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Skypad Living

11 May 2017

Not just droning on!  

Last month a resident’s letter was published on drones in Docklands, raising concerns over privacy and safety.

As many depictions of our high-rise future involve drones delivering and picking up packages from our vertical villages, it seemed timely to look at the local state of play (or flight!).

Regarding safety, research conducted by Dr Wild and Dr Baxter (both from RMIT’s School of Engineering) and John Murray (Edith Cowan University) looked at over 150 reported civil incidents involving drones (or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems - RPAS). Their finding was that technical problems, rather than operator errors, underpinned the majority of drone accidents.

Broken communications links between the pilot and the RPAS were the most common cause of incidents, leading these researchers to call for the introduction of commercial aircraft-type regulations to govern the communications systems.

Even more challenging would seem to be the use of unmanned air vehicles (UAVS) which can be used in activities such as search and rescue, agriculture, mapping and surveying, security and surveillance and unmanned cargo systems.

Working in this area are researchers Dr He, Dr Donough and Dr Pingkarawat, (Australia Advanced Aerospace Technologies and RMIT) who are developing two types of aircraft – one with a 25kg pay load intended for uses such as agricultural crop spraying, power-line stringing and external pipeline inspection, and the second one having an eight-hour endurance, meaning it can be deployed for surveillance, reconnaissance or data gathering and communication.

In another and, unfortunately, increasingly needed area, drones are also being trialled to reduce the risk of shark attacks on our beaches. Research being conducted by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) and Southern Cross University (SCU) has demonstrated that drones can fly autonomously over beaches and reliably detect sharks through image recognition software.

However, these researchers list five major challenges that need to be overcome (interestingly, including the two raised by our letter writer): public safety and the need to minimise the risk of injury from drone failure; public privacy and the need to incorporate community values; reliable hardware and need for routine maintenance and upgrades; purpose-designed software and the need to communicate both with other drones and relevant authorities; and, finally, civil aviation regulations which determine where, when and how drones can fly.

And keeping on top of these regulations is something that local resident and experienced drone operator, Ryan Saville, takes seriously.  

As a digital marketer, Ryan is keenly aware of the power of the visual in communications and sees his drone as an invaluable tool for capturing footage, as it adds an extra dimension to his videos.

In being able to so capture his experiences, Ryan believes that people can become more involved in what he sees – and having just spent three months in the Himalayas helping local communities, the footage captured by his drone has helped engage people both there and in Australasia.

As regards concerns over drones in our high rise precincts, Ryan points out that one feature of the drone world is digital barriers which, in effect, stop a drone and mean that it cannot fly in blocked areas such as airports.  Ryan believes we will not see a future where roads can go anywhere. Rather, we will have “digital roads in the sky” which will be pathways that drones must follow, adhering to associated protocols including whose drone has priority.

And it may well be that this digital road infrastructure will be the sticking point for the rise of the drones, as already an Australian start-up, Flirtey, has used drones to deliver textbooks in Australia, auto parts in New Zealand and has successfully conducted the first FAA-approved drone deliveries in America, beating the likes of Amazon.

But for those vertical dwellers who just want Flirtey to rollout its much publicised pizza delivery by drone, we may have finally found a use for our micro balconies - as drone delivery and docking stations!

If you would like links to the research or organisations mentioned, please visit and like SkyPad Living on Facebook.


Janette Corcoran

Apartment Living Expert

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