Article written by Roxey Kelly and Byron Clugston.
Australians know our sunburnt country challenges us in many ways. Hazardous terrain and vast expanses of land between settlements make the supply of many goods and services difficult. Yet innovation in the aviation sector promises to positively transform many of the trickier tasks faced by professionals across our nation: unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or “drones” as they are more widely known, are being rapidly recruited to smooth the passage to a brighter, shinier future.
The drone has found many uses in Australia, from running cables across mountain ranges and keeping firefighters abreast of bush fire movements to tracking both pests and livestock on rural properties. A recent news story on Australian drones covered one’s heroic untangling of high voltage powerlines which traversed a valley. Substantial risk would have been involved had a person carried out this task, yet a drone performed with relative ease. With refined manufacturing, correct payload calibrations, and skilful piloting, the drone was able to use clamps to untangle the lines.
With an eye on rapid advancement across North America, Europe, and Asia, Australia is now positioning itself to take part in the international standards committee ISO TC 20/SC 16 Unmanned Air Systems. The official scope of this committee is “Standardization in the field of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) including, but not limited to, classification, design, manufacture, operation (including maintenance) and safety management of UAS operations”. The group has published five standards and has 25 projects under development. Standards Australia facilitated a workshop to brief Australian stakeholders on current works and how they can get involved to ensure the Australian industry positions itself well in the international market. The first committee meeting of the Australian experts will be in early 2022.
The broad international attention on UAS eclipses the military dimension with which they are often associated. Whilst the defence sector presently has the largest market share at $8.1 billion of the total $15 billion drone economy, this emphasis will change, with enterprise expected to be the fastest growing sector until 2025, at which time it will likely become the largest piece of the pie. Logistics will however shortly unseat enterprise, being predicted to be the fastest growing sector from 2025 and the largest market in the drone economy by 2030, with a projected value of $33 billion and an anticipated 2.7 billion annual deliveries. Globally, the entire drone economy is expected to grow as much as six-fold to $90 billion by the end of the decade.
UAS promise to improve a range of industries across multiple dimensions simultaneously, from efficiency and effectiveness to safety. Benefits are anticipated for agriculture (particularly with respect to livestock herding); geographical mapping (including the subterranean); transportation (especially inland rail); environmental services (especially natural disaster monitoring); human safety (for example, search and rescue); and services such as utilities (in the inspection of power transition lines and other industrial infrastructure). There is even scope for implementation of delivery systems via UAS, as already trialled in our nation’s capital.
This predicted slew of advancements will require swift and fancy footwork by regulators and certifiers to ensure all relevant i’s are dotted, all t’s crossed; hence Australia’s implementation of the abovementioned programs will inevitably require licensing and compliance parameters for both personal and commercial UAS users.
Such legal caution will likely need to be joined by a PR campaign on drone technology, for as with any new widget preceded on the market by suspicious curiosity, widespread understanding of its actual benefits needs to be balanced against imagined effects. Common concerns in this vein include, for example, privacy and noise.
Despite requisite caution and a need for the education of the public and industry, the UAS space shares in the excitement of adjacent neighbourhoods of technological innovation, such as robotics and A.I. The trajectory of development for UAS will indeed likely include the incorporation of A.I. technology which will in turn eliminate the need for human manual labour in some of the aforementioned industries. This possibility promises much for Australia’s future, and Standards Australia is excited to be leading the way in ensuring the advancements take their ideal shape and fully deliver on expected benefits.