ARLINGTON, VA.— Everyone from amateur photographers to NASA scientists has been testing the capabilities of unmanned aircraft systems. With regulations from the FAA on the commercial use of the technology on the horizon, industries from farming to filmmaking are clamoring to use the technology.
Once a regulatory framework is established, UAS will also be able to help radio broadcasters and engineers.
With the ability to fly in dangerous or extreme situations, and for lower costs than manned flight, UAS provide a safer and cheaper alternative for businesses currently reliant on manned aircraft. For example, the oil and gas industry has been utilizing UAS to inspect and monitor their infrastructures, including hard-to-reach oil rigs or multistate onshore pipelines.
TOWER SITE SELECTION APPLICATIONS
For radio broadcasters and engineers, UAS will prove valuable to assisting with both site selection and tower surveying.
UAS have already proven to be a cost-effective method for surveying land and collecting data, replacing more expensive manned aircraft. The U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Land Management, for instance, has used the technology to create digital models of local landscapes and to collect data to access the surrounding land’s environmental impact on the area.
Drones can be deployed to survey potential tower sites.
Credit: ELIMCO UAS have also already improved construction site safety, and have performed highly technical tasks such as 3-D modeling and real-time imaging from remote areas (e.g., read “Drones and the Future of Autonomous Vehicles” in Fountain Magazine).
When it comes to tower sites and infrastructure updates, UAS can cover more ground, in less time, at a fraction of the cost and without putting lives at risk.
A UAS can easily circle an antenna to monitor signal strength or provide visual checkups, while human inspectors remain safely on the ground. With an estimated 300,000 towers in the United States (see “Drones Take on Cell Tower Maintenance,” in Network Computing), the potential for safely keeping more people on the ground for more tasks has strong appeal. In the Netherlands, cellphone giant T-Mobile has already partnered With UAS-maker Aerialtronics (as reported in “T-Mobile Partners With Aerialtronics Unmanned Systems to Inspect Telecom Antennas,” sUAS News) to test camera-equipped UAS as solutions for the inspection of cellphone towers.
Accelerating the commercial use of UAS doesn’t only help businesses increase efficiency; it also unlocks economic growth and job potential. AUVSI’s economic report projects that the expansion of UAS technology will create more than 100,000 jobs nationwide and generate more than $82 billion in economic impact in the first decade following integration.
Still, the future of this exciting industry is dependent on the pace of the FAA’s development of a regulatory framework for commercial use of UAS. UAS technology has largely remained grounded while many commercial interests wait for the regulatory framework to catch up with technological advances.
In the meantime, the FAA has granted exemptions for businesses to begin using UAS for commercial purposes on a case-by-case basis. So far, exemptions have been approved for filmmaking, agriculture and real estate, among other industries. As of writing, the FAA has granted 29 exemptions while nearly 350 companies have filed requests. However, while these exemptions are critical developments, only the long overdue regulatory framework will help realize the full potential of UAS technology and allow a wide range of industries to reap its benefits.
The future holds an incredible number of opportunities for the use of UAS, and as the technology continues to grow and improve, new applications for it continue to be discovered. This is a very exciting time for UAS, and we look forward to seeing what’s next for the broadcast industry.
Brian Wynne is the president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which describes itself as the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of unmanned systems representing 7,500 members from 60-plus allied countries.