Drones ready for next level in commercial market
As industry makes presence more felt, lots of creativity is required.
When Star Wars first popularised droids in the 1970s, they seemed like a figment of a far-fetched science-fiction vision. Some 40 years later, unmanned aircraft and robotic companies are progressively embedding themselves as a mainstream part of the urbanised world.
The market for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, is already the fastest-growing sector in the aerospace industry, with the global market predicted to more than double in the next decade from the market predicted to double in the next decade from the current figure of $5.2 billion a year to $11.6 billion by 2023.
Earlier this year, the UAE government launched plans to soon implement drones in delivering official documents like ID cards and driving licences to residents.
The Middle East Magazine predicts that this might just be the kick-start for the region's commercial drones market.
To initiate and then sustain a thriving drone market that pushes forward concepts that are pioneering, a workforce that is not just competent technically but also innovative enough to conceptualise ideas never conceived before is crucial and governments and institutions recognises that.
In 2014, His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched the "Drones for Good" award to encourage the use of drones to serve people. Entities from both the government and the private sector worked on a variety of projects, involving drones.
A winning entry for the competition was a drone created by New York University in Abu Dhabi to assist park rangers at the Wadi Wurayah National Park to monitor poachers in the Hajar mountain range in Fujairah.
For the health sector, a drone to transport medical and emergency supplies was conceptualised by Mishal Al Marzouqi in association with the Dubai Health Authority.
UAVs are also increasingly being used for surveillance and security. Dubai Customs has been reported to use drones to track suspicious vessels at the Dubai Creek. Also recently, the Dubai Silicon Oasis Free Zone Technology Park used drones equipped with high-resolution cameras to check security at its developments.
There are also reports of investments in the use of drones to collect hard-to-reach data related to oceanography, wildlife and astronomy.
Next year's Drones for Good competition has already been launched and, again, innovators are being encouraged to develop the use of drones in search and rescue systems, traffic control and reporting of road accidents. "We have been working on a drone that assists ships [to] navigate safer by providing a more visual navigation system," says Jaidev Sanketi, a participant in the upcoming competition and a student from the Emirates Aviation University.
A lot of the important work in the drone sector here right now is in what constitutes concept creation, idea brainstorming and model developments.
"We are at the stage where we are still learning. We come up with an idea, we execute it and then sometimes it just doesn't work," says Ahmad Al Hidiq, managing director of Drones Miscellaneous in Dubai.
Facebook, for instance, has been talking about high-altitude, solar-powered drones, capable of staying aloft for years and bringing Wi-Fi access to remote corners of the globe.
Amazon.com, albeit that some say a bit prematurely, has declared that a fleet of drones would soon be dropping its packages all over creation.
"The important thing is to get people thinking and once people start to think they start to execute ideas, they start innovating and that is how you get to the application that can, as they say, change the world," it said.
Commercial drone companies like Drones Miscellaneous and others have already been using drones at events and weddings for some time now. And now, they have also started pushing ideas related to traffic and safety, surveillance and security, firefighting and hazard protection of workers in property developments.
"The beauty of this is what we see today is just the beginning. These ideas can potentially be adapted into our day-to-day lives," said Salah Al Hidiq, co-managing director of Drones Miscellaneous.
Only with the right balance between minds that are new, excited and untainted about their perception of the industry and those that have the experience and background understanding about it, can the drones sector in the UAE successfully establish itself in the global UAV industry.
Sceptics of the growing norm of UAVs do raise valid points about privacy laws and airspace safety but governments and civil aviation authorities are adopting regulations to cater to these concerns. The commercial users of drones in Dubai, for instance, now need to obtain a no-objection certificate from the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority.
Rabiya Shabeeh is a freelance writer
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