Drones can and will be revolutionary for the UK and should be viewed as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution alongside other technologies defining our future such as AI/Machine Learning, robotics, autonomous vehicles, cloud services, Blockchain, the Internet Of Things, immersive technologies, biotech and ultrafast connectivity.
A recent report from PwC indicates drones could be worth £42 billion to the UK economy by 2030 and we’re seeing more and more enterprises and public sector bodies taking advantage. They are almost an essential for engineering firms and the user cases are only growing, as can be seen from our conference earlier in the year. So how do we get to this point?
A Department for Transport consultation on future regulation for drones has just closed and it’s great to see government engaged on this (not just DfT, BEIS also has videos of drones filling the walls to advertise the Industrial Strategy). techUK responded to the consultation (click the link below to download our response) and yes DfT recognises the potential of drones, but the tone is a bit too focused on command and control and we would have liked more on the benefits and opportunities of drone technology adoption.
Our major concern is around the introduction of a new ‘Flight Information and Notification System(s), or FINS(s), to manage the airspace and understand what is flying and where. As proposed FINS(s) could see those wanting to use drones having to register for the system, pay a fee, submit flight information/navigation plans, get insured and accept that this information can be shared with government agencies. Industry is moving towards a model where drones are a rapid response tool, so making users comply with all this will only discourage and inhibit wider drone adoption. Drone technology is growing, but still niche and industrial users need help and support from government, not complicated barriers and red tape.
Elsewhere in the consultation we have urged government to use the innovation principle to measure the impact of new rules on drone uptake and want to see the lowest possible minimum age for drone users (vital if we want to get more people into STEM). A significant portion is spent on options for new police and civil powers and our view is that existing powers should be used, and new powers should only be created if it becomes obvious current laws are inadequate.
Overall, we are keen to work with DfT to do what we can to promote the cutting edge use of drones and look forward to working with government on making this happen. By adopting a more experimental and opportunities focused tone and aligning policy goals with those of the Industrial Strategy, we are confident drone tech can really take flight in the UK.