AUVSI: How drones and the wireless industry will take flight together
Drones celebrated a major milestone August 29 as new federal regulations for small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) set the stage for vastly expanded commercial applications of the technology.
The small UAS rule, also known as Part 107, requires flights stay within the visual line of sight of an operator, stay under an altitude of 400 feet, and restricts flights over people who are not a part of the UAS operation. However, many of these rules can be set aside via a new waiver process, which also went into effect the same day.
“Under the new rules, we’ll be able to get more and more folks flying,” said Brian Wynne, CEO and President of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).
Wynne is excited about more drone operators, since it means exploration of new uses, which could lead to an explosion of new commercial opportunities. A similar story played out under prior Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines, where exemptions to the rules pointed companies in the direction of new commercial opportunities.
“This is really an inflection point,” Wynne said. “We have had industries out there pining for this technology, wanting to utilize it, and increasingly, we’ve been able to see all of those different use cases through the regulatory process of folks flying under exemptions. How fast we’re going to realize that future is of great debate right now but there is a large motivation to get it done and get it done right.”
The wireless industry stands to be a key winner under the new rules because it will be both a user and part of the value chain for UAS.
Drones used in safety inspections could eliminate the need for workers to scale cellphone towers while other drones could be used to help extend and ensure wireless signals in hard-to-reach areas.
With stronger, more reliable wireless technology, there are fewer lost connections between drones and their operators, for example, increasing their utility and effectiveness across a wide array of applications.
“There’s a large motivation and a natural drive, an economic drive, toward greater advancement of the technology on the wireless side that will benefit UAS,” said Wynne. “The wireless industry will work hand in hand with the UAS community to offer greater and greater services which we think brings a lot of value.”
Where could these better-connected UAS be put to use?
- Smarter unmanned traffic management for the world’s growing metropolises.
- A revolution in both business logistics and commercial shipping, particularly for unmanned delivery of the high percentage of packages weighing under five pounds.
- Helping deal with the impact of natural disasters, such as keeping weather forecasting technology in operation under adverse circumstances or even helping fight forest fires.
“Some of the most stunning numbers, the most compelling numbers, in terms of savings to the taxpayer, come by reducing the duration of wildland fire,” says Wynne, whose son is a firefighter.
Using drones, authorities can better assess the spread of fires and fight them more effectively — and in unexpected ways.
The Department of the Interior is working to allow the general public to access the visual feed from fire-observing drones. This has the dual benefit of providing better public awareness in critical situations and keeping civilians from potentially derailing firefighting operations by flying their own drones.
All of this adds up to some $82B in economic impact and over 100,000 high-paying jobs generated in the first 10 years of UAS integration into America’s air space, AUVSI estimates. Those impacts will likely grow even more given the new small drone rules.
The technological challenges are real. Wynne notes with a laugh that “we’re still integrating manned airplanes into the airspace” more than 50 years after the FAA was founded.
“We feel like we’re on our way,” Wynne said.