January 19, 2020

BY BRANDY FULTON

The future is here! And although we do not have flying cars or teleportation, we have drones that range from the size of a bee to a jumbo jet. They can be controlled from the ground through an app on your phone or a remote that comes with the drone.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), better known as drones, were originally used as military aircraft in areas that were too difficult or risky to send in military personnel. However, the use of these robots has now expanded into commercial use.

“We have definitely seen a spike in production and sales of drones,” said Adam Voss, an employee at Areyon Labs Inc. in Waterloo, a company that builds and provides drones to companies around the world. “We see a lot of young adults buying them, planning to use them for some sort of project.”

In Canada and the U.S., the popularity of commercial drones has skyrocketed. By 2015 it was estimated that there were nearly one million drones sold solely for commercial use.

They are being used for videography, photography, scene investigations and searches. Emergency responders use drones for house fires to see above the flames, and to search for lost children and people in forests. The camera that is often installed on the UAV helps them search from a bird’s eye view.

However, critics of the drones are concerned about the UAV returning to its original destructive start. The first pilotless aircraft was built during the First World War and was used as aerial torpedoes. Lady Gaga’s halftime performance at the Super Bowl was pre-recorded because drones are not allowed within 100 metres of the field due to the chance of terrorist activity.

“It’s the new trend,” said Voss. “Like everything else, this is the new cool technology that will probably be replaced by next year.”

Prices for personal drones range from $50 to $2,000. Most come with a camera.

But like most technology, these drones aren’t perfect. The drones’ batteries are the biggest problem. As the drone gets bigger, the battery life gets shorter. The DJI Phantom 4 drone is a medium-sized machine with a battery that only lasts 25 minutes. Although the drone is programmed to return to its GPS locked co-ordinates when the battery reaches a certain level, this leaves users with a short usage time and constant battery charges.

And that is not the only problem. Wind plays havoc when flying drones. Due to the size of these mini machines, wind can easily catch the drone and carry it miles away from the user.

Another annoyance is, depending on the drone, the controls are backwards, meaning you must push the joystick right to go left and forward to go backward. For a first-time flyer this can be confusing.

“Most people think that flying a drone is easy,” said Joe Wilson, of St. Catharines, an avid drone controller for the Niagara Peninsula Branch of the Ontario Genealogy Society.  “In reality, to do it takes a lot of experience and learning from your mistakes.”

Wilson said the first time he flew a drone the wind caught it and, due to his inexperience, it slammed into the ground, breaking the mount for the camera. It missed a rock by only a few inches.

“I believe there needs to be regulations for non-personal use,” said Wilson. “But I also believe that most pleasure drones should be limited to within 50 feet of the operator.”

Transport Canada has a number of dos and don’ts for the flying of drones, however, the agency does not go into depth for personal and non-personal use.

In an executive summary for stakeholders issued in June 2016, the agency said it was continuing to seek an approach to safely integrate the UAVs into the airspace.

In particular, they are looking at an age minimum for flying, pilot permits for small UAVs and requiring liability insurance for all UAV users.

Currently there is only a permit required for organizational use of drones. According to Wilson, this permit took over 20 days to obtain.

Drones are not permitted to fly close to airports, military bases and prisons.

Recently in Quebec, prison guards were stopping up to 10 drones a week that were trying to bring prisoners drugs, cellphones, weapons and alcohol.

An employee at the Waterloo International Airport said drones are not a major issue there, so they have not been worried about interference. The regulations, which state simply that drones are not to fly in the regulated airspace for planes, are in place for the Waterloo airport. They have yet to experience a drone in the area so they are unsure of how they would take an UAV down if needed.

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