Drones, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) or whatever you like to call aerial robots are soon going to play a significant role in our lives, and actually much more than we think.
Technological breakthroughs, robotic innovation and the ability to write unique and complex algorithms are being fuelled by an avalanche of very clever technical engineers and individuals, like you and I, interested in these ever-evolving technologies.
‘Aerial Robotics’ is one area that has captured the imagination of many and so has grown exponentially with would-be entrepreneurs wanting to have the first business model that will create significant disruption, hence sustainable profitability, to many existing supply chains.
In Australia probably the most notable user of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) is Channel 7. Current affairs programs, sport and documentaries regularly have the low to high steady pan shots creating a great effect. The movie and advertising industries are also using RPAS contractors to create great effects. Farmers are using RPAS to undertake aerial surveillance of livestock and for crop evaluation. Operators are evaluating RPAS for coastal surveillance, search and rescue using high definition and infrared cameras with arrangements soon to be announced.
Larger operators such as Boeing, Airbus and Google are already well advanced with designs of semi-autonomous aircraft, vehicles and items around the home and at work that will make life easier, safer and cheaper. Ten years from now robotics, automation and new forms of computer technology and communications will be a well accepted and an affordable way of life.
The explosion of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (official ICAO term for an aerial robot, RPAS) has not gone unnoticed by aviation authorities worldwide. Our Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has led the world with RPAS legislation, licensing and operational certification. Australia has close to one hundred CASA approved Unmanned Operator’s Certificate (UOC) holders and RPAS Controller’s Certificate (CC) pilots number almost two hundred.
The problem for CASA is that many hundreds of RPAS are operating around Australia with no form of license or professional training. Costs associated with securing an RPAS Controllers Certificate and an Unmanned Operators Certificate can be up to $30,000.
RPAS under 2kg currently do not require any form of license or pilot training. Individuals who own and fly these small aerial robots cannot undertake any form of commercial operation.
If you are CASA approved to operate an RPAS business you have significant responsibilities. CASA treats RPAS as an aircraft. Size is irrelevant as far as CASA is concerned, so if it travels in airspace it needs management and regulation. Public safety (in the air and on the ground) is paramount!
So where are the opportunities for Aerial Robots in Australia and is there money to be made? The good news is that there are opportunities in most industries and lots of financial potential! The bad news is that the barriers to entry are high, expensive and complex. The CASA approval process naturally is rigorous and arduous but essential. The opportunities are endless, but, getting existing companies associated with agriculture, mining, surveying, government etc to consider RPAS in lieu of existing supply chain solutions, is time consuming and expensive.
The lure of many is that these major industry operators are keen to have aerial robotic solutions in their industries, if it saves them time and money, but the solutions being offered currently by many RPAS entrepreneurs are not up to a standard they find acceptable. This situation will change over time.
The most significant impediment to RPAS operators advancing in these industries is ‘sensor processing’ software. RPAS Operators typically have gigabytes of Hyper-spectral, Multispectral or
images with metadata to stitch, process, interpret and submit in a useful and meaningful format to clients. This is what makes the money, not owning and flying an RPA.
In the following months we will explore topics such as what is involved in setting up an RPAS business, RPAS payloads that make money, the approval process with CASA, training and workshops, types of RPAS you will need in a commercial operation and costs involved.
If you are interested in RPAS any existing operator would advise you to start small. Consider building a semi-autonomous RPAS under 2kg and practice using the computer controls (RPAS are computer programmed and controlled), autopilot and manual controls.
Kelvin Hutchinson is involved in general aviation and a wide range of RPAS operations based out of Warwick Aerodrome in Queensland. Contact Kelvin at firstname.lastname@example.org or click on the website here to find out more; www.rpas.net.au.
Article Published in the AOPA Magazine, Written by Kelvin Hutchinson