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Drones at work in Australia

Drones are being used across a variety of industries and have some excellent government applications, including emergency services and monitoring parks, wildlife and buildings.

Salsa Digital 19 September 2017

History of drones

Drones, also referred to as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), actually have a pretty long history. According to Fortune, this history goes back to 1898 when Nikola Tesla used radio waves to get an unmanned boat to change directions. The first government use came during World War II, when both the US and German military forces used drone technology.

Nowadays, drones are used across many industries and also have many non-military government uses. And they encompass more than just flying cameras — they can have wheels, can travel underwater, attach to buildings, etc. US futurist Thomas Frey recently estimated that there would be one billion drones by 2030.

Drones in Australia

In Australia, the use of drones is governed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) — a Salsa Digital client. Different laws apply, depending on whether the drone is being used for recreational or commercial purposes. For this blog, we’re going to focus on Aussie government uses.

Drones at work in government

A Government News article recognised the potential impact of drones on local councils, specifically referring to the: “strong business case on the benefits of using drones to maintain and manage public amenities and physical assets.” The article goes on to give examples like monitoring council buildings, monitoring wildlife populations, viewing hard-to-reach locations like roofs and external walls of buildings, monitoring parklands, checking roads and bridges, and so on.

Queensland at the forefront

Queensland recently launched its Drone Strategy Consultation Paper, outlining what Queensland is doing at the moment in the drone space and Queensland’s vision for the future. The aim is for Queensland to become a world leader in drone investment, research and development. According to CASA, Queensland is already home to about 25% of all certified operators (from Innovation Aus.com article).

The state is currently using drones for a variety of projects. Specific uses mentioned in the Consultation Paper include:

  • Screen Queensland — drones are being used by the movie industry in Queensland to secure low-cost footage or to get footage that wouldn’t be physically possible without drones.

  • Emergency Services — drones can be used for a variety of emergency services, such as search and rescue, and fire response.

  • Police services — drones are being used for forensic purposes and for police response during emergencies and disasters.

  • Monitoring parks and other protected areas — drones can monitor fires, pests, weeds, endangered species, etc.

  • Energy networks — drones can monitor outages and defects.

Queensland, and specifically Brisbane, was also the host of this year’s World of Drones Congress, 31 August to 2 September.

Drones help Great Barrier Reef’s turtles

Let’s have a look at one case study in a little more detail. Raine Island, north-west of Cairns, is the nesting ground to roughly 60,000 green turtles every year. However, these turtles were in danger because their nesting ground was flooding. As part of a broader, five-year Raine Island Recovery Project, the turtle conservation project saw the turtles’ nesting area raised to protect the eggs from flooding.

A Queensland Government statement describes the conservation work and how this project was then assessed by drones. Drones were able to check on the turtles with minimal interruption to the ecosystem. They also used the drones for topographic mapping of the area to track changes to the sand profile. In the statement, Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef Dr Steven Miles said, “The drones have been highly accurate, and the results have shown that the re-profiled area of the beach has remained stable.”

This is a great case study that clearly shows how drones can be used to monitor a sensitive, high-value area with minimal impact on the environment and the species being studied.

Salsa Digital’s take

Drones are yet another great example of how technology can be used by government to deliver many benefits, especially in terms of saving time and money. While there are some privacy issues to address, we think Queensland’s move into the future of drones is a great example of Aussie government striving for transformation and a position as world leaders.

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