IFSEC 2018

Drones: How they can, can’t and should be used

Adam Bannister

Editor, IFSEC Global

Author Bio ▼

Adam Bannister is editor of IFSEC Global. A former managing editor at Dynamis Online Media Group, he has been at the helm of the UK's leading fire and security publication since 2014.
July 19, 2018

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Drones are unfairly maligned, particularly by certain sections of the national media, a qualified drone pilot has claimed.

Speaking in the Keynote Theatre on day three of IFSEC International 2018 recently Barry Clack, founder of drone photography company Box Cottage Photography, decried certain newspapers for scaremongering about drones, insisting they were overall a useful technology.

Clack was moderating a panel of drone experts on the scope of drone applications and how to combat hostile, incompetent or dangerous use.

He noted that in the last month alone, UAVs had saved people in ways helicopters couldn’t. An amateur user had found a missing person in mudflats, for instance.

Stifling innovation?

Andrew Griffiths, founder of Drone Flight, which provides drone training and works extensively with with emergency services, recalled that not that long ago you had to build much of the technology yourself. He warned that excessive or misjudged regulation could stifle further innovation.

But Jonathan Nicholson, assistant director at the Civil Aviation Authority, was keen to stress that the CAA were not intent on stifling the industry. On the contrary, they wanted to champion the technology, he said – but obviously first and foremost to promote safe use.

It’s not an unreasonable claim when you consider how accommodating the CAA have been with Amazon. Whereas US authorities declined several applications from Amazon and DJI to test autonomous drone-based delivery over US airspace, the UK’s CAA accepted their application.

He did acknowledge that the aviation industry weren’t fans of UAVs, though he argued this was partly fuelled by misconceptions.

Drone pilot Ben Kenobi believed expectations about an impending revolution in the regulatory framework were overheated

Ben Kenobi, who flies drones to capture footage for major TV and film productions, believed expectations about an impending revolution in the regulatory framework were overheated. Indeed, CAA rules introduced since 2008 – and emulated by other jurisdictions around the world – had changed only modestly in the decade since and he expected this pace of change to persist for the next 10.

He said licensing had parallels with driving licences, which also don’t have to be renewed once attained.

The area he did think needed improvement was in charting a career path. There was scope for more professional development, perhaps an advanced piloting licence (parallels, again, with driving licences), he explained.

Nicholson of the CAA admitted his organisation were caught on the hop by the drone market’s explosion and were playing catch-up.

He told the audience to watch out for two upcoming tweaks to the regulations: the introduction of a 400ft height limit and 1km exclusion zone around airports in July, then from November 2019 the introduction of a mandatory registration system for drone operators.

Registration – a simple online process, Nicholson assured one audience member – was both retrospective and forward-looking – ie experienced and newbie pilots alike needed to do it.

Geofencing

Even in the short time they’ve been around drones have grown much more powerful and their capabilities have proliferated. Initially used just to take “pretty pictures”, Clack noted how their applications were now diverse and growing all the time. The first DJI quadcopter didn’t even have a camera, he said.

As you would expect, a representative from the world’s largest drone developer said safety was a top priority.

Geospatial environment online (GEO) software will help pilots avoid flying drones near airports and other sensitive locations

TingTing HE, public policy manager, for DJI, an exhibitor at IFSEC, cited the company’s geofencing system, launched in 2016. Geospatial environment online (GEO) software will help pilots avoid flying drones near airports and other sensitive locations, and automatically updates to account for temporary flight restrictions around wildfires to protect authorised firefighting aircraft.

Clearly everyone – drone pilots, drone manufacturers and the CAA – had a role to play to ensure safe use of drones, the audience heard.

Kenobi, who counts Bear Grylls among his clients, spotted the enormous potential of drones earlier than most, particularly in terms of doing jobs better and more cheaply than helicopters. Kenobi, chief pilot and director at Rogue State Media Ltd, started in the industry six years ago when it was in its infancy and has since seen the sector “explode around me”.

A drone for every purpose

DJI’s TingTing HA said the company was constantly developing drones customised to the needs of specific industries and applications. Drones are invaluable for providing situational awareness to firefighters and search and rescue operations, for instance.

Confessing to being a real techie, Griffiths said he used myriad drones for a wide range of uses. There was no single drone suited to every purpose – they all had different strengths and weaknesses. With the Parrott’s “hallowed” SDK platform companies can manufacture their own payload and integrate it onto DJI’s platform.

Jonathan Nicholson from the CAA reported that many people had asked about the prospect of flying drones autonomously beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), something currently not permitted by regulations. But the CAA couldn’t revise the rules until technology emerged that could facilitate the practice safely.

Beyond line of sight flying can only be permitted after the emergence of a unified air traffic system or drones that can reliably detect and avoid all other traffic

You need to safely separate drones from other things in the air, he said. One of two things needed to happen: the establishment of a unified air traffic system – where all airborne devices are ‘talking’ to each other – or the emergence of drones that can reliably detect and avoid all other traffic.

While DJI and other drone developers had made progress on this front, the drone community haven’t realised that airplanes, as well as moving at around 550mph, don’t communicate their position or identity to other aircraft. Whatever communication tech drones might have, it’s no good if the thing they’re trying to communicate with isn’t listening, said Nicholson.

Drone Flight founder Andrew Griffiths said that attainment of BLOS was a critical first step to the ultimate “end game” of “one to many”: one pilot capable of supervising hundreds of drones simultaneously. Giving operators remote situational awareness, this would be a powerful, game-changing development.

The CAA’s advice for newbie UAV pilots could be distilled to these essential principles, said Nicholson:

  • Don’t fly above 400ft
  • Don’t fly near airports
  • Don’t fly near people

To find out more about drone safety visit Dronesafe.uk, a website developed by the CAA and NATS.

The future of drones

Ben Kenobi said that drone technology already did so much but envisaged cameras becoming miniaturised. Drones are still notorious for having short flight times, but he didn’t see this as a problem – he was ready for a break after 20 minutes and could get what he needed in that time.

DJI’s TingTing HA said DJI were making drones more intelligent and said their R&D was driven by the needs of customers and potential customers.

Griffiths could foresee three shifts: miniaturisation, integration of multiple payloads, and swarming drones numbering hundreds – again, dependant on the proscription on BLOS being lifted – generating huge volumes of data. These changes would generate new training and regulatory requirements.

The CAA’s Nicholson thought peer-to-peer pressure within the drone community would help the authorities stop people from doing “stupid things”.

And citing a pioneering trial in Switzerland of the first deployment of a national management system for unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAV), he said that innovation would play a key role in boosting safety too.

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Molly Rank

The drones are not the problem (except in rare cases). The issue are negligent or malicious drone operators.

Lets all agree to encourage safe and responsible drone operations: https://mydroneservices.com/dont-fly-that-drone-unprotected/

Molly

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