UK ‘should be leading’ on integrating new drone technologies

UK ‘should be leading’ on integrating new drone technologies. The issues of UAVs and airspace management were debated at Cranfield University’s Technology Conference Visions of an Autonomous Future on 16 September 2016 part of its celebrations of 70 years since the foundation of the College of Aeronautics.

Our air traffic control systems run on the basis of principles which are now 60 years old. It’s no surprise then that the appearance of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in our air space is seen as a serious and unmanageable threat to safety. UAVs straying into fligh tpaths are reported as major incidents, Japanese airports have started to use anti-UAV nets, a US technology firm is selling a ‘drone death-ray’.

There are some parallels with the motor car revolution of the early twentieth century. When the first cars appeared on our roads – hurtling along at unheard of speeds of over 20 mph, enthusiasts using a combination of bells, horns and code of hand signals – they were seen as a menace to the mainstream traffic of pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles. A licensing system to identify drivers was introduced immediately in 1903, even though actual numbers were tiny, followed by the Highway Code in 1931 and the first driving tests and speed limits in 1935.

In our age the development of the technology is obviously moving much faster, driven by the interest of hobbyists and vast potential for useful applications in environmental monitoring, security and logistics. And while the first priority for airspace management always has to be public safety, there is also the responsibility to evolve in line with social change. Commercial development of UAV-based services may be tentative at this stage, limited by the current regulations on UAV use and low levels of R&D among small businesses, but we’re on the brink of a deluge of new UAV industries.

The UK should be leading on safety and how to integrate new technologies not just looking for ways to swat them from the skies. Compared with a nation like the US, the UK is better placed to establish itself as a model with its single aviation authority and standard set of rules for one area of jurisdiction. Read more