Drones: From the racecourse to a matter of course

Posted on: 30 May 2017

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In February, we announced our new global partnership with the Drone Racing League, and now there’s just two weeks to go until the Allianz World Championship!

The professional drone race – which is the first of its kind to be held in the UK – will be held at Alexandra Palace on Tuesday 13 June. High performance drones that can reach speeds of up to 80mph (130kph), piloted by the most elite drone pilots in the world, will be put to the test on a three-dimensional race course that weaves throughout the entire palace.

Plenty of people have been making the comparison with the pod-racing of Star Wars, seeing it as an example of science fiction ‘coming to life’, but there are some more practical, real-world uses for drones emerging.

Below, we highlight four possible uses of drone technology, besides racing.

Jump to:

  1. Photography and broadcast filming
  2. Aerial surveillance
  3. Dull, dirty and dangerous work
  4. Lightweight deliveries

Want to know more about the Drone Racing League? Visit thedroneracingleague.com or follow @DroneRaceLeague on Twitter or on Facebook.

To buy tickets for the DRL Allianz World Championship final at Alexandra Palace on Tuesday 13 June, visit seetickets.com.

1 – Photography and broadcast filming

Drones fitted with cameras are increasingly being used by hobbyists, wedding and other professional photographers, estate agents, architects, and big-name broadcasters to capture some astounding imagery and video footage.

The BBC used ‘jungle-adapted’ drones for their Planet Earth II series to get views of animals in the tree top canopy that can otherwise be very tricky for even the most agile cameraman to capture. A quick web search for ‘drone photography’ throws up reams of content for the amateur drone photographer just starting out, and plenty of examples of the results this new vantage point can give.

If you’re thinking of getting into drone photography or filmography, just remember to make sure you comply with relevant regulation – scroll down to the bottom of this article for links to useful information about this.

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2 – Aerial surveillance

Back in 2014, Network Rail needed to develop a cost-effective method to improve track repair and maintenance processes, so they set up a three year contract with four providers of Remotely Operated Aerial Vehicle (ROAV) services.

Drones are being used, instead of very expensive helicopters, to provide digitised and highly detailed map data, including 3D imagery, which field workers can use on the ground to make their work more efficient. They are similarly used for inspections along tracks and at rail stations, and by energy firms inspecting power lines and wind trubines – often removing the need for people to carry out dangerous work at height (more about this in our number three use).

Remotely piloted aircraft fitted with cameras and search lights might also prove game-changing for the police service during search and rescue operations, when tracking criminals, and for post-incident investigations. They are already proving beneficial for similar activities involved with environmental matters, like pollution monitoring and wildlife preservation.

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3 – Dull, dirty and dangerous work

How do you conduct a survey of an off-shore oil rig? How about inspecting a commercial aircraft?

Situations like these have been challenging maintenance crews for decades, with the inspections taking considerable amounts of time and involving having workers at perilous heights and sometimes in confined spaces. Drones are gradually being seen as a solution to reduce the level of risk that arises from such tasks.

Fitted with mechanical limbs, as well as cameras and other adaptations, drones can be sent up a tall structure to complete simple repairs or maintenance tasks, like replacing lightbulbs and window cleaning. With infrared cameras instead of limbs, they can also be used in firefighting, swiftly providing valuable information and views that the crew can’t otherwise get without endangering themselves.

Robots have been used for decades to dispose of bombs and they’ve even been sent to Mars to collect data on the environment, so drones, effectively flying robots, can’t be that much of a leap!

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4 – Lightweight deliveries

The prospect of ‘delivery drones’ has been getting quite a lot of press attention in the past year as more and more retailers and courier services have started carrying out demos.

Amazon has been trialling 'Prime Air', a drone delivery service that will get packages up to five pounds to you in 30 minutes or less. Watch this YouTube video to see the first Amazon Prime Air customer delivery in England.

UPS has also been giving it a go, launching drones from electric vans fitted with recharging stations, although their February 2017 demonstration didn't go entirely to plan. Royal Mail, DHL, Google, and many more organisations have been looking into the possibilities drones could present. Dubai’s Roads and Transport Agency are even said to be launching ‘sky taxis’ in July – drones that enable autonomous, single-passenger transport.

Before any of this can truly become a mainstream reality for all, there are various privacy, safety and security concerns that need to be addressed by drone developers, organisations utilising drones, and governments.

Delivery drones don’t have to be limited to commercial uses. We're already seeing them being used to get emergency supplies to disaster zones, battlefields and other hard-to-reach or dangerous locations. They can transport essential medicines, food, water, clothing, and other supplies. It’s even being investigated whether drones could provide temporary internet coverage, opening up communication channels in these situations.

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Before you fly: Important things to know

If you’re thinking about taking up a drone-related hobby or integrating drones into your professional life, you need to ensure you comply with relevant laws in your location.

For the UK, DroneSafe.uk is a great place to start, and you should take note of the Dronecode:

Don’t fly near airports of airfields

Remember to stay below 400ft (120m)

Observe your drone at all time
 - stay 150ft (50m) away from people and property

Never fly near aircraft

Enjoy responsibly.

Anyone who wants to become an approved commercial drone operator must get a permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The Air Navigation Order 2016 (ANO) contains various regulations relevant to drones that need to be observed when using them for commercial and recreational use.

Read more about ANO regulations on the CAA’s website

The video below was produced by the CAA, hobbyist association FPVUK.org, and drone retailer FirstPersonView.co.uk, and explains the basics of the drone flying rules: