coalition will make its national debut in conjunction with the Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas October 5-7, 2015 at Caesars Palace. Commercial UAV Expo is a conference and exhibition exclusively focused on the commercial sUAS (small Unmanned Aerial Systems) market in North America.

“We are pleased to have the support of the Coalition of UAS Professionals for the launch of Commercial UAV Expo,” said Lee Corkhill, spokesperson from the Commercial UAV Expo. “Both of our organizations share similar goals realizing the importance of education and networking to the success of the burgeoning commercial UAS market.  We are looking forward to working together to make this industry as successful as possible. ”

UAS Coalition representatives will be available at UAV Expo to provide additional information, answer questions and supply immediate membership credentials. For inquiries or more information, please contact nathan@uascoalition.org.

To join now, please visit our website http://uascoalition.org/contact/.

FAA looks to 2016 for drone rules

Shutterstock image: hover drone.

A three-year-old legislative deadline for integrating unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into U.S. commercial airspace passed without being met Sept. 30.  The Federal Aviation Administration is closer to its goal, but significant work remains.

The deadline to develop a framework to integrate drones and control systems into the National Airspace System (NAS) was set by Congress in a 2012 aviation funding bill.

However, the FAA has indicated that it would most likely push past the deadline. A June 2014 Department of Transportation Inspector General report stated the agency would miss the 2015 mark because of “significant technological barriers,” including detection and standardized air traffic procedures and other issues.

“In the 2012 FAA reauthorization legislation, Congress told the FAA to come up with a plan for ‘safe integration’ of UAS by September 30, 2015,” says the FAA’s UAS website. “Safe integration will be incremental,” the agency acknowledged, but noted that it has issued draft rules for commercial drones that weigh under 55 pounds and other measures to help move the process along.

“We are finalizing our final rule for small unmanned aircraft and will have that out next year,” an agency spokesperson told FCW. “Meanwhile, we’ve granted more than 1,700 exemptions to commercial operators through the Section 333 process. These operations are approved and authorized by the FAA so we can ensure the safety of the public. The FAA has successfully integrated new technologies in our aviation system for decades, and we’re confident we’ll do the same with unmanned aircraft.”

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 grants the secretary of Transportation the authority to determine whether an airworthiness certificate is required for a UAS to operate safely in NAS. Certificates allow commercial operators and other organizations to get individual approval for a particular application.

The agency has also issued a roadmap for how it plans to integrate the systems and set up test sites for the technology around the country.

The agency recently filled two executive-level positions to lead the agency’s UAS integration effort. Marke “Hoot” Gibson will become senior adviser on UAS integration, while Earl Lawrence will direct the agency’s UAS Integration Office, after serving almost five years as director of the FAA’s Small Airplane Directorate.

Despite the progress, congressional critics and industry organizations aren’t happy about the missed deadline.

During a Sept. 10 hearing by the House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, concerning commercial UAS and the deadline, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the Obama administration had “essentially punted” on the rules.

UAS operators are also impatient. “The FAA has had more than three years to put a small UAS rule in place,” Brian Wynne, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said at that hearing. “There’s tremendous pent up demand for commercial UAS operations, yet the FAA isn’t expected to meet this deadline.”

“The current system of case-by-case approvals isn’t a long-term solution for the many commercial operators wanting to fly,” Wynn said. He noted that states are also moving to fill the regulatory gap, “at times with laws that they may not have the authority to enact.”

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer covering acquisition, procurement and homeland security