Drones. Until recent years they were the realm of the military and the spooks. Now you can buy your own at a major department store or specialty shop near
you. This week, in anticipation of drones popping up under Christmas trees across the nation, CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) issued a press release warning parents of safety issues and the potential for fines
up to $10,000 for breach of drone flying regulations.
We might not be ducking drones on a daily basis, yet, but in addition to the increasing level of recreational drone usage, organisations and businesses urban and rural, are starting to make use of drones for all manner of tasks.
Tom, how did you get into the drone business?
I have always had a personal fascination with drones, but I first saw the business opportunity at a Franchise Expo when I was looking to make the move
from a corporate marketing career into my own business. I’d always enjoyed marketing because it brought together my creative side and data analysis skills, so when I looked
at the National Drones opportunity, it was the perfect storm of awesomeness – I could combine three passions: creativity, data and drones!
I was also attracted by the value proposition, this really is a business where everyone is a winner – our clients benefit financially and mitigate a lot of risk from the data provided, and I get to earn a living doing one of the most interesting jobs, in one of the most innovative and disruptive industries around today.
How are drones being used in business?
From the early days of capturing aerial images and video for the real-estate industry, media and film, a few years later the technology has advanced enough to help almost any business in some way.
Currently, we specialise in the capture of aerial data. This means we fly the most up-to-date equipment with payloads capable of acquiring critical information in a variety of formats to help businesses make timely and evidence-based decisions that save time, mitigate risk and reduce costs.
From high-resolution images and 4K video to thermal and near infrared imaging, drones help businesses to economically see things they never could before. We can help facility and asset managers get detailed building and roof inspections without having to send people into hazardous environments. We can see moisture ingress in structures that the human eye would miss. We can perform a survey or create a 3D model on behalf of a civil engineer or property developer in a fraction of the time of conventional on-the-ground solutions.
In rural areas, we are using spectral analysis for monitoring the health of crops. We can see plants photosynthesizing which means we can help farmers become more precise in their fertilising, pest and watering strategies.
And it’s not stopping there, with universities expanding applications and sub-applications. At National Drones we maintain strong links with business and education institutions to ensure we have the right tools to support these emerging markets.
Recently, Google has been trialling home deliveries by drone in Southern NSW, but there are line-of-sight limitations and other challenges to overcome before this becomes a mainstream application.
Are there other limitations or restrictions on drone use?
Ultimately, a drone is just a tool for collecting data, a very complex and smart tool, but a tool just the same, and like many tools it can be dangerous. These machines are powerful – their rotors spin at 4500rpm which makes them like razor blades, they weight anything between 2-25kg and can fly over a 1000m high. They can cause serious injuries to people or damage to property if the pilot loses control or has no understanding of the regulations. Drones also carry extremely powerful cameras that can be used inappropriately. For those reasons CASA (the Civil Aviation Safety Authority) has put restrictions on flying of drones which can result in heavy fines if not adhered to.
Some of the main restrictions include not flying a drone closer than 30 meters to a person, unless that person has given their permission, and then only as close as 15 meters. This restriction goes all the way to Space, so you can’t go 30 meters up and then fly over someone. Next, we always must maintain line-of-sight, that means we cannot fly the drone beyond our ability to see it. Thirdly, we cannot fly over heavily populated areas, and lastly, the drone must not fly above 400ft or 120m.
There are lots of additional restrictions relating to controlled airspace, such as around airports and heliports. In fact, Sydney Harbour is one big restricted area due to the amount of tourist aircraft flying around. A section of the Hills District is also in restricted airspace because of the RAAF base in Richmond, so if you just decide to send up your drone in Kellyville, for example, you could be breaking the law without approval to fly from the relevant authorities.
What are some of the applications for emergency, health and safety services?
The emergency services have grabbed this technology with both hands. From shark spotting to thermal imaging of fires to assist firefighters. The police have already trained several officers with the view to using drones in emergency scenes where the capture of evidence quickly is important to get motorways moving or to assist search and rescue teams by using thermal to detect body heat.
Just the same as commercial business, emergency services are expanding the boundaries every day. One of the biggest advantages is that drones can be deployed very quickly, and potentially reach a site much sooner than a person might be able to. In Europe, for example, drones are being used to deliver emergency defibrillator packages to remote locations. Being able to drop in crucial medical supplies like this can be life-saving.
Can anyone fly a drone?
Yes and no. People can fly drones for recreational purposes, but there are some rules and limitations to be aware of before they do. Without an appropriate licence, there are restrictions as to where, when, in what circumstances, drone weight, and how high you can fly your drone. These are all listed on the CASA website.
With the technology now available, even in the cheapest and simplest of intelligent drones, most people can take off, hover, fly around and land with relatively little training or skill. However, again, like any tool, to apply this tool to business requirements and to ensure safety and quality requires training, processes and a solid supporting business structure.
If you want to use a drone for commercial purposes, then engaging a licensed drone operator through National Drones or a similar service will usually be the way to go, unless you’re planning to obtain your own licence.
Are you interested in commercial drone applications? Tom welcomes all enquiries, so whether you have a one-off requirement, or you’d like to discuss the potential for a regular task to be performed by drone, feel free to connect with Tom at an event or call him for a chat.