"It is the year when British and world standards will be crystallised, energising the industry, and enabling it to meet its full potential."
They’ve already been used in the US to survey the devastating after-effects of Hurricane Harvey on tracks and rail infrastructure and in India to monitor and manage crowds at stations to improve efficiency and safety. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones, have proven to be well-suited to use in the rail industry owing to their speed, manoeuvrability and ability to film hard-to-reach areas, but in more recent times widespread use of the remote-controlled units have hit the buffers because of strict airspace restrictions and safety and privacy concerns.
However, in the UK – where in 2015 drones were used to survey the tunnels of Crossrail to show the world how Europe’s largest infrastructure project was progressing – that under deployment could be set for change after the introduction of a new set of standards that have promised to transform how the flying pods are used.
The latest drone protocols, formulated following an event at the House of Lords on behalf of the British Standards Institution (BSI) and a consortium that aims to create business opportunities for the use of UAVs, Drone Major Group, have been created to “strengthen public confidence in safety, security and compliance” within the drone industry. The BSI event was attended by manufacturers, users, service providers, economists and academics and sought to “accelerate innovation, boost productivity and enable trade, while promoting safety and consumer protection” related to UAVs.
Though the updates are unlikely to overhaul restrictions that exclude drone use in areas where in the wrong hands they could create havoc – such as by the trackside – the latest news could be a shot in the arm for the rail industry. No details have been released as to which companies could benefit, however the changes will presumably be of interest to civil engineering or survey companies currently prevented from using drones in restricted locations.
Speaking about the plans, the chairman of the @BSI_UK, the business standards company, Sir David Brown, said that the reforms could bring big improvements for any industry using drones, including transport. “BSI is playing a pivotal role in supporting the exciting global future for drones through its work on standards for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Standards accelerate innovation, boost productivity and enable trade,” said Sir Brown.
Speaking on behalf of the companies that stand to benefit from the changes to drone requirements which will enter consultation this spring, Robert Garbett from @DroneMajorGroup echoed the chairman’s thoughts and said the plans would help them become a “global phenomenon”. “It is the year when British and world standards will be crystallised, energising the industry, and enabling it to meet its full potential,” said Garbett, who predicted that the global drone industry could surpass the £89bn ($100bn) forecast by Goldman Sachs two years ago.
Meanwhile, working to make the use of drones safer, the main Air Navigation Service Provider in the UK, NATS (formerly National Air Traffic Services) has released an app called Drone Assist that provides an interactive map of airspace used by commercial air traffic to help drone pilots to avoid areas or exercise extreme caution. Drone Assist is fitted with a ‘Fly Now’ feature – a functionality that shares live location information to fellow users to help lower the risk of drone-related incidents.
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