It was science fiction a few years ago: Unmanned flying machines, racing alongside our hover-cars as we cut through the morning sky to line up at the nearest fly-through to grab a double-double.
We’re still waiting for the hover-cars but the unmanned flying systems are a reality. And you can buy one at Wal-Mart.
Drones. Or, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle’s (UAVs). This industry has seen dramatic growth in the past few years because of a major reduction of cost in UAV technology and the decrease in price-point of high performance equipment.
“We conducted a survey in 2008 and there were 80 companies identified in Canada involved this sector,” says Mark Aruja, Chairman of the Board of Unmanned Systems Canada. “We re-did the survey in 2014 and there were 340 companies, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that number has doubled by today.”
The drones are coming
According to the latest market study from Teal Group, a team of analysts and researchers who publish information on the aerospace and defense industry, UAVs continue to be the most dynamic growth sector that the world aerospace industry has seen this decade.
Teal Group’s 2015 report estimates that UAV production will increase from current worldwide production of $4 billion annually to $14 billion, adding up to $93 billion in the next ten years. “The market for UAVs looks very strong,” said Philip Finnegan, Teal Group’s director of corporate analysis and an author of the study. “It is increasingly driven by new technologies such as the next generation of unmanned combat systems, and the development of new markets such as civil and consumer drones.”
UAVs are flying past their niche market beginnings to a much broader industry — Big Data.
Currently in Canada, domestic UAV operations are subject to licensing approvals and safety parameters set by Transport Canada. Hundreds of Canadian companies are working within the regulatory framework to operate UAVs in diverse environments including: atmospheric, oceanographic and geophysical research, mineral exploration, imaging spectrometry, telecommunications relay platforms, police surveillance, border patrol and reconnaissance, cartography and mapping, aerial photography, promotion and advertising, weather reconnaissance, flight research, and fire fighting monitoring and management.
Canadian companies like Toronto’s PrecisionHawk are using agriculture-specific UAVs focused on gathering pertinent data to get farmers access to seasonal monitoring information regarding plant size, plot statistics, vegetation indices such as the leaf area index, crop density, anomaly detection, pesticide treatment efficacy, infestation and phenology, crop damage, canopy cover, plant spacing and land surface parameters.
SkySquirrel Technologies from Halifax, Nova Scotia recently entered into an exclusive partnership with VineView Scientific Aerial Imaging, Inc., a leading provider of remote sensing services to grape growers in California, to capture, analyze and act on key imaging data for precise monitoring of vineyards.
According to Aruja, “We are now starting to see external investors become interested in the Canadian UAV sector.”
Last year, American company TRACE Live Networks, developer of The TRACEr1 – a visually intelligent camera capable of following its owner almost anywhere and live-streaming footage to the Internet – acquired Saskatoon-based Draganfly Innovations Inc. – commercial sUAS (small Unmanned Aerial System) specialists whose products are widely used in several fields including law enforcement, search and rescue, agricultural mapping, industrial inspection and aerial photography.
What needs to happen next
In the UAV sector as a whole, there is an ever-increasing focus on regulation, safety, and policy development and training. Measures to streamline and accelerate the ability to obtain authority for Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) flight operations will have an immediate and encouraging effect on existing UAS sector stakeholders, and, according to Mark Aruja, adopting and implementing Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) regulation in Canada is key to promote long-term market growth. ”While it’s recognized that the development of Sense and Avoid technology is required to fully enable BVLOS operations, the specification of what these systems must do is a necessary precursor to their development.”
How EDC is helping
“As part of EDC’s ongoing efforts to identify and promote innovative Canadian companies,” says Tomas Cabanillas, Mining Sector Advisor with EDC’s Global Trade Group, ”we intend to include Canadian UAV capabilities as part of Canada’s export value proposition to be introduced to targeted foreign buyers. This will be done in collaboration with USC & Global Affairs Canada. Unmanned Systems and Robotics fall under the key technological trends that are transforming various industries. Such appealing Canadian segments should be noticed abroad.”