Applications of drones

If we look at the areas where drones are being considered, we can see that it is the cheap and easily accessible aerial, or rather aerial photography – the possibilities offered by a drone-mounted camera – that makes unmanned aerial vehicles an attractive alternative. The areas in which this hardware (camera-equipped drone) can be deployed are determined by the software and services built around it.

However, it is important to note that there are also many factors to be taken into account from a licensing and regulatory point of view, as the location will determine the category of operation in which the imaging is carried out.

Entertainment – film industry

Hardly any film (whether a movie or a YouTube video) is made today without drone footage, because while in the past filmmakers could only shoot aerial footage with helicopters – at great expense – nowadays commercially available drones for professional use can be fitted with the special cameras used in the making of movies. It is easy to see that drones can almost completely replace the solutions used in the past in the film industry, because drones can be used to shoot much more cheaply, quickly and safely, and with far less disturbance to people not involved in the operation compared to a helicopter operation.

Drone filming is also possible within the open category if it takes place away from populated areas, provided that the persons involved have received appropriate training in occupational safety and health, but for filming over urban or other populated areas, only a special operations category permit is required, and incidental airspace is also required.

Safety application areas

Unmanned aerial vehicles are well suited to surveillance systems for defence purposes, as they can be used to monitor an area from almost anywhere, not just from a single vantage point. This is due to the fact that they can be repositioned quickly. They can move quickly and offer many advantages over conventional solutions in terms of live image transmission. In addition to manual use, they are capable of performing pre-programmed tasks and, when coupled with advanced image processing software, can send an alert with a live image to the dispatch centre if an anomaly is detected. In the security field, the use of moored drones is particularly emphasised. Although they are attached to a fixed point on the ground or to a vehicle by a cable, which limits their radius of action, the continuous power supply provided by the cable allows for an extremely long deployment time, ideal for surveillance. It is also possible to use fixed-wing devices, which can stay in the air for much longer and have the advantage of being able to move at high speeds, thus increasing the area they can cover by orders of magnitude compared to rotary-wing devices.

Areas of use

Area protection: perimeter patrol, patrolling, object protection, fence continuity checks, etc. Transmission of images taken during the activity > these can be implemented in “open” category operations depending on the characteristics of the area, but as most protected objects (even industrial sites) are located in populated areas, the ad hoc airspace designation is often necessary. At the same time, it is important that those in the protected area receive appropriate OHS training in overhead drone operations to ensure that they are not treated as outsiders. You can read more about this here.
Personal protection: continuous monitoring of the environment around protected persons > can be achieved in “special” category operations, as the drone will be used near people.

Parcel delivery

Innovative solutions to deliver parcels from a central warehouse without the need for human intervention, especially to locations in suburban or rural areas that are difficult to reach by road. Many companies are working on such solutions, but there are many obstacles to overcome for widespread deployment (e.g. delivery in urban environments, navigation between high buildings, over busy areas, etc.)

Today, these solutions can only be understood as “special” category operations, as they are out-of-sight flight operations requiring a high degree of automation. The US authorities, however, already grant large logistics companies a so-called type certificate, which allows the simultaneous control of up to twenty drones by a single remote pilot (these autonomous flights cannot really be called ‘piloted’).

Given that these certificates have been the subject of severe criticism from professional organisations in the United States, it will probably be a long time before this type of parcel delivery can be used in urban environments in developed countries.

Passenger transport

Several major aircraft development and manufacturing companies are developing drones that allow the transport of 1-2 people by drone in order to provide an air taxi service. The solution is similar to passenger transport by helicopter, but autonomous solutions are being developed which would not require a pilot’s licence to operate such a service and would have a much lower environmental impact than a helicopter.

EU legislation requires that, for passenger transport, drones, like conventional aircraft, must be certified and maintained in a state of continuing airworthiness, which can also be carried out by organisations with statutory licences. In addition, air traffic control is not yet available for these aircraft, so that at present only experimental solutions are available in Europe for this segment of the industry. But with the European Union committed to introducing U-Space airspace for drones, this is likely to change in the future.

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