Last week an FBI bigwig told a story that a fleet of drones disrupted an FBI surveillance operation and in the UK there have been instances of drones bringing contraband into prisons (though innovative new tech is disrupting this). Last week’s Midsomer Murders featured a murder-by-drone (though the drone also delivered beer) and stories featuring near misses between drones and airliners are becoming more frequent.
This backdrop may make this technology sound bad, and of course there are concerns, but drones and UAVs will be revolutionary with some incredible applications. Drone tech is an economic opportunity worth billions and exploring the future user cases, plus getting the policy framework right so the UK can capitalise on the new tech is the subject of a free conference we’re holding on 13 June in London.
The UK has some amazing drone start ups and UAVs are being used in oil & gas, rail maintenance, deliviering broadband and utilities are being used to deliver public, social and environmental benefits.
Lincolnshire Police use drones across the county to search for missing people, tackle rural crime, aid local agencies and control traffic and large events as they are a more practical and cheaper alternative to a helicopter and some forces have saved millions from drone adoption.
The Plastic Tide use drone and AI technology to fly along beaches and ‘tag’ plastic litter. The machine learning algorithm correctly identified 90% of plastic litter, massively aiding volunteers cleaning the beaches.
Globally academics are developing precision agriculture drones. Using data like soil condition, pressure and historical yields, UAVs can fly/roll over farms to deploy fertiliser and water in the most optimal way.
Drones are used extensively to combat illegal wildlife crime too – across Africa drones are combating poaching and drones are being used to disperse seeds in areas at risk of deforestation.
In the future drones could help tackle urban air quality and traffic. For example, drone deliveries could reduce commercial traffic and reduce emissions. Imagine van and lorry deliveries ending at a port outside a city and goods being loaded onto autonomous barges with smaller aerial drones picking up packages and delivering them via safe air corridors to the final address. This is just one of the many potential revolutionary new user cases in development alongside drone taxis and floating WiFi/5G stations.
To get to this point and position the UK as a leader we need a policy environment that spurs investment and enables higher drone adoption. There are some obvious challenges to overcome, not least questions around legal/insurer liability, spectrum allocation, digital connectivity and how to safely accommodate drones in increasingly crowded airspace. The Drone (Regulation) Bill before Parliament is the best opportunity to do this and we look forward to exploring this at the conference in June.