Think of these words creator, initiator, expert, council, pioneer, pivot, leader, influencer, accelerator, innovator…
A lot of people unconnected to the aviation and drone industry often ask what is the future of drones? Then again, those of us who are connected to the industry, constantly ask ourselves the same question. In summary, there is never a short answer.
A testament to this was the recent Drone World Congress trade show in Shenzhen City, China. Over 1000 drones made by over 400 Companies from over 30 Countries were laid out for those lucky individuals who could travel. A display of that magnitude could only be matched by Las Vegas trade shows for patriotic topics oozing freedom and Bald Eagles. Yet, as I have queried all along, with those sheer numbers, how could we as South Africans, be so narrow-minded to believe that a single brand of aircraft, let alone their basic models of aircraft are sufficient enough to make any significant impact in our own local industry? We as South Africans may be dreaming just a little too small at this point and blaming legislation for it. I don’t disagree that in some ways we are being stifled but we must ultimately consider the Risk versus Reward.
What we have been shown recently, however, is the world’s temperament to be able to remove people from jobs previously thought of as ‘Essential’ to our modern world, while those thought to be replaced in the next wave of technological advancement came to the forefront with basic or rudimentary skills.
Where most industries started looking for ‘analogue’ solutions to downscale in order to survive, a lot of other industries and people viewed drones as the one-stop, world-saving solution. The only reason I can attribute this type of thinking is that the world has never relied so heavily on technology to survive in an Armageddon-like state and drones are correctly viewed as a leading technological advance.
About the smartest thing I’ve read this week (bearing in mind these articles are written sometime before publishing), is the retail giant Walmart teaming up with Zipline. Zipline is the type of simple concept operation, made successful by evolving one-step at a time and really mastering the intended operation. Walmart, despite its financial backing, has seen Zipline for the experienced partner they need to ensure the population stocked up on their BBQ sauce (as I am sure that could be considered an American health and wellness product).
Inner-city drone deliveries have become somewhat of an obsession with a sliding goal post for the approvals process. It seems the world’s Aviation Inspectors share the same sentiments in not wanting to be the one responsible for placing a signature on a piece of paper granting permission in case something goes horribly wrong. I am not sure how many of you saw the video of a large multirotor drone spinning out of control in China while dropping candy over a crowd of people but people were injured and it was not a great advert for our industry.
I visited the group of Innovators and Engineers in Dallas who developed the Uber Eats delivery aircraft back in 2018, very shortly after they had run what could only have been successful trials due to specific mission successes. Their only setback at that point, however, was legislation and finding an inspector willing to place their signature on the approval letter.
A noteworthy observation is the timeous integration of military tech creeping into our everyday civilian lives. Elbit now has a civilian version of the Hermes 900 being trialled in the UK to ultimately save lives in the Search and Rescue arena, instead of the usual clandestine missions that spark geopolitical imbalances. Just as with Super-Glue, GPS, Aviator Sunglasses and radio control, military tech is being adapted and absorbed into our lives as every day, off the shelf, products these days.
Another buzzword is, ‘Smart City’, with VTOL Electric passenger-carrying drones being the dream many First World countries are hoping to achieve. I predict that the greatest struggle will be human confidence in accepting a concept such as getting into a relatively small space and having absolutely no control over the aircraft or your fate. Despite the fact that we put ourselves in the same position when using a taxi, commercial airliner or cable car. I’d probably liken it to being able to ‘cold-call’ a stranger using a cell phone, but having nerves set in and almost paralysing some of the most confident people once you instruct them to make a radio call to traffic in the area.
The future for drones is like walking through Times Square in New York at night. Bright enough to amaze you, while completely overwhelming your senses to near epilepsy. As with anything Aviation, only those with the passion for it will endure a little discomfort because you just can’t stop staring.