The aviator Amelia Earhart said at the beginning of the last century that everything gains seen from the heights. Now you can be a pilot amateur with just a little bit of video game skill. Or professional pilot graduated in one of the more than 70 approved schools in Spain, like the one in the photo in Collado Villalba, Madrid. Have own aircraft from 15 or 20 euros. That the aerial catastrophe is only losing those euros.
Other arguments could be added to explain the drone wave. But one is enough: the versatility, unheard of for a device with the exception of mobile applications. The proliferation of uses makes it a multi-tool that transforms the flat world into a 3D space. It projects the terrestrial life towards its aerial dimension.
Drone it means drone or buzzing. Today, more than 4,000 professional use buzzes in Spain and by 2035 the fleet will have multiplied by 11, to exceed 51,000. In the middle of the century, the beehives would add more than seven million members across Europe which, incidentally, increasingly work more autonomously.
The question begins to be in what have not been used yet. Endesa or Iberdrola check with them their windmills, Repsol their oil plants, Navantia the inaccessible parts of boats in the shipyard, Intel the diseased stones on the heights of the Gothic cathedral of Halberstadt. Maxam's X-Copter, equipped with gas sensors, supervises blasting and has just received the award for the Best Idea for the Use of Drones in Civil Engineering.
Drones that shepherd sheep, deliver pizzas in a rural area or drugs in prisons and guard the guards of the Civil Guard in the Strait. Of races that pack their more than 100 kilos from 0 to 160 in less than four seconds. The Aerocamalus Velutina fumigates colonies of Asian bees. They reforest 100,000 trees in the Alto Tajo Natural Park and allow the startup CO2Revolution is among the 100 best in the world, according to the South Summit 2018.
They deliver life saving kits in mountain nooks where a San Bernardo would ask for help. Water drones to monitor submerged infrastructures. They make communication satellites and recover the mobile signal in devastated areas.
That measure the hydration of the crops palm by palm or dissuade the sacking of oranges in the Valencian town of Algemesí. Drones artists work in the Circo del Sol. A squad of 958 coordinates to draw one of the most impressive covers of the magazine Time.
Military drones of 13 different types in the Spanish Army, logistics, espionage, salvage ... Wasp-sized microdrones will be used to open a handle or move loads. With microhelices powered by the battery of the mobile for aerial shots. There are even antidrone drones. Recall that at the end of last year, London Gatwick airport was in check for hours for an illegal incursion. The technological giant Indra has already developed a signal inhibitor shield capable of neutralizing and capturing a complete flotilla in protected aerial spaces.
Does the professional drone take off? In Spain, the sector was begging for regulatory reform. It arrived in 2018. It is now allowed to use drones for commercial or professional purposes where they were previously prohibited: in urban areas, over people meetings, at night or in the vicinity of airports and military preserves.
The new regulation draws another lock: the flight of drones beyond the visual range of its pilot on the ground. That is, it gives clues to long-distance flights for delivery of parcels or medicines, among many other uses. But it also imposes exhaustive precautions such as weight limits (no more than 10 kilos of drone in cities), safety distances to humans and buildings, cushioning of falls, tracking systems, liability insurance or medical certificates for pilots. And it requires applying for permits at the competent window: the State Aviation Safety Agency (AESA). The drones already represent 10% of Spanish aeronautics, and rising.
Expodrónica, one of the biggest world fairs of the professional drone for civil use. Fifth edition at the IFEMA in Madrid, June 27 and 28. It will host the first World Drone Forum, "which will address the contribution of the drone to social impact investments, the global system of UTM coordinates or environmental sustainability," explains Isabel Buadas, director of Expodronica. It will also hold the Brokerage Event for the meeting of startups, investors and SMEs, "and the first international hackathon in Spain with a project competition in applications blockchain, internet of things and augmented reality ".
Between the law and its practical application, it sometimes mediates the same distance as between ideal and real. "Our clients complain about the slowness in obtaining authorizations for complex operations such as flying in populated areas. The first permits begin to arrive, but it is necessary to speed up the procedures much more ", explains Federico Alva, CEO of the engineering company ATyges. The professional pilots bless the legislation but not the administrative blockade if to record a wedding they have to request authorization half a year before.
For Miguel Rosa, CEO of Aerotools, "the bubble of expectations that created slogans like 'drone pilot, the profession of the future' has been deflated. The economic situation of the country does not allow large investments. " Beyond government initiatives such as "the Strategic Plan published in 2018, a good marketing tool simultaneous to the stoppage of some budget items, the real impulse comes from the big companies that introduce the drone in their processes".
The versatility drone draws a complete panorama of trends. For example, increased flight autonomy with hybrid models that integrate generators to recharge batteries, just as in cars. It is the philosopher's stone of electrification: the gifted battery that exceeds the combination of lithium and lithium polymer. It could be the evolution of the graphene battery that tries to overcome the technical barriers in its industrial production. Another solution to extend autonomy: collaborative drones in the same task. They give a new meaning to the phrase "divide and conquer".
The sector advances in flight electronics and central control devices on the ground to improve safety in compromised scenarios, in the development of engines and propellers, cameras, microcomputers, graphic cards or key systems such as image stabilizers that add power while losing weight and volume.
The CEO of Aerotools considers that combination of miniaturization and management one of the current bottlenecks big data increasingly big. "Download from the storage devices of the drone, field treatment, sending raw or filtered data to the office … Making this huge information generated by photogrammetry, georeferenced photography, thermal or hyperspectral cameras, is a huge difficulty". Artificial intelligence in hardware embarked will alleviate the problem.
Technology works like economics: the macro and micro levels are interdependent. That is, concrete innovations to improve drones need megaprojects that anticipate the future order of an entire sector. This is U-space, the community initiative, where Indra participates, which develops the management system capable of organizing the tangle of millions of journeys.
Objective: manage the registration, identification, flight planning and constant control in the air by means of geolimitation. That the drones flow up there with the same security as the cars on the ground when they are truly autonomous and hyperconnected. The Experimental Flight Center of Jaén hosts some of the first U-space tests.
The consultant, commercial pilot and pilot of RPAS (aerial system manned by remote control) Antonio Sousa projects an optimistic approach. "We will see it become widespread in the next five years for distribution and logistics, transport of people, fire and emergency control, glass cleaners and facades, mapping and photographed …".
But not without friction. For example with crucial factors for social acceptance such as safety, "the intake of a drone of only 1.5 kilos for an aircraft turbine at takeoff can cause hundreds of deaths," or privacy, "must respect the protection of data, privacy and own image "so that the citizen does not have the feeling that each drone is a voyeur. And above all the employment factor: it promises to reduce labor costs and accidents, increase productivity and open new business models, but it implies a new wave of automation that can destroy many more salaries than those generated (around 100,000 to 2035 in the EU, according to the European Commission).
The drone adds to the great technological dilemma: the reconversion of mentality and training. A matter of state and a personal challenge. "Either we modernize the educational system and the specialization of the workers in these new tools, or we will be mere spectators of the destruction of employment in a society incapable of identifying the new challenges," says Sousa.