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Harnessing the Sky: Commercial Drone Technology

Words by Adam Kohlhaas

drones korea

Shot by Sam Beebe via Flickr

The Benefits of Commercialized Drones

Historically speaking, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have long been intertwined with the development of military technology. The ultimate goal of being able to strike your enemies down without putting your own people in harms way became a driving force in the development of the technology. The ideas and designs that bring us to the UAVs of today have origins stretching back to the early 1900s with experiments relating to pilotless aerial torpedoes. Today, UAVs (or “drones” as they are often called) are usually deployed to conduct surveillance of disputed territory or to (controversially) bomb targeted areas in “conflict zones.”

Although the gruesome nature of their past has not been eclipsed by their utilization in the present, the public has begun to realize that drones do not have to be emotionless weapons of death and destruction. In fact, many of the creative uses that have been applied to drones could potentially save lives rather than taking them. Alex Momont, an engineering graduate at Delft University of Technology, has developed an “ambulance drone” which can respond to emergency calls much faster than traditional ambulances by bypassing traffic and flying at 100 km/h. This ambulance drone is equipped with defibrillators, basic medical supplies, and livestream audio and video so a medical professional can provide instructions through the drone itself.

Other companies are taking advantage of the low-cost and automated nature of drones to bring a new level of service to their customers. Internet shopping giant Amazon.com has been working on a delivery service where parcels can be delivered by autonomous drones right to customers’ front doors in under 30 minutes. In the creative industry, drones are being utilized by many filmmakers, videographers, and television programs to capture video that would otherwise require a much more expensive set of equipment to shoot (like a helicopter). Some higher end drones already come with built-in remotely controlled cameras that can take high-resolution video and still photos.

The usefulness of drones does not end there. They have applications in such fields as law enforcement, search and rescue, scientific research, and disaster relief. However, like any piece of bleeding edge technology, there are a few obstacles which prevent their rapid and widespread adoption. One of the major hurdles that those wishing to deploy drones must overcome is the government restrictions on operating flying vehicles. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must approve of any commercial use of drone technology before it can be utilized in US airspace. Many organizations, such as Amazon.com, have been cleared to test their drone technology by the FAA. Individuals must follow a strict set of guidelines if they wish to operate drones for recreational purposes.

Drone Laws in Korea

In South Korea, finding information on drone laws is tricky, especially if you can’t read Korean. However, laws pertaining to individual recreational use are not too dissimilar from the laws in place in other countries. You may own and operate a personal drone provided you do not fly above 150m (492 ft) and the weight of the drone may not exceed 12kg (26.4 lbs). There are strict no-fly zones over military bases, airports, nuclear power plants, and the Blue House. If you would like to use a drone for commercial/business purposes, you need to register with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. If your commercial-use drone will be over the 12kg weight limit, you must obtain a separate license to operate the vehicle. And, like personal drones, the 150m limit and no-fly zones also apply for commercial-use drones as well.

No doubt these laws will continue to shift and change along with the public’s perception and understanding of the technology. Needless to say, drones seem to have pushed past that stage of pure “proof of concept” and have crossed into a world where many people may find that they are beneficial for their business, hobbies, or just something neat to play around with. Perhaps one day you could walk out your door and look up to see little quadcopter drones whizzing through the sky to drop off the days deliveries, tracking and surveying weather patterns, or even flying off to save someone’s life.

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