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Guest Blog: Andrew Heaton – Democratising Drones

Post by Andrew E Heaton, Civic Drone Centre – UCLAN

Recent news of Amazon and the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) striking a deal to trial drone deliveries has spark renewed interest in drones (also known as UAVs or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and the debate about how to integrate them safely into daily life.

Drones for Good

Once, military and large aerospace drones gathered a somewhat bad reputation, becoming synonymous with ‘drone strikes’ and ‘covert wars’. However, introduction of the Parrot AR.Drone and DJI Phantom in the early 2010s allowed anyone to buy relatively cheap aerial capability (compared to the manned and military alternatives). Due to the flight computers and sensors contained inside, these drones made it much easier for a person to learn to fly a drone straight out of the box (compared to their model aircraft ancestors) – even allowing fully pre-programmed flights using GPS waypoints.

The AR.Drone and the Phantom were aimed at amateur use, but they sparked interest in many people about how drones could be used in commercial and societal settings (and provided a stepping stone to larger more expensive commercial drones). Civilian applications ‘took-off’, such as humanitarian, agriculture, journalism, photography & cinematography, communications functions – and, not forgetting, delivery.

A recent survey from the Royal Aeronautical Society found that the public are generally in favour of commercial drone use, and with drones in daily life becoming more accepted and used increasingly across many industries, future unmanned pilots and drone builders need to be inspired and equipped with the skills needed to grasp the opportunities which are now available.

Drone Loan Scheme

The University of Central Lancashire’s Civic Drone Centre is pleased to be working with the Common Libraries initiative and Essex County Council to develop a drone loan scheme which will do just that. The Civic Drone Centre is a multidisciplinary project set-up to look at civilian uses for drones – not just from a technological view point but also the societal issues they imply.

The scheme will showcase how far drones have spread in society – so that everyone with a library card (and a little training) can have access to a drone. Providing people with the opportunity borrow a drone from a library – along with related resources – will allow anyone to start developing the skills they need to pilot a drone recreationally. The scheme will also ensure people know how to fly a drone safely and what steps they need to take in order to become professional drone pilots.

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