Drones can deliver medical supplies, make dangerous jobs safer and protect endangered species. However, regulations in many countries prevent drones from fulfilling their potential by blocking their access to airspace. Governments are struggling to develop regulations that harness the benefits of drones while minimizing the risks.
To address these challenges, the World Economic Forum, the international organization for public-private cooperation, has created the Drone Innovators Network as a platform to bring together pioneering aviation authorities to share research, best practices and innovative new policies. The mission of the network, the first of its kind, is to inspire and accelerate the responsible use of drones across society.
Supported by aviation and aerospace industry leaders, the Drone Innovators Network will spotlight countries, like Rwanda and Switzerland, which have found new ways to regulate airspace alongside new technology that could advance the management of drones.
“Drones and autonomous flying vehicles, key parts of the fourth industrial revolution, provide an opportunity to revolutionize mobility networks. The Drone Innovators Network launch event at ETH Zurich brings together government, industry, academia, and civil society to co-design the principles and protocols which will maximize the benefits to society and mitigate the risks of drone technology,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman at the World Economic Forum.
“It’s all about access to airspace,” said Timothy Reuter, Head of Drones at the World Economic Forum Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “Drones are playing an increasingly important role in saving lives, promoting food security and enabling economic growth. But the kind of regulations needed to scale up this technology is not there yet. We created the Drone Innovators Network to bring together a community of government pioneers to inspire and show what is possible.”
“There are challenges ahead for businesses and regulators,” said Jana Rosenmann, Head of the Unmanned Aerial Systems at Airbus Defence & Space. “We need a place for both to share learnings and best practices. The Drone Innovators Network will help further the conversation to accelerate the use of drones around the world.”
“It is not by chance that the first international Drone Innovators Network meeting is taking place in Switzerland; Switzerland is a leader in drone technology,” said Doris Leuthard, Federal Councillor, Switzerland. “The close collaboration between institutes of technology, industry and the authorities makes Switzerland an attractive location for start-ups, companies and academic research. Switzerland is, therefore, playing a pioneering role in this area today.”
Spotlighting new technology is a key component of the new network. The first nationwide demonstration of an Unmanned Traffic Management system took place today. For the first time in Europe, a user can track in real-time, on one screen, all registered drones in flight. It is the equivalent of putting digital “stop signs” in the sky. It lowers the barrier to entry for new pilots and improves overall safety.
The system can alert registered drone users when they are about to enter a no-fly zone or when to avoid certain areas where emergency responders are working. For the first time, a system will be able to see if a drone has permission to access airspace, bringing much-needed accountability and trust to the industry.
The test was carried out by the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation, which worked alongside drone manufacturers Matternet, Parrot and senseFly and air-navigation service providers AirMap and Skyguide.